Understanding the Job: What Does a Patent Attorney Actually Do?

A patent attorney plays a pivotal role in securing inventors’ intellectual property rights. By obtaining patents, a patent attorney protects new inventions and prevents others from exploiting an inventor’s creative ideas without permission. This article will explore the multifaceted responsibilities of a patent attorney, from legal expertise to strategic advising.

A patent attorney plays a pivotal role in securing inventors’ intellectual property rights. By obtaining patents, a patent attorney protects new inventions and prevents others from exploiting an inventor’s creative ideas without permission. This article will explore the multifaceted responsibilities of a patent attorney, from legal expertise to strategic advising.

The Vital Role of Securing Inventors’ Rights

A patent grants an inventor the exclusive legal right to make, use, and sell an invention for a limited period of time. Without patent protection, inventions could easily be stolen, copied, or independently recreated by competitors. This would undermine the huge investments inventors make in research, development, and commercialization of new products and technologies.

Patent attorneys serve the crucial function of securing inventors’ intellectual property rights. They leverage their legal skills and technical knowledge to obtain the broadest and strongest patent protection possible. This gives inventors the exclusive rights to profit from their own ingenuity and hard work.

In essence, patent attorneys empower inventors to reap the financial rewards they deserve from their innovations. Obtaining robust patents is the first step on the path to commercial success.

Educational and Licensing Requirements

To become a patent attorney, an individual must complete specialized training in intellectual property law. This starts with obtaining a Juris Doctor (JD) law degree, typically a 3-year graduate program after completing a bachelor’s degree. Aspiring patent attorneys also earn an undergraduate degree in science or engineering to fulfill the technical coursework requirements to take the patent bar exam.

After passing the bar exam, patent attorneys must be licensed by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) to file and prosecute patent applications. The patent bar is an intensive full-day exam testing candidates’ knowledge of patent laws, rules, and procedures.

Maintaining licensure requires staying up-to-date on the latest developments in intellectual property law through continuing legal education. Patent attorneys must regularly renew their license with the USPTO to keep practicing.

In summary, securing a JD, technical degree, passing the patent bar exam, and maintaining an active law license are key prerequisites to start and continue practicing as a registered patent attorney.

Comprehensive Legal Services

Once licensed, a patent attorney provides a wide range of intellectual property services to inventors. The core responsibility is writing and filing patent applications with the USPTO.

The attorney conducts a prior art search to assess if the invention meets the standards of novelty and non-obviousness required for patent approval. Next, they describe the technical aspects of the invention in the patent application using illustrations, diagrams, and legal terminology. The attorney serves as legal counsel in communicating with patent examiners throughout the application process.

In addition to preparing applications, patent attorneys provide ongoing counsel regarding patent rights. They offer guidance on trademark selection, ensuring names and logos are legally protectable. Attorneys also represent clients in patent ownership disputes, infringement cases, and re-examination proceedings.

Moreover, they facilitate technology transfers through patent licensing and sales. Patent attorneys are involved in every stage of evaluation, protection, implementation, and enforcement of intellectual property rights.

The Patent Application Process

When an inventor seeks to patent a new technology or product, a patent attorney meticulously manages the application process from start to finish.

First, the attorney meets with the inventor to fully understand the nature and scope of the invention. They assess the novelty of the invention as compared to existing patents and technologies known as ‘prior art.’ A search is conducted to determine if the invention meets the standards of novelty and non-obviousness required to qualify for a patent.

If the assessment indicates the invention is likely patentable, the attorney drafts a patent application to be filed with the USPTO. This complex legal document includes background information, detailed technical specifications and drawings or diagrams, and precise claims that legally define the invention.

The application is submitted to the USPTO, where it is assigned to a patent examiner with expertise in the relevant technical field. The examiner reviews the application and determines if the claims meet legal standards for approval. Often, the examiner initially rejects applications or requires modifications. The attorney then responds with arguments or amendments to get the application allowed. This back-and-forth may repeat through several rejection/response cycles.

Finally, if the examiner is satisfied all requirements are met, they approve the application and the patent is granted. The inventor now holds the exclusive rights to the invention for a 20-year period. The patient attorney’s diligence through this long process is critical for clients to ultimately obtain issued patents.

The Patent Application Process

Strategic Counseling and Protection

In addition to directly handling patent applications, attorneys provide strategic advice on ongoing management of intellectual property. Determining whether to patent or how to leverage patents requires an understanding of markets, competitors, and regulatory issues.

