Patent Attorney Career Facts

Patent attorneys work in the most highly volatile area of law in the world. Patents and related properties are very big business, and patent holders make great efforts to protect their intellectual property from piracy and infringement.

The work environment

Patent attorneys often act as representatives contesting lawsuits, but a major part of their work is in an advisory capacity. Taking out a patent involves an application process, and possible challenges to granting of patents. 

Patents are granted to unique, innovative designs. Patent holders are given the legal status of exclusive ownership and control of the patent. To be granted, a patent application must be:

  • A unique new product or design, not infringing other patents.
  • A design or product which incorporates innovation and invention.
  • A design in which any challenges related to granting of the patent have been dismissed.

The patent application process: The patent attorney's advisory role is particularly important in the initial application. This is a formal process, conducted under national and international laws. Even the wording of a patent application can be an issue in this highly litigious area of intellectual property.

Descriptions of patents at the application stage must be good definitions of the patent's design and concept. The description must be comprehensive, including all facets of its design and function. If it doesn't, the validity of the patent may be questioned in areas omitted from the description.

This can be a truly demanding process for the patent attorney. Patent law is based on principles of ownership of intellectual property, which are well defined. But dealing with the unique properties of a new patent contains some potential traps. New patents, also by definition, contain whole new aspects of design, functions and often new technology. Clear expression of new concepts may involve intensive effort to ensure that the patent application accurately reflects all elements contained in the design.

Patent disputes

This is an adversarial legal process, often involving difficult, prolonged types of cases, with appeals possible up to superior courts. Patent attorneys, acting either for patent owners or parties challenging patent owners, must present their cases to a court, arguing in favor of their clients. Some of these cases regularly involve patents worth billions of dollars, and last for years.

This process involves:

  • Legal principles of patent ownership

  • Proof of infringement of patents, where charged

  • Proof of non-infringement of patents, based on either public domain arguments or ownership of valid intellectual property which proves a legal right to use elements of patents. (Public domain is an area of intellectual property whereby a product or process is held to be not subject to intellectual property ownership, like radio waves for cell phones.)

  • Issues of injury and/or material loss to patent holders

  • Settlements, in which cases a patent attorney acts as a negotiator for clients

The career environment

Patent attorneys operate in a rapidly expanding area of commercial law. The very high dollar values of patents have made the role of a patent attorney a high profile legal career option. Patent attorneys achieve career progression through professional achievement, and are often sought for their specialization in particular areas of patent law.