Do You Need a Registered Patent Agent for Your Business?

Do You Need a Registered Patent Agent for Your Business?

All About Registered Patent Agents

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Patents are complicated. If your business has a patent you want to register, you might need a patent agent.

What is a Patent? What Can Be Patented?

A patent is something that is invented. To claim ownership of your invention and protect from being copied or used without your permission, you must patent it. You can patent anything that is (a) new and (b) useful, but the question of what you can patent is complex. That's where a patent agent might be helpful.

The patent process in the U.S. is regulated by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO, which registers patents and keeps a database of registered patents.

What is a Registered Patent Agent?

A registered patent agent is someone who is able to register a patent with the USPTO or helps others register their patents. To become a registered patent agent, a person must take an exam run by the USPTO. To sit for the exam, a person must have a "scientific education." IPWatchdog explains that the burden is on the individual applicant to show that they have the necessary scientific and technical training.

The proof of the scientific education must be at least a Bachelor's degree in one of the sciences or in a type of engineering. Usually, a patent agent will specialize in a patent subject area, like biomedical engineering or microbiology.

Do I Need a Patent Agent?

The changes in the patent world in the past few years, as noted above, mean that the number and complexity of patent applications have dramatically increased. In 1963, U.S. patent applications were 66, 715, up to 2015 (the last year recorded), when there were 288,335 patent applications.

Recent changes in the patent laws have also changed the patent application process. The America Invents Act (AIA), in effect since March 2013, is the most recent change in the patent law. This law changes the patent process into a "first-to-file" situation instead of the previous "first-to-invent" system.

This change means that your ability to file your patent application quickly is most important, with the ability to make changes to the patent once it's filed.

Some critics of the new law have argued that it favors big corporations that have patent attorneys on staff, but small businesses may also be able to benefit from "first-to-file," with the aid of a patent agent. If you think someone else is working on your patent idea, having a patent agent ready to go when you have all the documentation will help you file quickly.

Patents have also increased in complexity with the advent of the internet. Internet patents have become common and more patent disputes have arisen. One recent dispute, between online dating services Tinder and Bumble, shows that it's difficult to figure out what is patentable and what isn't. The dispute is (in part) over whether an online application can be patented.

If your patent application involves the internet, and even if it doesn't, it would certainly be helpful to have a patent agent to make your patent application process go more smoothly and have a better chance of being accepted.

Is a Patent Agent an Attorney?

A patent agent may be an attorney, but have a law license is not necessary for someone to become a patent agent. Someone who wants to be a patent attorney or a patent agent must register to practice before the USPTO. It's the registration, not the law degree, that allows someone to be a registered patent agent.

How Much Does a Patent Agent Charge?

There are two costs associated with patent applications. The first cost is the application fee, charged by the USPTO. Patent filing fees vary based on the type of application and the size of the business. For example, the regular fee for a basic filing is $300, with a fee of $150 for small entities and a fee of $75 for micro-entities.

The second cost is the fees charged by the patent agent. This fee depends on a number of factors, including (a) the complexity of the patent, which affects the time needed by the patent agent, and (b) the level of experience and skill of the patent agent. It's not necessarily true that an attorney charges more than a non-attorney. A non-attorney who has a higher level of experience in your type of patent might charge more than an attorney who has less skill.

Upcounsel, an attorney hiring site, has more details on costs associated with hiring a patent agent.

How Do I Find a Registered Patent Agent?

The USPTO has a list of registered patent agents. You will need to enter at least one search criterion. For example, I entered my city and state and clicked on "Only Practitioners Currently Accepting New Clients." I got a list, including some attorneys.

You might also check the Martindale-Hubbell directory if you would consider a registered patent agent who is an attorney. This directory lists attorneys by specialty and location.

One more tip: if you are filing an internet patent or you plan to sell your product internationally, look for a patent agent or attorney who has international patent application experience.