In every field, continuous learning is one of the most important ways to stay on top of constantly changing rules, regulations, and standards. This is particularly true of the patent process, which is why patent attorneys and registered patent agents must remain diligent and continue educating themselves even after passing the patent bar exam.
Having a good grasp on the changes that are occurring in the field provides a stronger ability to confront any and all challenges head-on. This, in turn, leads to increased confidence and the motivation to continue being good at what you do.
What Learning is Required to become a Patent Attorney or Agent?
From the very beginning, there is a significant amount of education required to become a patent attorney or agent. If you’re new to this field, you might be wondering what the difference is between the two. A patent attorney and a patent agent fill the same general role; helping inventors gain patents. Each has taken a slightly different way of getting there and there are some differences in the options outside of patent law. That said, the one thing they have in common is that they have to pass the patent bar exam. In addition, they both have a background in science and engineering.
For an attorney, they must follow the typical trajectory for the profession. First, get an undergraduate degree in one of the specific science or engineering fields. Next, pass the LSAT and apply to and attend law school. After graduation, they can sit for the state bar exam to be licensed in their state.
To be a patent attorney, they also have to take and pass the patent bar exam. Passing the patent bar isn’t a substitute for passing the state bar. It’s something that you get in addition to it.
A patent agent has a little bit of a different path. This is someone who has not gone to law school but who has a degree and relevant experience in science, tech, or engineering. The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has a very specific list of the subjects that are acceptable. They include biochemistry, biology, food technology, and a variety of engineering specialties. With the right credentials, people with these degrees can apply and take the patent bar exam. Since a patent agent has no law degree, they can only ever work in patent law.
To review, the difference between a patent attorney and a patent agent is that the attorney has a law degree and may give legal advice as well as practice law in other fields. The patent agent doesn’t have a law degree and can’t sit for a state bar exam though they have extensive knowledge in their field of study as it relates to patent law.
Is Continuing Education Required for Patent Attorneys and Agents?
Believe it or not, there are no continuous learning requirements for patent agents. As mentioned, an attorney may have to fulfill continuing legal education (CLE) requirements in the state where they passed the bar exam and practice law, but there are no such requirements that are specific to patent law. USPTO requires that both lawyers and agents pass the patent bar exam initially, there is no follow-up education required.
Does this mean that patent attorneys and agents shouldn’t strive for continuous learning? The answer is, no. Absolutely not!
Why Is Continuous Learning Necessary?
The simple answer is this: the field of patent law is constantly changing. To be a successful and effective patent attorney or agent, you need to keep up.
One major reason why continuing education is necessary is because of new updates in the field, the biggest of which was the America Invents Act (AIA). It was put into law in 2011 and made drastic changes to the patent law system.
The biggest thing that the AIA did was shift to a system where the first person to file for a patent will be the top contender to be issued one. This is a change from the previous law which granted the patent to the first person to invent whatever the patent is being sought for.
It’s not hard to see how this can get complicated. There’s a chance that the person who files a later patent might be the rightful inventor. They can contest the patent, but there’s a lot of steps to the process.
This is one glaring example of major policy change. There would be no way to understand it and all its ramifications without engaging in serious, lengthy continuous learning. Not every change to patent law is going to span as large as the AIA but keeping up to date on changes in the industry is key to being successful.
Confidence Building through Learning
If you’re not aware of new laws, standards, and practices in the field, there’s a good chance you’re going to miss something. Only by making sure you know the ins and outs of all of the changes that are constantly happening can you be confident you’ll always be able to deliver your all at work.
Education truly is empowering. It gives you the tools you need to make the right decisions and solve problems for your company. The more you know and the more experience you have, the larger your bag of tricks will be when approaching the next problem, and the next.
Once you have confidence, it’s easy for your clients and superiors to pick up on it. You won’t make the silly mistakes that people who aren’t caught up on all the changes will. Having a lot of experience and learning to fall back on will help you throughout your career. Everything changes. It’s up to you to keep up.