Difference Between a Patent Agent and Attorney

Rich Goldstein

Founder & Principal Patent Attorney
Group of lawyers having a sit-down meeting in a conference room

When pursuing a patent, one of the major decisions is whether to go with a patent agent or attorney. If you’ve not experienced this and are working on a unique idea, chances are that you eventually will. 

While patent attorneys and agents might seem like the same profession at first, they’re pretty different. We walk through the difference between a patent agent and attorney so you know when to use each.

Difference Between a Patent Agent and Attorney 

To secure and market an invention, inventors must first obtain a patent. They must, however, navigate the complicated filing and examination process before getting a patent. While inventors may believe they know their invention best and can explain it to others, the reality is more complicated.

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Patents are complicated in both legal and technical terms. As a result, it is best to hire a professional with experience writing patent descriptions, analyzing potential infringements, meeting deadlines, understanding patentability criteria, handling paperwork, and estimating costs.

Furthermore, it is critical to retain the services of experienced patent professionals. Making the wrong decision here could result in losing all your work, competitive advantage, ability to stop infringing parties, potential earnings, and the invention itself.

Who Is a Patent Agent?

Patent agents are the experts who understand the technical aspects of patents and inventions. A strong science or engineering background is required to become a patent agent. This background enables them to comprehend the complex ideas generated by inventors.

They must also pass a test administered by the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). This test demonstrates that they understand the rules and laws governing patents. It is similar to receiving a certificate proving they can handle the unique world of patents.

Core Responsibilities

These professionals are vital in helping inventors protect their ideas and inventions. They have a wide range of responsibilities, including the following:

Drafting and Filing Patent Applications

Most inventors have great ideas. However, they are usually complicated. A patent agent is similar to a translator. They translate the complex concept into words for a special document known as a patent application. This document explains why the idea is unique and why the inventor should own it. 

Advising Clients on Patent Matters

Patent agents are responsible for more than just paperwork. They, too, serve as guides. They assist inventors in determining the best way to protect their ideas through patents. They discuss how to protect the ideas from being copied by others. Their advice is like a road map for navigating the patent rules.

Patent Prosecution Before the USPTO

Sometimes, the government must check to see if an idea is non-obvious and novel. Patent agents consult with the people who make decisions at the USPTO. They answer questions and explain why the idea deserves a patent. 

Technical Proficiency

Patent agents are excellent at comprehending technical information. They can read and understand complex inventions such as fancy machines and scientific processes. This enables them to write the patent application in a way that covers all of the essential points.

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Limitations

Patent agents are experts in the patent field. However, they cannot provide legal advice on other types of laws. If an inventor requires legal assistance not limited to patents, they should consult a different type of expert known as a patent attorney. Patent attorneys, like patent agents, are knowledgeable about patents. However, they are also knowledgeable about other legal matters.

Who Is a Patent Attorney?

Consider patent attorneys as legal experts who use the law to protect new ideas. They are skilled in science and engineering and are well-versed in legal principles. To become a patent attorney, you must learn about the law and pass the necessary tests demonstrating your knowledge.

Core Responsibilities

Patent attorneys are essential in assisting inventors in protecting their ideas and inventions. They are responsible for a wide range of tasks, including the following:

Legal Education and Bar Admission

Patent attorneys are knowledgeable in science and the law. They have spent significant time studying law and have been granted a special license to practice law. This means they understand and can apply the law to assist inventors in protecting their ideas.

Patent Litigation and Enforcement

Patent attorneys intervene when there is a dispute over patents. They also ensure that everyone follows the rules regarding patents. When someone tries to steal an inventor’s idea, patent attorneys step in to stop them.

Comprehensive Legal Advice on IP Matters

Patent attorneys know patents and are familiar with trademarks, copyrights, and trade secrets. This means that they can provide advice on how to protect inventions and creative works.

Legal and Technical Knowledge

What makes patent attorneys unique is their ability to communicate in two languages: the language of law and the language of technology. This allows them to explain complex inventions in a way the law can understand. 

Ability to Represent Clients in Court

While patent agents specialize in building protection, patent attorneys can also represent clients in court. They can explain to judges and juries why an invention should be protected. This ability assists them in obtaining patents and defending them when others challenge them.

Group of lawyers having a sit-down meeting in a conference room

Key Differences Between a Patent Agent and a Patent Attorney

Patent agents and patent attorneys are experts who can assist you in obtaining a patent. However, there are some significant differences between the two occupations.

