Engineers and law are a powerful combination. Communication skills learned in law school complement the quantitative skills developed in engineering training. Analyzing legal cases is similar to techniques used in scientific problem-solving.
Patent law is a specialized legal field which involves the trademarking of new products and inventions. Because of this, lawyers and graduates of certain scientific and engineering fields are the only ones who can sit for the patent bar exam. Engineers falls into this specialized group. Engineers should consider learning about patents because it offers an alternative to the regular work an engineer would take on and because it offers the potential of a high salary.
An engineer can succeed in the legal field if some common pitfalls are avoided. The traps tend to make it hard for engineers to adjust to studying law. Once aligned, engineers do as well in law school as their political science classmates.
The Hard Part
There are aspects of law school that are particularly foreign to many engineers and techies.
Reading, Writing & Testing: The sheer volume of required reading is daunting. It is not unusual to be assigned more than 100 pages to read per night. Reading law material is different from reading a novel. Extremely dense cases slow down even the fastest of readers. Case briefings are also a daily assignment and fast students need several hours to keep the pace. The time crunch is at its worst in the first few weeks when students have no idea what they are doing.
It’s also rare for a student in a science based field to have well developed writing skills. Although science and engineering students may be used to preparing lab reports, law students must be able to prepare well-thought out, well-written dissertations and essays.
Likewise, exams will often test in a real-life, analytical scenario. While scientists and engineers are used to clear cut, fact based exams, exams in law school will require employing critical thinking instead of necessarily simply giving the “right” answer.
Luckily, there are many aspects of legal education that people with a techie background have a distinct advantage with.
Analytic Skills & Math: Legal analysis follows a logical progression. It is similar to proofs. Techies know how to think analytically. Non-techies often struggle with this aspect of law school. The engineer has to learn to convey logic in words to produce effective legal writing. The engineer will also have a leg up on other students when it comes to crunching numbers. Patent Law requires lots of in-depth analytics of statistics. Not only will engineers be able to properly analyze and makes sense of the statistics, but legal battles are often won with logic.
Try not to get too concerned about the trials of a legal education. All law schools require first-year students to take a legal writing class, which will help you to develop the writing skills you need to get through. It is essential for engineers to take the class and develop needed skills for final exams. To ensure that you are successful in taking the patent bar exam, you can also participate in prep classes and study groups as well as take part in test exams to ensure your success. Read cases and begin learning how to analyze them.
The Reason for this Presentation
Becoming a patent agent or patent attorney is not the only career option in the area of patent law. However, only students with science and engineering backgrounds can sit for the patent bar exam. Along with the rise in technology over the last 15 years, the demand for intellectual property attorneys has also risen, as well as job prospects for qualified students.
Patent attorneys and agents help clients with the patent navigation to acquire patents for their inventions. A patent agent does not have to have a law degree. The list below gives the median salaries of different types of engineers, patent agents, and patent attorneys.
- Agricultural Engineer $59,220
- Environmental Engineer $63,111
- Biomedical Engineer $63,861
- Industrial Engineer $64,515
- Civil Engineer $65,440
- Structural Engineer $65,606
- Design Engineer $65,714
- Manufacturing Engineer $66,207
- Mechanical Engineer $69,231
- Project Engineer $$69,445
- Chemical Engineer $72,806
- Electrical Engineer $73,699
- Electronics Engineer $75,307
- Software Engineer $81,057
- Aerospace Engineer $82,398
- Nuclear Engineer $84,971
- Patent Agent $92,000
- Petroleum Engineer $101,817
- Patent Attorney $133,000
The experience an engineer accumulates by earning an undergraduate degree in engineering makes patent law an ideal field to move into. The only new credential needed to become a patent agent is passing the patent bar exam. However, as you can see, obtaining a law degree and passing the patent bar exam leads to a more lucrative patent attorney career.
Engineers work with their hands and on computers. Attending meetings and communicating with team members or management may also be duties performed. Patent agents don’t work much with their hands.
Most of the day is spent drafting patent applications or overcoming rejections. They spend time communicating with other office members. Communicating with inventors whose patents they are trying to acquire is also necessary.
The inventors may be individuals, groups, or an engineering company or university like the one where you are currently working. Patent agents likely protect more inventions than they would as an engineer or inventor.
Patent Bar Exam
The exam is a multiple-choice, six-hour exam that contains 100 questions. Details from the Manual of Patent Examining Procedure are tested. When the USPTO introduces new guidelines, supplemental material may need to be reviewed.
The exam is “open-book.” The candidate has access to the MPEP that outlines all patent law aspects. It contains thousands of pages that do not include the supplemental material. The search function is limited.
To benefit from taking the open-book exam, the candidate needs to know topic locations. The test is timed and does not allow for every question to be researched. It takes many people a full year to prepare for the exam. The average time spent studying is three to six months.
Passing the exam is worth the trouble. There are various scenarios for patent agents seeking employment. Many former engineers immediately obtain a job after passing the exam. Some acquire entry-level positions before preparing for the test. There are those who work first for a technology transfer office. Others gain immediate patent agent employment. In addition, the status of an engineer is elevated upon receiving the credential of a registered patent agent so taking and passing the exam is really an opportunity for nearly any engineer.