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.
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.