Patent attorneys and patent agents both do patent applications but there are some significant differences inventors should know about.
Patent agents and patent attorneys have expertise in assisting inventors obtain intellectual property (IP) protection of their ideas and inventions. Individuals claiming to be a patent attorney or agent must have passed the Patent Bar Examination. In order to qualify for the Patent Bar, patent agents and patent attorneys must have a university degree in an approved technical field, such as engineering, or an area of science, such as biology or chemistry. Patent agents and attorneys must continuously update their knowledge of IP issues.
The difference between patent attorneys and patent agents is straightforward—patent agents are not attorneys-at-law, and as such, cannot conduct patent litigation in the courts or perform certain other services which are considered by the local jurisdiction as practicing law. For example, a patent agent could not draw up a contract relating to a patent, such as an assignment or a license, if the state in which he/she resides considers drafting contracts as practicing law.
Otherwise, both patent attorneys and patent agents are able to prepare and pursue a patent application through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). The USPTO typically regards patent agents to be just as well qualified as patent attorneys.
Patent agents advertise that they are generally less expensive than patent attorneys in assisting the entrepreneur in gaining IP protection.
Regardless of whether you are considering an agent or an attorney, you should first develop an understanding of your desired result and then ask how much it will cost to achieve. Most attorneys and agents will provide a general fee quote upon request.
Some common rules that provide protection to IP novices are:
- not rushing, or being rushed, through the IP process;
- taking time to investigate and educate yourself;
- recognizing the value of third-party evaluation;
- making sure your IP professional possesses the experience and technical expertise needed for your particular technology; and
- checking references, checking references, and checking references.
Following these suggestions will also likely save you money. As an example, there are a number of Web-based and other resources available to help you gain a good understanding of what other IP has already been established relating to your technology. The more you know about these related technologies and the IP associated with them, the better prepared you'll be to deal with the IP professional you ultimately choose to do business with.