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College of Law launches patent practice program for non-lawyers


April 24, 2013

Engineering and hard-science graduates are often looking for jobs that use their technical backgrounds in unique ways. One option that many of these engineers and scientists don’t recognize is a job in patent law.

Douglas Sylvester, dean of the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law, believes there are great career opportunities for non-lawyer patent agents in today’s economy.

“We’ve heard from law firms and other employers that they plan to step up hiring of patent agents,” Sylvester said. “We plan to fill this demand by training graduates who will be prepared for practice once they’ve passed the patent bar exam.”

To accomplish this training, the College of Law has created an emphasis within its Master of Legal Studies program. The emphasis in Patent Practice will go far beyond preparing students for the patent bar exam, providing substantive training in patent law, other forms of intellectual property, and hands-on patent drafting and prosecution skills. The “capstone” experience for Patent Practice students is participation in the Lisa Foundation Patent Law Clinic, which is certified by the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

“Employers want prospective hires with skills beyond what are learned to simply pass the patent bar exam,” Sylvester said. “Our graduates will have the skills necessary to successfully integrate into a firm or corporation, communicate with the necessary legal and technical parties, and enough drafting experience to make employers comfortable that their work product is high quality.”

According to the College of Law’s Career Strategy and Professional Development Mentoring Center, the pay range for a patent agent is about $52,000 to $143,000, with a median of almost $90,000. Starting salaries for non-experienced patent agents range from $45,000 to $80,000. When these attractive salaries are viewed with companies’ indications to increase hiring, this skill set appears to be in demand, said Professor Eric Menkhus, Director of New Program Development at the College of Law.

“Eligibility to sit for the patent bar examination does not require a law degree,” Menkhus said.

Menkhus, an ASU Industrial Engineering graduate, says eligible candidates who sit for and pass the patent bar exam don’t need law degrees to become Patent Agents with the USPTO. They can draft patent applications and represent others to help guide patent applications through the USPTO’s decision-making process, which is known as “patent prosecution.”

“We’re very excited to launch this innovative and needed program,” he said. “The market needs these graduates, and we’re the right school to train them. We can’t wait to start graduating well-prepared patent agents to protect innovation and add to the technology commercialization marketplace.”

The College of Law is currently accepting applications for the new program and believes it is the ideal institution to train non-lawyers for patent practice.

“We already offer so many things that bring value to the degree – the Center for Law, Science & Innovation, a depth of Intellectual Property- and patent-related course offerings, highly respected IP faculty, a USPTO-certified patent clinic, and an existing Master of Legal Studies degree program,” said BarbaraKaye Miller, Assistant Dean of Admissions and Graduate Programs at the College of Law.

“This means we have experience integrating master’s-level students into the law school,” Miller said. “Overall, it’s a great fit for us when you consider the a wide range of courses we offer with the faculty we have who will provide the skills and expertise sought by the Patent Practice students.”

The program is a 12-month, 30 credit-hour experience if done on a full-time basis. Applications will be accepted throughout the summer, with students starting classes in August 2013.

For more information, visit the Admissions page of the College of Law’s website, law.asu.edu, or email MLSASU@asu.edu.