Patent Law

What is a Patent, What Does a Patent Attorney Do, and Do I Need One?

Issued by the federal government, a patent grants an inventor the exclusive property rights to their invention for a designated period of time, typically 20 years. In the United States, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) handles and approves patent applications. The basic idea behind a patent is to protect the rights of individuals and companies who are creating innovative products and services.

Who Needs a Patent?

If you’ve invented or discovered a new or useful composition of matter, design, machine, plant, process, or useful product, you may be eligible to obtain a patent. There are three types of patents that the USPTO issues:

  1. Design Patents
  2. Plant Patents
  3. Utility Patents

But here’s the truth: No one needs a patent. However, if you want to leverage your invention or discovery for business purposes, a patent will give you more control over your respective market and provide more opportunities when it comes to selling your invention.


What is a Patent Attorney?

A patent attorney specializes in intellectual property and patent law and practice. They’re experts in preparing and filing patent applications and representing clients in court for patent-related matters including, but not limited to:

  • Infringement/Enforcement
  • Licensing or other transfer
  • Re-examination.

The goal of a patent attorney is to secure and protect an inventor’s property rights.

Patent attorneys have technical backgrounds and also have passed both a state bar exam and the patent bar exam. The latter is an exam that grants them the license to represent clients before the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).

So, how does a patent attorney differ from a patent agent?

The primary difference between a patent attorney and a patent agent is the ability to practice law. As mentioned above, a patent attorney has attended law school, passed the state bar exam, and the patent bar exam, giving them the ability to practice law and patent law.

A patent agent, on the other hand, also has a technical degree but has only passed the patent bar exam. Therefore, he or she cannot provide legal guidance, draft contracts or non-disclosure agreements, or represent you in legal proceedings, and do not have the same ethical obligations as an attorney. Furthermore, if you work with a patent agent, you do not have the attorney-client confidentiality privilege you would receive from a patent attorney. 

However, there is an exception. If a patent agent assists a patent attorney in the application process or prosecution, the attorney-client privilege applies.


Why Not File a Patent Myself?

You can file a patent application yourself but MMI Intellectual Property and the USPTO highly recommend hiring a patent attorney. A patent attorney will have the expertise and knowledge to help you through the often arduous process of preparing and filing a patent application. Moreover, should you file the application incorrectly, you may be giving up your intellectual property rights and will have little chance of retroactively fixing these mistakes.


What Makes a “Good” Patent Attorney?

Preparing and filing a patent application and protecting your intellectual property can be expensive, often costing between $5,000-$15,000 to draft the patent—depending on the invention's complexity—and then another $1,000 or more to file it - and that does not include filing for protection in other countries. It's for this reason that you need to find a patent attorney that has your best interests in mind. A good patent attorney:

  • Won't sell you on a patent when a trade secret or copyright works
  • Inquires about the marketability of your invention and your business plan
  • Provides resources to see if your invention already exists
  • Gives you a fair estimate
  • Files a provisional patent application first
  • Makes your business journey feel like a partnership
  • Understands your invention and can explain it back to you (and sometimes even improve it)
  • Discusses your options for international protection
  • Connects you with the local and regional entrepreneurial network  


Determining if You Need a Patent

While this may sound shocking coming from a patent attorney, we’re not here to sell you on a patent. We’re here to provide legal advice, guidance, and support for whatever your intellectual property needs may be. If you’re interested in learning more about how our firm helps protect inventors, business owners, and creators, reach out to us by visiting our contact page or filling out the form below.

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