Attorneys counsel clients on maximizing the value of their patent portfolios. They provide guidance on selecting which inventions to patent, ideal timing of patent filings, and territorial coverage. Patent lawyers analyze the competitive landscape and identify licensing opportunities. They also continually assess the strength of patent portfolios as new technologies emerge.

Another key role of patent counsel is enforcing patents against unauthorized use or infringement. The attorney sends cease and desist letters to suspected infringers and negotiates remedies. If negotiations fail, they will file lawsuits seeking injunctive relief and damages for patent violations. Patent enforcement and defense against challenges are vital to securing the inventor’s competitive advantage.

Staying Current with Legal Developments

Intellectual property laws continuously evolve through legislation, treaties, and court rulings. Keeping up-to-date on the latest legal developments is crucial for effective patent counsel.

Patent attorneys regularly review new case law that interprets patent statutes and impacts legal strategy. They monitor proposed bills and rule changes that may alter laws governing patents, trademarks, and copyrights.

In addition, attorneys analyze how international agreements affect multi-national patent rights and procedures. Through dedicated efforts to study emerging legal trends, patent counsel maintain the expertise to provide fully-informed guidance to clients.

International Patent Protection

Given today’s global marketplace, international patent coverage is often essential to protect inventions abroad. Patent laws vary by country, requiring local expertise to secure foreign patents.

Rather than directly filing in each country, patent attorneys frequently use the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) to simplify the process. The PCT allows filing a single international application that designates up to 152 contracting member countries.

Attorneys initially file a PCT application, then subsequently pursue direct national or regional filings in desired countries. This streamlines the process while delaying costs during the international phase.

Throughout the PCT process, the attorney ensures compliance with each jurisdiction’s unique laws and procedures. They rely on collaborations with foreign counsel to execute country-specific filings after PCT national stage entry. Obtaining broad international protection requires understanding nuances across diverse patent systems.

Beyond Acquisition – Maintaining Patents

A patent attorney’s responsibilities do not end once a patent is initially granted. They provide ongoing counsel over the entire 20-year patent term.

One important task is to maintain issued patents by paying periodic maintenance fees. Attorneys also monitor for deadline adjustments that may extend the patent term to account for USPTO delays.

Moreover, patents may require ongoing defense such as through re-examinations to address validity challenges. The attorney handles filing petitions, gathering evidence, and communicating with the patent office during proceedings.

By assisting clients throughout the complete lifecycle of patents, attorneys help maximize the value derived from intellectual property assets. Their constant vigilance protects inventions from infringement and improper invalidation attempts.

Interdisciplinary Collaboration

Practicing at the intersection of law, technology, and business requires close collaboration with professionals across many disciplines. Patent attorneys regularly consult with inventors, engineers, researchers, and business executives on patent matters.

Effective communication enables mutual understanding between attorneys and technical experts working together. Patent lawyers must grasp complex subject matter well enough to legally describe inventions in applications. Inventors, in turn, rely on attorneys to translate ideas into protectable intellectual property.

On the business side, attorneys weigh legal strategies against corporate objectives and competitive dynamics. They work with marketing leaders on trademark selection and licensing deals. Patent counsel also coordinate with finance teams to budget IP costs.

By integrating legal, technical, and business perspectives, patent attorneys provide holistic counsel attuned to clients’ diverse needs and interests. This interdisciplinary collaboration enhances patent protection.

Ethical Standards Are Paramount

Patent attorneys strictly adhere to professional ethics when dealing with sensitive client information. They are entrusted with confidential details about valuable inventions which are not yet public. Ensuring non-disclosure and protecting clients’ interests are central ethical imperatives.

Attorneys are also obligated to provide competent, diligent representation and sound legal advice. They must avoid conflicts of interest when serving multiple clients in the same technology field. Patent lawyers also follow duty of candor requirements such as disclosing any prior art to the USPTO that could impact patentability.

Integrity, honesty, and transparency are essential in navigating complex IP issues. By internalizing high ethical standards, patent attorneys build trust and protect the integrity of the intellectual property system.


Patent attorneys fulfill a multifaceted role that is far broader than just completing patent applications. They evaluate inventions’ commercial potential, prosecute patents, craft protection strategies, facilitate licensing deals, monitor legislation, and uphold rigorous ethical standards. Patent counsel provides ongoing support that empowers inventors to fully capitalize on their innovations. With a patent attorney’s assistance, great ideas can be transformed into protected intellectual property assets and commercialized successfully.