Patent Lawyers


Education and Training Requirements

High School

To prepare for this field, take college preparatory classes in high school that include the sciences (such as biology, chemistry, and physics) 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, as well as the ability to turn research into a logical, progressive argument. Since much of your professional time will be spent researching documents, writing patent specifications, and presenting arguments, be sure to take English and speech classes to develop your writing, speaking, and research skills. Finally, since many colleges have a foreign language requirement and patent work takes place around the world, consider adding a language to your class schedule.

Postsecondary Training

You will need to have a bachelor's degree to apply to law school. Many aspiring patent lawyers major in physics, engineering, or the sciences (such as chemistry and biochemistry). You will also want to load up on courses as English, government, economics, and a foreign language. Patent lawyers in the greatest demand typically have Ph.D.'s in a science or technology field, such as genetic engineering, chemical engineering, or biotechnology, as well as their law degree. A Ph.D. may take between four and five years of post-undergraduate course work to complete.

Law school is three years and after graduating with a J.D. (juris doctorate), you will need to pass the state bar exam to qualify for a job as a patent lawyer.

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.

Some graduates participate in credit and noncredit post-law school programs. Law schools that offer such programs include Columbia University School of Law, the University of New Hampshire, and George Mason University Law School.


Some lawyers choose to earn a master of laws (LL.M) degree, an advanced law certification that helps them advance professionally. LL.M programs, which typically last one year, are offered in many areas—such as business law, general law, intellectual property, international business and trade law, and litigation/trial advocacy. A first law degree is required for admission to LL.M programs. Visit for more information. Visit for a list of LL.M specialties and the law schools that offer them.

Other Education or Training

The American Intellectual Property Law Association offers continuing education opportunities. Recent seminars covered topics such as "building a global portfolio" and "opposing competitor applications." The National Association of Patent Practitioners offers members-only e-mail discussion forums where "questions, thoughts and answers about intellectual property rules, theory and procedures, operating a patent practitioner business, recommendations on products, etc." are shared. The Association of Corporate Counsel, 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.

Additionally, most law firms provide in-house continuing education opportunities to their employees. Some offer mentorship programs that pair new lawyers with experienced lawyers to help them learn the ins and outs of the career.

Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements

Certification or Licensing

The National Board of Trial Advocacy offers voluntary board certification in civil law, criminal law, and other areas. Contact the Board for more information. 

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 have a college degree and a law degree from a law school accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA). Many find these requirements are 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 engineering or scientific fields that has been approved by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits

Patent lawyers gain experience while in law school and with summer jobs or internships working in law offices or corporations. Patent application drafting, advanced legal writing, and comprehensive reading and research skills are all required to be a competitive applicant.

Patent lawyers must have experience and skills outside the legal professional, such as in engineering or bioscience. Depending on the area of patent law, you will need to have either work experience or a bachelor's degree (or higher) in a technical field.

While scientific aptitude and knowledge are clearly important for achieving success in this field, verbal skills tend to be at just 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 or technical training.