Patent Attorneys, Patent Agents, and the United States Patent And Trademark Office’s Registration Examination
FAQ expand/hide all
What is the USPTO’s Registration Examination?
The Registration Examination is given as part of the process of registering persons who will be permitted to represent patent applicants in proceedings before the United States Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO). The Registration Examination, as well as the entire registration process, is administered by the USPTO.
What is the “Patent Bar Exam?” Is it different from the Registration Examination?“Patent Bar Exam” is an informal, slang term for the USPTO’s Registration Examination. The “patent bar exam” and the Registration Examination are therefore the same thing. The Registration Examination is not a true bar exam; it is not part of the process of becoming licensed to practice law as an attorney. The USPTO does not refer to its Registration Examination as a bar exam.
What is the difference between a Patent Attorney and a Patent Agent?
Both attorneys and non-attorneys can seek to become registered to practice before the USPTO. The USPTO administers the same Registration Examination to both types of test takers. It is therefore possible to be a registered practitioner who is also a licensed attorney; it is also possible to be a registered practitioner who is not an attorney. A licensed attorney who is registered is a patent attorney. A non-attorney who is registered is a patent agent.
Only licensed attorneys are allowed to practice law. Therefore, patent attorneys can render legal advice and practice all aspects of patent law, including but not limited to the prosecution of patent applications before the USPTO. Patent agents can only prosecute patent applications. Patent agents cannot practice law.
If I pass the “Patent Bar Exam”, will I be a patent attorney?
No. As stated, the “patent bar exam” is simply the Registration Examination of the USPTO. It not an actual bar exam and is not part of the process of becoming a licensed attorney. A patent attorney is a registered practitioner who is also a licensed attorney. To become a licensed attorney one must receive a Juris Doctor degree from an accredited law school, and complete the bar examination/licensing process of a State or other local jurisdiction – which is completely separate from the registration process of the USPTO. Therefore, simply passing the “patent bar exam” does not result in a person becoming a patent attorney.
Am I eligible to take the Registration Examination?
The USPTO requires persons who sit for the Registration Examination to have already completed sufficient scientific and/or technical education. Generally, this corresponds to the completion of one of the degrees in science or technology set out in the USPTO’s General Requirements Bulletin. The degrees include most fields of engineering as well as accredited computer science degrees.
How do I sign up?
The application for the exam can be found at www.uspto.gov.
How much does the Registration Examination cost?
The cost for registering for the exam is $390, which includes a $40 non-refundable application fee, a $200 registration refundable fee, and $150 administration fee.
How long does the application process take?
The application process can take as little as a few weeks, or up to a few months. The application for the Registration Examination will require you to supply specific documentation about your character and fitness that you will need to request from either the courts or other government offices. Be sure to apply several months before you want to take the exam!
How long does the window to take the exam stay open once my application has been accepted?Once your application has been accepted, you have 90 days to take the Registration Examination. Information on how to choose a test center and date will be sent to you with your approval notice.
What kinds of information does the Registration Examination cover?
The Registration Examination tests your knowledge of substantive patent law and USPTO procedures. It does not test technical or scientific knowledge.
How is the Registration Examination administered?
The test is administered via computer at testing sites across the country. There are 100 multiple-choice questions over the course of six hours, with a break at the halfway point.
What kind of information do I have access to while I’m taking the exam?
You will have access to a PDF of the USPTO’s Manual of Patent Examining Procedure (MPEP).
Do I have to take courses from a law school before I sit for the Registration Examination?
No. As stated, the Registration Examination process is not part of the process becoming a licensed attorney. As a result, no training from a law school is required. While the exam does test for an understanding of patent law, a sufficient knowledge of patent law can be obtained through other means, such as study of the MPEP or attendance at a commercial prep course.
Most people seeking to become patent attorneys wait to take the Registration Examination until after they graduate from law school. Some, however, take the exam while in law school. Others take the exam before entering law school.
How should I prepare for the exam?
Most persons who are about to take the Registration Examination, including those working as attorneys for large law firms and corporations, take a short commercial prep course before taking the exam. It is advisable to take a prep course to increase your chances of passing the exam.
These commercial prep courses often combine written, home-study materials with on-line or live classroom presentations. Two such courses are the “Patent Office Exam Course” of the Practicing Law Institute, and the “patent bar” prep course of PatBar Professional Education Programs.
Studying for the Registration Examination typically takes 4-8 weeks.
How much does preparing for the Registration Examination cost?
Commercial patent-bar prep courses range in cost from $895 to $2895, depending on the course and the available discounts. One can access the USPTO’s MPEP for free at www.uspto.gov.
I have more questions. Who can I contact to get them answered?
Assistant Director, Intellectual Property Institute
Mitchell Hamline School of Law