Patent lawyers work with clients applying for patents and assist them in the patent application process. Patent law tends to be a very well-paying area. This is partly because the position has rigorous educational requirements, often requiring advanced degrees in science or engineering in addition to a law degree. Patent attorneys must pass a Patent Bar exam with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in addition to the state bar exam.
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Types of Patent Attorney
Patent attorneys generally work in private law firms that specialize in patent law, with a few working in solo practices. They may begin as patent agents, helping to prepare patent applications. Some patent lawyers may also work in-house for large companies. For example, some pharmaceutical companies have their own in-house patent team. Another area of employment for patent attorneys is to work in senior positions for the United States Patent Office (USPTO).
According to a 2009 report by the American Intellectual Property Law Association (AIPLA), patent attorneys earned annual median wages ranging from $110,000 to $121,800 in 2008. This information is based on a survey of AIPLA members. The AIPLA found that, in 2008, private law firms paid, on average, $166,000 a year to patent attorneys, with partners in private patent law firms earning an average of $415,000 that year.
The USPTO employs people to examine patent applications and decide whether the invention is unique enough to qualify for a patent. Most of these patent examiners have a background in engineering or science, but some are also lawyers. The salary for a patent examiner varies depending on the experience of the examiner and how long she has been working for the patent office. As of 2011, the salary range for a patent examiner was $41,969 to $155,500 per year.
The potential for high salaries is less for patent attorneys working within large companies than for those working with large law firms. This is because high-end law firm salaries include patent attorneys who have moved up to partner. In-house positions can have other perks, such as shorter hours and stock options. According to a 2007 survey by the AIPLA, the median gross income of an in-house patent lawyer in 2006 was $185,000.