Patent Agent Legal Services: When it comes to legal rights, in pertinent part, property rights, there are licensed professionals who offer help in exercising or protecting your rights: lawyers. For patents there are patent practitioners (agent or attorney) to deal with these special rights.

Patents are Intellectual Property and Need a Patent Practitioner – not an Attorney

Patents are a kind of property, specifically intellectual property. A patent is the legal right claimed under Article I, Section 8, Clause 8 of the U.S. Constitution. A patent is the right to prevent others from making, using, or selling your invention. Property rights are your rights to enforce. You can do this yourself; however, usually it is far more effective and efficient to hire a professional as the patent laws are complex. An improperly filed and/or drafted patent application may prevent you from asserting your rights against potential infringers. Patent agent services

The professionals that deal with personal property, real property, and intellectual property are lawyers. This is, however, one exception. Among the bundle of intellectual property rights are patents. The USPTO issues patents and registers professionals to practice before the office. Being a lawyer does not permit them to practice before the USPTO. Registration requires a separate application and examination process. A lawyer (attorney) needs to take an additional “bar” exam to be allowed to communicate with the USPTO (“prosecute”) on a client’s behalf regarding a patent.

Patent Legal Services Need a Patent Agent or Patent Attorney

Regarding patent agent legal services, only those licensed to practice before the USPTO can prosecute a patent. Only patent practitioners (patent agents and patent attorneys) can prosecute patents; non-patent attorneys cannot. Whether a patent practitioner is a member in good standing of some state’s legal bar determines if they are an agent or an attorney. In other words, if they are a lawyer. Thus, while patent agents prosecute only patents, patent attorneys can also prosecute other legal rights.

Patent legal services such as questioning patent validity can be performed by a patent agent. But, for infringement an attorney is needed. Read about patent litigation.

Generally, patent agents are not authorized or licensed to give legal advice. With that said, the U.S. Supreme Court has held that patent agent activities incident to the preparation and prosecution of patent applications, even beyond the representation before the USPTO, like advising on potential patentability of an invention is permitted.

Patent agents can give legal advice during the drafting and prosecution of patent applications, however, not open ended. The usual forms of this legal advice are opinions on prior art, novelty, patentability, patent validity, and infringement. Patent agents can help with ownership and licensing by clearing up legal misconceptions about patents and recording assignments. Patent agents can also handle reexamination proceedings before the USPTO if the prior art shows that the claims should be narrowed or cancelled.

For Things like Infringement Lawsuits, an Attorney is Required

However, for some patent related matters like lawsuits for infringement, assignments, or employer/employee rights, you should discuss these things with an attorney who specializes in that area. Your best attorney choice may not be a patent attorney. I maintain relationships with attorneys I trust should you need to engage an attorney and need a referral for non patent agent legal services.

Communication with a Patent Agent is Confidential (i.e. Covered by Client Controlled Privilege)

Regarding patent agent legal services, the advice and interaction with a patent agent is covered by the same confidentiality standard as an attorney. Client communication is held in confidence and is protected under privilege. Patent agents hold the same basic professional liability insurance as that held by attorneys, just limited to the practice of patent prosecution. 

Important Note: Only patent practitioners, either patent agents or patent attorneys, can represent inventions before the USPTO. Please remember to be careful, and check the license status of any patent professional that you hire. You can check our patent attorneys license below to find the locater on the USPTO website.

The only difference in the balance of patent agent vs patent attorney is the law license. (Maybe also the patent agent salary is lower.) There is more information available on the difference between a patent attorney and agent on our patent attorney page. If you are asking “Do I need a patent attorney to file a patent” the answer depends on the circumstances, but technically no. You can file your own patent application. (If you are, be sure to search for patent pro bono programs.)

Gregory D Carson, USPTO Registered Patent Practitioner providing patent attorney legal services. | Verify Greg’s patent license with the United States Patent and Trademark Office [USPTO] – verify at USPTO.