The Baby Boom of Patent Practitioners

By Dennis Crouch

This morning, the USPTO provided official notice that Practitioner Registration No. 70,549 has been assigned and Robert Kent of Houston is now a patent agent. The PTO rolls have been steadily growing for the past 15 years – with about 10,000 new practitioners registering every 4-6 years. That rate is roughly triple of what it was throughout the 1980s and mid-1990s.

The chart below shows the number of currently registered US Patent Practitioners grouped by the number of years that they have been registered. The “baby boom” of patent practitioners that began 15 years ago will likely have some important impacts on career opportunities for patent attorneys who want to move into a senior or leadership role. Today, many patent practitioners with 10-15 years of experience are moving into leadership roles within their organizations.

See also, Estimate: Fewer than 26,000 Active US Patent Attorneys & Agents and Are you a Patent Attorney Masquerading as a Patent Agent?

40 thoughts on “The Baby Boom of Patent Practitioners

  1. “Do you not realize how invaluable all patent attorneys will be with the AIA patent attorney employment act in place?”

    You know, its funny. Every time there’s a change in the patent laws this is the anticipated situation, but it never seems to pan out that way.

  2. I put you at about 13 years deep in practice within a margin of error of 2, correct?

    I can tell because you acknowledge that it’s bad (probably known some guys struggling) but don’t take the grim prospects for advancement too seriously (because you’re already in some sort of of counsel or contract partner role).

  3. If only people would try it

    I’ll ask you the same thing I asked the other apostle of Boldrin and Levine: show me one modern advanced society that has bought into the claptrap you are selling and shown that getting rid of IP protection is the way to go.

    Just one.

    Please.

  4. Are companies finally coming to their senses and realizing that patents are not needed?

    You must have missed the other graph concerning the number of applications over time.

    Is everyone done QQ’ing about the plight of supply and demand of patent attorneys yet? Now go out and do some real comparison shopping of the numbers of professionals in other roles and the work to be done. Seriously, do we only have crybabies here? Do you not realize how invaluable all patent attorneys will be with the AIA patent attorney employment act in place? As if the complications alone weren’t enough, we get to virtually carry double sets of laws for the foreseeable future.

  5. “Great luck in finding a job.” – well, that is actually encouraging – