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What is a patent agent?
A patent agent helps inventors or owners of inventions get patents on their inventions. In order to understand the technical nature of the invention, patent agents talk with scientists or engineers who have made the invention and entrepreneurs or business people who have acquired rights in the invention. The patent agent must then gain an understanding of where the invention fits in the technology it represents and in what ways it is unique and thus eligible for a patent. Next the patent agent presents the invention to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in the form of a patent application with claims to the invention. The patent agent has been trained in the rules for working with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to get the patent issued.
What makes a good patent agent?
A good patent agent has curiosity about the way things work and the ability to understand technical concepts, processes, and apparatuses. The patent agent must be an excellent communicator, both verbally and in writing. The patent agent has to be able to explain the rules for patentability and procedures for obtaining a patent to the inventor or owner of the invention. The patent agent has to be able to write a description of the invention that will enable others to use the invention, and write claims to the invention that communicate clearly what it is that the public is excluded from making, using, or selling without permission from the holder of the patent.
Patent agents need excellent negotiating skills to get patent examiners at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to agree with the patent agent, the inventor, and, if the rights to the invention have been assigned, the owner of the invention, as to the nature of the invention and how much of the particular technical area can be claimed as the invention.
Patent agents have to be detail-oriented and well organized so that they meet all deadlines imposed by the rules and U.S. Patent Office during the process for obtaining a patent, which often includes timely submission of a number of forms, requests for amendments to the patent application, declarations by persons skilled in the technical area, petitions for various procedures, and drawings of the inventions that meet very exact standards published by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
What is life as a patent agent like?
Patent agents most often work for a law firm or a corporation or enterprise that has research and development activities resulting in inventions or that purchases rights to inventions. A small number of patent agents have been hired by national laboratories where research is taking place. Other patent agents are self-employed and seek inventors or businesses or investors who desire patents. These agents may go to meetings of inventors' clubs and entrepreneurial organizations, give talks on how to get patents on an invention, and get referrals from attorneys and business people who deal with inventors and small businesses. Most of a patent agent's professional life is spent reading, writing, and talking with inventors, owners of inventions, and patent examiners employed by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
How do I become a patent agent?
To become a patent agent you must have a science or engineering background, and you must be admitted to practice before the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, a United States government agency. Admission to practice before the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office requires a college degree in science or engineering or equivalent experience and a passing score on an examination of your knowledge of the rules of practice before the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
The most worthwhile high school courses are those that teach scientific or engineering concepts and those that help you develop communication and negotiation skills. Courses that develop your intellectual, scientific, and technical curiosity and the ability to organize ideas and pay attention to detail are important. College subjects needed are those that will result in one of the scientific or technical degrees listed by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office as meeting the requirement for registration for practice before the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office as well as courses that build on the high school courses referred to above.
What/where are the jobs?
Jobs for patent agents, especially self-employed patent agents, can be anywhere in the United States. Many patent agent jobs are in cities like Washington, D.C., where the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is located, and cities such as New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, where many large corporate headquarters are located. A good number of patent agent jobs are in patent departments of the largest corporations with research and development departments in the towns and cities where the research and development facilities are located.
For more information
Applications for taking the U.S. Patent and Trademark registration examination are available from
U.S. Patent and Trademark Office
Office of Enrollment and Discipline
Washington, D. C. 20231
Courses that specifically prepare people for taking the examination for registration of patent agents are offered by several companies, including the following:
Patent Resources Group, Inc.
528 East Main Street
Charlottesville, VA 22902
Patent Law Institute
810 Seventh Avenue
New York, NY 10019
Los Alamos National Laboratory
Legal Counsel Business & Patent Law
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