Biotechnology Patent Lawyers


Education and Training Requirements

High School

To prepare for this field, take college preparatory classes in high school that include both the sciences, such as biology and chemistry, and government or law. In addition, take mathematics and economics classes, which will give you practice working with numbers and theories. Take history or social studies courses, which will provide you with an understanding of the development of societies. Since much of your professional time will be spent researching documents, writing patent specifications, and presenting arguments, be sure to take English classes. These classes will help you develop your writing, speaking, and research skills. Finally, since many colleges have a foreign language requirement and biotechnology work takes place around the world, consider adding a language to your class schedule.

Postsecondary Education

Because this is a specialized field, you will need several years of postsecondary training that includes undergraduate- and graduate-level work. Like any lawyer, you will need to get a college degree before attending law school. A liberal arts background is the most common to have. In addition to such courses as English, government, and economics, you will also want to load up on science courses and should consider majoring in one of the sciences. In fact, biotechnology patent lawyers in the greatest demand typically have Ph.D.s in a science field, such as genetic engineering, as well as their law degree. After college, a Ph.D. in one of the sciences may take between four and five years to complete. Law school typically lasts three years for full-time students. As part of their entrance requirements, most law schools require potential students to take the Law School Admission Test (LSAT), which measures critical thinking and reasoning abilities. In law school you will take such classes as legal writing and research, contracts, constitutional law, and property. You should also take courses in intellectual property law, which are necessary for any type of patent lawyer. You will graduate from law school with a juris doctor (J.D.) degree or a bachelor of laws (LL.B.) degree.

Other Education or Training

The American Intellectual Property Lawyers Association offers continuing education opportunities. One recent webinar was titled “Obtaining and Enforcing Patents on Bioinformatic and Diagnostic Inventions.” The National Association of Patent Practitioners offers teleconferences on topics such as honing one’s patent prosecution skills and growing a successful patent practice. It also provides workshops and seminars at its annual meeting, including a short course titled “The Nuts & Bolts of Patent Prosecution.” The American Bar Association, Biotechnology Industry Organization, National Association for Law Placement, and state and local bar associations also offer a variety of continuing education opportunities. Contact these organizations for more information.

Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements

Certification or Licensing

To practice any type of law, you must pass the bar exam of the state where you intend to practice. To qualify for the bar exam in most states, you must usually have a college degree as well as a law degree from a law school accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA). Many find these requirements tough enough, but would-be patent lawyers have a much longer and harder road to travel before they can practice. First, all patent attorneys must pass another bar exam specific to patent law and given by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Patent attorneys must then also prove that they have at least an undergraduate degree in one of the scientific fields that has been approved by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Additionally, the National Association of Patent Practitioners offers a voluntary certification program to patent practitioners.

Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits

While scientific aptitude and knowledge are clearly important for achieving success in this field, verbal skills tend to be as important as the more analytic, scientific ones. While just communicating with the inventor may take all your skill and scientific background, the even greater challenge often comes when you have to communicate that specialized and technical knowledge to a judge who may have no scientific training.

Other important traits for biotechnology patent lawyers include the ability to work well with others; good problem-solving skills; determination; strong ethics; research skills; the ability to direct the work of others; and strong time-management skills.