Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Testing Anyone a patent lawyer/examiner/agent

  1. Apr 5, 2008 #1
    I'm thinking about applying for a job as a patent examiner and possibly becoming an agent. It seems like an interesting line of work.

    Does anyone have any opinions or know someone how has worked in this field. I don't think I'll go the lawyer route, at least not right away, 8 years of grad school is enough.

    I'm not sure what opportunities will open up down the road from this job. From a research career there are 1000's of projects that I could get hired on.

    opine away. ciao.
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 5, 2008 #2
  4. Apr 6, 2008 #3
    Re: patent examining

    Basically you read an application, search databases to try to find if it has been done before, write a report based on what you found. Its more difficult than what it sounds like, but after a while you start recognizing things and know immediately its been done before (or hasn't).
  5. Apr 6, 2008 #4
    My aunt is a patent attorney.

    She has a lot of money but hates hates hates her job.
  6. Apr 6, 2008 #5
    A lot of patent attorneys do. I worked for 5 years in high school and college as a bike courier for dozens of law firms. A lot of patent attorney hate their jobs. From what I gather, the patent attorney market is also extremely saturated now since a lot of scientists got scared by jobs being shipped overseas and went to law school to study patent law.
  7. Apr 6, 2008 #6
    Yeah. My aunt was an EE. Motorola paid for her to get her law degree and now she's a lawyer. She has a lot more money to do a lot more fun things but she really hates her job and I don't think it's worth it.
  8. Apr 6, 2008 #7
    I know three firm patent lawyers. All make high six-figures/low seven-figures, all enjoy their jobs and all work from home. Just adding my anecdotes to the pile.
  9. Apr 6, 2008 #8
    low seven figures? Hm - are they making some cash in addition to their yearly salary?
  10. Apr 7, 2008 #9
    They're all partners at good firms; they get paid a percentage of what the firm draws in. And yes, anyone making that type of money gets a significant amount of additional income from investing.
  11. May 25, 2008 #10
    Hi, I'm an intellectual property lawyer focusing mainly on litigation (i.e. courtroom stuff) but with some prosecution (i.e. sitting at a desk dealing with patent and trade-mark applications). I'm on physicsforums.com purely out of my lay interest in physics (which, as you can see from my posts, is extremely "lay"!).

    If you have 8 years of physics education (I'm assuming you have at least a Masters, if not a phD), you will be an attractive candidate for a job with a law firm as a "patent agent trainee". This means that you'll start dealing with patent applications, and perhaps try your hand at drafting them, while you study for the patent agent exam. The firm will pay your full salary during this period, and will pay for the exam prep, and the exam itself. I STRONGLY urge you to go this route rather than being a patent agent. I believe a patent agent will only make about $50K/year in the US (about the same in Canada). A patent agent trainee at a law firm, however, will make the same money as a lawyer of same vintage - typically starting at around $90 - $100K/year, and increasing by intervals of about $15K per year. Your hours will also be quite reasonable (basically 9 to 5) - you won't be working the kind of hours that the corporate lawyers work. At most firms, you will also be eligible for partnership, just like the lawyers. A first year partner will typically make somewhere around $300K/year. As you build your practice base, this can escalate very quickly, given the large amount of routine involved in patent prosecution (for example, payment of "maintenance fees", where your secretary does all the work, and you bill your 0.3 hours a pop - multiply that by, say, a hundred applications and you're in the money!).

    As far as hating the work, yeah, it's pretty crappy work (that's why I do litigation rather than prosecution). But, I have to tell you, it's a helluvalot better than most jobs in the pure sciences. I was reading over Zapper's piece titled "So, you want to be a physicist", and all I kept thinking was "thank God I abandoned my study of physics and went to law school!"

    Anyway, I'm rambling. Bottom line: shoot off applications to the various law firms in your jurisdiction. I would focus on the ones that practice purely intellectual property ("IP") law (these are called "IP boutiques"). Just google IP firms and whatever city you’re interested in, and a whole bunch of firms should pop up. You should send dozens of applications, because most will probably reject you, no matter how good you are (I personally applied to about 150 firms before getting my current job).

    I'm happy to provide you with any further info if you'd like it.
  12. May 26, 2008 #11
    Usaf Moji,
    Do you know if it's possible to find such a position having only completed a bachelor's in physics?
  13. May 26, 2008 #12
    Hi NeoDevin, I've seen it done, but it's rare. Typically, once folks have a B.Sc. in physics they just go to law school.

    That being said, if you can sell yourself as some kind of specialist in the field of electronics, or computer technology, you may be able to find good work. I know that these are very high demand areas with a scarcity of talent. I would also recommend emphasizing any related work experience you may have (maybe if you worked in a lab, or something).

    I know a guy I used to work with was in your shoes. Another guy who only has a B.Sc. in physics (and no other degree) is a senior partner at that same firm.

    One thing that works to your advantage is that no one with a B.Sc. ever thinks of becoming a patent agent for some reason. So, even though theoretically, there should be a lot of people competing against you, practically there may not be. There is a lot of opportunity in patent law that people, simply out of ignorance, aren't exploiting.

    I'd say give it a shot!
  14. May 26, 2008 #13
    I considered the patent law angle several times...almost took the jump, but my heart wasn't in it at the time.

    I would certainly have been making better money at such a job, but I don't think I would enjoy it nearly as much as teaching at this point in my life.
  15. May 27, 2008 #14
    so... since it seems to be clear that everyone there hates their jobs except for the paycheck, what's so bad about the job ?
  16. May 27, 2008 #15
    Engineers, as a class, like to build stuff and aren't particularly interested in shuffling papers. Patent agents do nothing but shuffle papers.

    This is certainly a case of one man's hell being another man's heaven and vice versa.
  17. May 27, 2008 #16
    It's just boring and tedious, like any profession. It also has very formal and rigid requirements, both in patent drafting and in corresponding with the patent office.

    I know some people who like it. It's not just shuffling papers, btw, the patent agent really has to understand the technology inside out and has to come up with clever arguments as to why the prior art hasn't already achieve the same thing.

    I also know several engineers, and they all hate their jobs. I don't think patent agents hate their jobs more than engineers, doctors, accountants, or any other professional.
  18. Feb 14, 2009 #17
    I have a Masters degree in Physics and 9 years of experience in aerospace and software development. I am thinking of taking the patent agent exam. Someone in the forums mentioned about being a trainee rather than becoming an agent then looking for a job.
    Any advice will be appreciated...

    Thanks in advance.
  19. Feb 18, 2009 #18

    Sorry, I meant to say "rather than being a patent EXAMINER", not "patent AGENT". Of course, the goal of a patent agent trainee is to ulitmately become a patent agent. Sorry if I confused anyone.
  20. Feb 18, 2009 #19
    Hi seekingAdvice. I think I may have accidently misled you with my post. It's a good idea to take the patent agent exam. What I meant to say was that it's better to be a patent agent trainee than a patent examiner working at the USPTO. Of course, it's better to be a full-fledged patent agent than just a patent agent trainee.
  21. Nov 6, 2009 #20
    Experienced Patent Examiners actually earn quite a bit more than experienced Patent Agents, on average. See http://popa.org/txt/salary2009.txt [Broken]

    Note that promotions are non-competitive all the way through GS-15 ($153200 salary eventually + bonus and overtime), and also note the substantial government benefits such a pension.

    I know because I used to be a Patent Examiner and am now a Patent Agent. I left the USPTO because the job is boring and stressful, and the management is inept beyond all comprehension. I'd rather be an agent any day.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook