By Professor Andrew Beckerman-Rodau
If you have a hard science degree (engineering, chemistry, etc.) and want to become a patent attorney, you should give serious thought to the particular law school you attend. Patent prosecution involves obtaining a patent from the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office for an invention. Only registered patent attorneys can engage in this work. To be a registered patent attorney, you must have a science background in addition to a law degree.
By the way, if you do not have a hard science background, there are still ways to work in patent law. Patent infringement litigation can be engaged in by any attorney. And licensing patented technology and developing strategic patent portfolios are other important activities attorneys engage in with businesses to maximize market share.
Top 10 Questions for Law Schools
1) Does the school have an intellectual property law program?
2) If it has an intellectual property law program is it focused on patent law? Many law schools have intellectual property programs that only focus on copyright and trademark law.
3) Who teaches patent law? Many law schools have no full time faculty devoted to teaching patent law. They merely have a local patent attorney teach the course on a part-time basis.
4) If a full time faculty member teaches patent law is the professor a registered patent attorney? Very few attorneys are registered patent attorneys. As a result only a very small number of full time professors teaching patent law are registered patent attorneys.
5) If a full time faculty member teaches patent law does the professor have legal experience working as a patent attorney?
6) Does the law school have a part time evening law program? Most law schools only have full time day programs (typically three year programs). Many law firms employ law students seeking to become patent attorneys while they are attending law school. They are typically called technical specialists (tech specs) or scientific advisors. Many law firms require tech specs to work full time and attend a part time evening law school program (typically four-year programs). Annual salaries for tech specs can range from $75,000 to $120,000 depending upon the tech specs’ technical background and the geographic location of the law firm. Some law firms will also pay full law school tuition for tech specs attending law School part time in the evening.
7) How many intellectual property law courses and how many patent law courses are offered? It is important that courses are available that offer a theoretical grounding in the various areas of intellectual property law including patent law, copyright law, trademark law and trade secrets law. It is also important that both theoretical and practical courses are available. For example, a basic patent law course exploring the overall area of patent law plus skills courses devoted to practicing before the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office, Post Grant Actions before the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office, patent claim drafting and patent litigation.
8) How often are intellectual property law courses and patent law courses offered? It is important that courses are offered at least every year and preferably every semester. This ensures you will be able to take the courses in addition to the numerous other law courses you will need to take to complete your law degree.
9) How many graduates of the school are practicing patent attorneys? This is important for obtaining employment because alums can be an excellent resource for networking. Additionally, the number of graduates employed as patent attorneys is an indicator of the strength and reputation of the program.
10) Does the law school have someone with expertise in the field of patent law who can provide career advice with regard to seeking employment as a patent attorney? Patent law is a highly specialized area of law that has its own norms and customs. Much of the conventional advice about seeking legal employment is not applicable to the field of patent law.
Professor Beckerman-Rodau started work as an engineer, before attending law school and becoming a registered patent attorney. Prior to joining the Suffolk Law School faculty and becoming the Co-Director of the school’s IP Law concentration, he practiced at several IP law firms and was in-house counsel for Siemens. To learn more about Suffolk Law’s IP and Patent Law program, visit suffolk.edu/IPlaw