I have written before about how important it is for patent agents to take and pass the Patent Bar exam. This is necessary for one to become a Registered Patent Agent (RPA) with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). It is also vital for a job search as a patent agent. Many firms require (or at least prefer) that a candidate be a RPA before they will interview them. The question we examine today is whether taking and passing the Patent Bar exam is also important for IP prosecution associates. Again, the answer is an emphatic “yes,” and for many of the same reasons it is so important for patent agents. To be a successful patent prosecutor – whether as an IP associate or as a patent agent – it is not enough to just understand the science or technology underlying the patents. You must also understand the legal aspects of patent prosecution as well. Passing the Patent Bar exam demonstrates that you have this knowledge. It also demonstrates that you are seriously committed to a career of prosecuting patents, whether as an IP associate or patent agent.
In order to be qualified to sit for the Patent Bar exam, a candidate needs to have at least a bachelor’s degree in a scientific or engineering field. Passing the exam is not a simple task. Typical pass rates are around 33% (give or take 6% or so), and this is from a group of highly capable scientists, engineers and lawyers who are not accustomed to failing anything. Although IP is a relatively hot area, there is still strong competition. Candidates who demonstrate the effort and ability to pass this exam will stand out from those who did not. Moreover, as with patent agents, many firms will not even interview IP associate candidates who have not passed the Patent Bar exam. It is thus clear that passing the exam will strengthen an associate’s status in the IP prosecution market, just as it does for a patent agent. Of course, there are other important factors that affect this status as well. One of these factors is the type of technical degree a candidate possesses. I have found that IP prosecution candidates generally fall into four general categories. First, there is the electrical engineering category, which also includes computer science, computer engineering and physics because these fields are often paired with electrical engineering in job descriptions. This is, by far, the hottest IP category for job seekers. The second is what is broadly called the “biotech” field. This includes biotechnology, biology, molecular biology, genetics and “the life sciences,” and also includes chemistry (organic or inorganic), biochemistry, medical devices and pharmaceuticals. These areas are also frequently found together in job descriptions. There is some demand for these areas, but not as much as there used to be. The last category is the “other” leftover areas that have limited demand, including mechanical engineering, materials, and other technical areas not named above. Regardless of your technical background, however, you will strengthen your cause by passing the Patent Bar exam.