Patent Law

What it is

Patent law is the law governing ownership of inventions. Patent Attorneys and Patent Agents (who are registered with the U.S. Patent Office) obtain patents for clients; attorneys practicing patent law also help clients assert or defend against claims of patent infringement. Some law firms specialize in intellectual property and patent law, while others have one or more attorneys who handle that side of a broader practice. Corporations also have in-house patent lawyers who submit or oversee patent applications and protect the their interests in patent disputes.

Starting points

You don’t have to go to law school necessarily to have a rewarding career in patent law. As a PhD in a STEM field, you can seek a non-lawyer position first, such as Scientific Advisor, to see how you like the work. You may also be eligible to take the US Patent Office Registration Exam and become a Patent Agent, representing clients seeking to obtain patents. You may also elect to go to law school and become an attorney, with the added ability to represent clients in patent-related disputes.


Though one can be very happy for a long time in a non-lawyer role (particularly as a Patent Agent), many advancement opportunities are only available to attorneys. You can work in any size law firm that suits you, as long as it has an intellectual property practice, and if very enterprising you can start your own practice. You can also work in-house with innovative companies of various sizes, including university technology transfer offices.


Most STEM disciplines can enter this career (except for Math), and your scientific knowledge will be a greater advantage here than it will be in many non-academic professions.

Personality and outlook

Ability to tolerate fast-paced, high-pressure environments is essential for anyone working in a law firm. You should be extremely comfortable with the commercialization and administration of science and technology, and a tireless, eagle-eyed reader of long, detailed documents containing both technical and legal jargon.


Take classes in intellectual property, technology commercialization, and the economics of science. Read up on contemporary intellectual property law and interesting case studies. Ask your PI to introduce you to any patent lawyers s/he knows, or to anyone in your university’s technology transfer office, who might be able to make such an introduction so that you can conduct informational interviews with patent lawyers about their work and lifestyles.

Real Life Examples