The Steps to Becoming a Patent Agent

The difference between a patent agent and patent attorney

US patent application
US patent application. Getty Images/Don Farrall

Filing a patent seems like a clerical job. On the face of it, it sounds like all you need is a little research, a little discovery and put a stamp on a patent and you are done. In reality, the role is a lot more involved than it seems, let's review how.

What Is a Patent Agent or Patent Attorney?

Whether you are a patent agent or patent attorney, you are generally performing the same roles. Patent agents and patent attorneys both have a degree in engineering or science, and they have to study the patent rules, patent laws and how the patent office works.

The steps to becoming a patent agent or attorney are rigorous.

The major difference between a patent agent and a patent attorney is that an attorney has additionally graduated from law school, passed the law bar and has the ability to practice law in one or more states in the U.S.

The Patent Bar

Both agents and attorneys have to take a very difficult examination with a pretty low pass rate to become admitted to the patent bar. The patent bar is officially called the Examination for Registration to Practice in Patent Cases Before the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

The exam is a 100-question, six-hour, multiple-choice test. The applicant is provided three hours to complete 50 questions in the morning, and another three hours to complete 50 questions in the afternoon. The exam contains 10 beta questions which do not count towards the exam taker's final score, but there is no way to know which of the 100 questions are among these 10 ungraded questions.

The required score to pass is 70 percent or 63 correct out of the 90 graded questions.

Someone who is admitted to the patent bar is permitted legally to represent patent clients in preparing and filing patent applications and then prosecuting them through the examination process in the patent’s office to obtain an issue to patent.

Steps Involved in Becoming a Registered Patent Agent

Here are the basic steps on how to become a registered patent agent that are recognized by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

StepActionDescription
1a.Get a "Category A" bachelor's degreeObtain a bachelor's degree in a field of science, technology or engineering that is recognized by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. 
1b.Or, get a "Category B or C" bachelor's degreeYou can apply if you have a bachelor's degree or foreign equivalency in a similarly related subject and it can be combined with course credits, alternative training, life experiences, military service, graduate degrees and other conditions. If applying with a foreign equivalency degree that is not in English, all documentation must have certified English translations.
2.Apply, study and pass the patent bar examApply and study for the patent bar exam and review previous patent bar exams online. This exam is now given by Thomson Prometric anytime, nationwide, and once a year via paper test at a physical location determined by the patent office.
3.Submit documents and feesComplete list of all the documents and submit the required fees and meet all filing deadlines.

Disqualifications from the Patent Bar

Those individuals who are not eligible to apply for the patent bar or as a patent agent or attorney include those who have been convicted of a crime within two years or those individuals after two years of a completed sentence do not meet the burden of proof of reform and rehabilitation.

Also, ineligible applicants include those who have been disbarred from practice or law or their profession due to a disciplinary hearing or those individuals who are found lacking in good moral character or standing.