I’m not an expert. I’m just a guy who likes to think about stuff.
What’s the difference between a patent attorney and patent agent?
If you have an invention and want to hire someone to draft, file, and prosecute your invention, you have two options: a patent attorney or a patent agent. Which one do you choose?
The main difference between a patent attorney and patent agent is law school and bar admission. Patent attorneys have graduated from law school and passed a state bar exam. Patent agents haven’t. Both patent attorneys and patent agents have passed the USPTO Registration Examination (aka the patent bar).
Patent attorneys tend to be people who earned a STEM degree and then went to law school. They may have experience working in a STEM field, but often do not. Patent agents tend to have extensive experience working in a STEM field before becoming patent agents. When it comes to knowledge of the law, patent attorneys have a leg up on patent agents. But regarding the actual workings of an invention, patent agents typically come out on top.
Both patent attorneys and patent agents are able to draft, file, and prosecute patent applications before the USPTO. However, if you’re ever sued for infringement (or want to sue for infringement), an attorney is necessary. Patent agents can’t litigate, only attorneys can. Also, only attorneys can deal with trademark and copyright issues; patent agents are limited to patent work only.
So which do you hire: a patent attorney or patent agent? Well, it depends. When initially speaking with a patent practitioner, see if they know what they’re talking about. If you’re patenting software, a patent practitioner with software experience and/or an electrical or computer engineering degree is best. What does he charge? Does he use billable hours or a flat fee pay structure? Is he easy to get a hold of? Does your application seem like a priority? All of this should factor into your hiring decision.