Contact meQuestions about your life after PhD?

PhD Career – Patent Law – become a patent agent

For a scientist or engineer, a career in patent law may seem appealing. The technical knowledge you’ve gained in your studies still remains an important part of your career, and you get to deal with new developments in science and technology that may have real life implications.

To be a lawyer you’ll have to go to another 3 years of school… ugh. But dear advanced degree candidates in science and engineering, did you know you can go into patent law without going to law school first? The position is called a patent agent.


What is a patent agent?

Similar to patent attorneysa patent agent prepares, files, and prosecutes patent applications with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). They must have some advanced educational background in science or engineering, which is where having a PhD comes in handy.

Unlike a patent attorney, you can be a patent agent without having to go to law school and pass the bar exam. This means that a patent agent is not a lawyer – they can’t provide legal advice. A patent agent thus cannot provide legal advice on patent licensing or infringement, they can’t draft contracts or non-disclosure agreements (NDAs), nor can they represent anyone in legal proceedings at court.  What they do, again, is take a patent application from a client and do all thats necessary to turn it into a real patent.

In fact, many patent attorneys start out as patent agents. So why not try it out first before you dedicate 3 more years of your life to law school.

How much money does a patent agent make?

According to, a patent agent makes between $76,926 – $107,800 a year, with the median salary being $89,282. This is based on a variety of factors including location. For example, the range in San Francisco is $81,486 – $154,666, with a median of $110,772. Other factors include industry (are you doing medical patens or computer patents), and job experience.

How to become a patent agent?

To be a registered patent agent, you must take and pass the patent bar. To take the patent bar, there are certain requirements – the official ones are listed in the USPTO General Requirements For Taking The Patent Bar. Basically, if you have a PhD or even just a Bachelor’s degree in science or engineering (such as degrees in biology, computer science, electronics technology, chemistry, pharmacology, physics, and numerous engineering degrees), you are a category A applicant.

Studying for the patent bar

The patent bar is not an easy exam. Especially after the changes made to the exam in recent years, there’s a lot more materials to cover. There are a number of patent bar prep materials online. It is important to be sure that you are studying from the most up to date and accurate materials for the upcoming patent exam.

Here’s a few resources to get you started:

The USPTO website – becoming a practitionerThe official USPTO website with information on the time and location of the next exam, how to register, what are the registration fees, and other important information.

Examination guidance and training materialsMaterials covered in the patent exam – another official USPTO site.

Patent Bar Exam Practice Questions – Volume I (Ed9, Rev 07.2015) by Lisa A. Parmley


Leave a Reply