What is a 'Patent Attorney'

A patent attorney is a lawyer with expertise in intellectual property law pertaining to securing and protecting an inventor’s property rights. Patent attorneys have passed a federal exam referred to as the “patent bar exam” that grants them a license to represent clients before the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). They have also passed the state bar exam that all attorneys must pass. Patents are granted to inventors of unique useful and nonobvious inventions. Other countries may have different certifications or qualifications for patent attorneys or have patent processes that may require no more than an individual with general legal credentials.

Breaking Down 'Patent Attorney'

Patent attorneys are experts in preparing and filing patent applications and representing clients in court for patent-related matters such as infringement, licensing and re-examination. They must also be experts in one or more technical areas important to understanding a client's inventions, such as biotechnology or computer science. Patent attorneys can also give patentability opinions in court. Patent attorneys must be admitted to a state or territory bar association, or that of the District of Columbia. U.S. patent attorneys 

Patent Attorney Examination

The USPTO registration examination, formally known as the Examination for Registration to Practice in Patent Cases Before the United States Patent and Trademark Office (or the "patent bar"), measures an applicant's knowledge of U.S. patent procedures, federal rules and regulations and ethical guidelines. The exam, which features 100 multiple-choice questions, is offered year-round. Candidates have six hours to complete the test, which is divided into three-hour morning and afternoon sessions of 50 questions each. For more, see the USPTO's Registration Examination informational page.

Patent Attorney vs. Patent Agent

Don't confuse a patent attorney with a patent agent. In the United States, patent agents can perform many of the same tasks as patent attorneys, including representing clients before the USPTO, but not in other legal settings, such as prosecuting a patent infringement.

While you can file a patent application yourself, the USPTO recommends hiring a patent attorney or agent. If you need a patent attorney, click here to use the USPTO website's search list of those licensed to practice before the USPTO. The patent office does not recommend patent attorneys or regulate patent attorneys’ fees, however.

Patent Attorney vs. Intellectual Property Attorney

In addition, while patents are a type of intellectual property, you should not hire an intellectual property attorney when you really need a patent attorney. Intellectual property attorneys have not passed the patent bar exam, are not licensed by the USPTO and do not necessarily have technical expertise.

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