A PhD scientist’s transition to law often revolves around patent law. Responsibilities in patent law include writing and submitting patent applications, investigating the originality of an idea, examining patent infringement cases, and negotiating with clients to issue or license patents. Depending on the employer, patent law employees will handle a range of projects that require broad-based to specialized scientific or technical knowledge. Entry-level positions that do not require a law degree are technical specialist/scientific advisor at law firms or organizations that have intellectual property practices. Often times, technical specialist/scientific advisors will take the patent bar exam to become a registered patent agent and many patent agents choose to become a patent attorney. In this case, law firms may sponsor the employee to attend law school to earn a law degree while continuing to work part-time. Employment at law firms often requires ‘billable hours’ (time spent with client) of 1600-2300 hours per year, which averages out to ~50hrs/wk. A patent law employee can expect a salary of $80K-200K depending on experience and law degree (technical specialist/scientific advisor vs. patent agent vs. patent attorney).
Communication of complex scientific ideas
Excellence in writing and speaking
Attention to detail
Ability to juggle several projects and meet frequent deadlines
Types of Positions
Technical specialist/scientific advisor
State and Federal Government
United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO)
Internships: the Office for Technology Commercialization has part-time paid internships that include reading and working with patents. Local law firms may also be interested in hiring PhD students as interns.
Law School: you do not need a JD to take the Patent Bar Examination and become a patent agent. However, a JD may open doors for better jobs later on in your career.
Informational Interviews: talk with patent agents and the Office for Technology Commercialization to find opportunities and learn more about working in patent law.
Twin Cities Companies
Minnesota Patent and Intellectual Property Law Firm List:
Office for Technology Commercializaiton
Research Network on Law and Neuroscience
American Intellectual Property Law Association
American Bar Association
Intellectual Property and Patent Job search engine
Patent Bar Exam: