What is a patent attorney?

  • Last updated Jul 11, 2017 12:26:02 PM
  • By Maudie Powell-Tuck, AllAboutLaw

Patent attorneys are patent and intellectual property specialists. Patents aren’t just their raison d’être; they also deal in areas such as trademarks, design rights and copyright laws.

What do patent attorneys do?

Essentially, they are legal agents who act for clients like creators or companies to help them obtain a patent, deal with patent infringement or get legal advice on other areas related to intellectual property law. Patent attorneys use their specialist knowledge to advise the client on the likelihood of getting a patent or lead the process of applying for and securing a patent.

It isn’t just about the new patents. Patent attorneys will spend much of their time renewing or enforcing existing trademarks, patents or copyright. They might also be involved in the transfer or sale of patents.

Patent attorneys are a select crew: there are only around 1,500 patent attorneys in the UK. That’s in comparison to 120,000 solicitors in England and Wales and 15,000 barristers.

Where do patent attorneys work?

The natural habitat of a patent attorney is a specialist patent attorney firm. Alternatively, they might be employed in the IP or patent departments of large companies as in-house patent attorneys. Around 80% of patent attorneys are found in private practices.

Around half of patent attorney trainees are based in and around London, whilst a further fifth work in the South and the South East. The rest are spread across England and Scotland.

How do you train as a patent attorney?

Most patent attorneys train on the job. Trainees will supplement their on-the-job learning with independent study and, perhaps, external training courses. The training process is quite similar to other chartered professions, in the sense that trainee patent attorneys will need to pass several examinations if they want to become a Chartered Patent Attorney. Qualification usually takes around four to five years.

How much do they get paid?

Patent attorney salaries aren’t bad at all. Trainees start off with salaries between £24,000 and £33,000 a year. Salaries significantly increase on qualification, with newly qualified patent attorneys receiving usually around £50,000 to £60,000 per annum. At the top of the game, partners in patent attorney firms might receive a handsome £80,000 to £300,000+ a year, whilst heads of IP departments in certain industries might earn around £100,000 to £250,000+. All in all, a very well paid career indeed.

How hard is it to become a patent attorney?

The high salaries reflect the specialist skills needed to succeed as a patent attorney. It’s a small profession, so there are relatively few trainee positions every year. Once a trainee position is gained, it usually takes about four or five years to qualify as a Chartered Patent Attorney. That extra study means a lot of hard work.

The foundation stone of a patent attorney is good technical and scientific knowledge. They need to be able to understand the patent in order to create a proper description and definition of the invention, as well as follow and develop complex technical arguments. Most patent attorneys will have a good degree (minimum 2:1) in a science or engineering subject, such as chemistry, mathematics, physics, engineering or electrical engineering.

What education do I need to become a patent attorney?

The majority of recruits into the patent attorney profession will also have postgraduate qualifications, such as a PhD or master’s degree. According to the Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys, a third of patent attorney trainees have PhDs, whilst another third have masters or postgraduate degrees.

Naturally, it is a legal based role, so apart from a scientific brain, those who wish to become a patent attorney will need to demonstrate passion and aptitude for law. Some choose to show this through a postgraduate certificate or LLM in Intellectual Property Law, but this is by no means mandatory. Language and communication skills (both written and oral) are hugely important.

Patents are no longer solely a national industry. Most British patent attorneys are European patent attorneys too and act to secure patents in other countries, not just the UK. This is why being able to read German and French is really helpful.

If you want to find out more about becoming a patent attorney, then check out the other articles in this section or head over to the Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys.

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