Educational Background and Qualifications

Patent agents and solicitors may appear similar. However, their paths to expertise are not. Patent agents are technical experts. They have a solid scientific or engineering background, which allows them to comprehend complex inventions. They must also pass a test demonstrating knowledge of the patent rules. 

Patent attorneys, on the other hand, are both legal and technologically savvy. They have a law degree and have passed the bar exam. This means they understand both the law and the science behind inventions.

Scope of Legal Services They Can Provide

When it comes to patents, patent agents are essentially puzzle masters. They can assist inventors in writing and filing patent applications. They are also knowledgeable about patent strategy. However, they cannot provide legal advice outside of patents. 

Patent attorneys, on the other hand, can assist with patents. However, their knowledge extends beyond that. They can assist inventors with trademarks, copyright protections, and other areas of the law dealing with creativity and inventions.

Representation in Legal Proceedings

Patent attorneys take center stage when it comes to legal battles. They can provide legal representation in a courtroom. They can speak with judges and argue patents and other intellectual property issues for their clients. Despite their expertise, patent agents cannot appear in court as attorneys do. 

Depth of Expertise Required

Patent agents are masters of a single field – patents. They are experts at comprehending the technical details of inventions and creating patent applications. Patent attorneys, on the other hand, excel in a broader field that includes various types of intellectual property and the legal world. They are more versatile and capable of dealing with more complex legal situations.

Choosing the Right Professional

Consider your specific needs when deciding between a patent agent and an attorney. Here are some things to consider when selecting a patent agent or attorney.

Factors to Consider When Selecting a Patent Agent

Choosing a patent agent is like discovering the ideal tour guide for your innovation journey. Here are some things to consider:

Man looking at a board filled with papers, diagrams and clipped photos
  • Technical Expertise: Find a patent agent familiar with your invention’s science or engineering
  • Experience: Look for an experienced patent agent who has handled various inventions and understands how to navigate the patent process effectively
  • Communication Skills: You want a good patent attorney who can translate complex ideas into clear and concise patent applications. Ensure they understand your invention and can explain it in simple terms
  • Reputation: Investigate the reputation and track record of the patent agent

Factors to Consider When Hiring a Patent Attorney

Choosing a patent attorney is like finding a legal collaborator for inventive endeavors. Consider the following factors:

  • Legal and Technical Proficiency: Look for a patent attorney who understands not only the law, but they also understand the technical details of your invention
  • Credentials: Check their credentials and licenses to see if they are licensed to practice law and specialize in intellectual property
  • Litigation Experience: If you anticipate legal disputes, hire a patent attorney with patent litigation experience
  • Full Service Capabilities: Think about your needs outside of patents. Getting a patent attorney with a broad skill set may be better if you need advice on trademarks, copyrights, or other intellectual property issues

Cost Considerations for Each Option

Patent agents typically charge for their services in connection with patent applications. Their fees may vary depending on factors such as complexity and experience. Patent attorneys also charge fees for their services, which may be higher due to their legal expertise. 

However, the investment may be worthwhile if you require comprehensive legal advice or anticipate legal battles. 

Related Questions

Should I Hire a Patent Agent or Attorney?

You should hire a patent attorney because of their broader scope. However, your decision should be based on your specific requirements. A patent agent may suffice if your primary concern is drafting a solid patent application and you do not require broader legal advice. 

A patent attorney’s expertise may be more appropriate if you anticipate legal disputes, need advice on various aspects of intellectual property, or seek courtroom representation. 

How Can Patent Agents and Patent Attorneys Collaborate on the Same Case?

The patent agent can concentrate on the technical aspects of the invention and write the patent application, while the patent attorney can then review and refine the application legally. This collaboration ensures that both technical and legal issues are effectively addressed. Patent agents and patent attorneys frequently work together seamlessly.

What Are the Benefits of Hiring a Patent Attorney for a Startup Business?

A patent attorney can provide more comprehensive assistance to startups. They can assist you with patent filings and understanding the broader intellectual property landscape, including trademarks and copyrights. Their legal knowledge can also be invaluable if your startup is involved in a legal dispute.

Conclusion

The choice between hiring a patent agent and a patent attorney is personal. The most important thing is to select a professional with the necessary experience and expertise to protect your invention. A patent agent may be a good option if you only need assistance with the technical aspects of patent protection. However, you should consult a patent attorney for help with legal issues such as licensing or infringement.

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