Applying for a patent is often too complex for an inventor to handle by themselves. The legal requirements, plus the amount of information which needs to be completed, can often mean that applicants need professional assistance. There are two main types of professionals who can help inventors with their applications and design. The first set is the patent lawyers, who are often qualified in engineering, chemistry or physics, as well as having degrees in law.
They then take a specific license which allows them to practice patent law. For those who are not certain that they really need a patent lawyer, there are another group of people who can help the inventor, known as the patent agent. This group has not qualified in law, although they have to be qualified in certain fields, such as science, engineering or similar. They must also have passed the examination from the Patent and Trademark Office, which is often referred to as the ‘patent bar’.
How Can Patent Agents Help?
Anyone who has applied for a patent application in the past will be familiar with the role of patent attorneys. Agents work in a very similar way, being able to help the inventors to apply for patents, set out the forms and documents as required by the patent office, and also help clients to understand how the application works. Agents will also follow the advance of the application very closely, so that if the initial patent is rejected, agents will help their clients to reformulate the documents, and resubmit.
Patent agents are slightly different from the lawyers, in that they cannot form contracts, and they are also not allowed to inform the client of infringement of their patent, or other claimants filling similar patents. Inventors who want the reassurance of legal advice will have to employ an attorney. Despite this limitation, many inventors choose to use agents as they are more focused upon the patent, rather than upon legal issues which may not even arise.
Finding A Patent Agent
The best way to find a patent agent is to research the Patent and Trademark Office’s list of people in the US who can practice as an agent. However, a lot of research suggests that many of the listed agents are no longer working, may no longer be eligible, or have withdrawn from practice for other reasons. Nearly one third of people listed may not be working. Generally, agents are much less widely available than patent attorneys, and so it can be harder to find one in the inventor’s area.
As with researching a lawyer, inventors are really looking for someone with experience in the law as it will affect their design. This could involve specialist experience, or connections to the industry the inventor is working in. The agent should also be able to help the applicant with the progress of their application with a good understanding of the purpose of the invention, and how it can be classed under the application process. This knowledge will greatly help any patent application.
Eric Schmidt is a business consultant for artists and inventors. On his free time, he writes about relevant topics that affects small businesses in the USA.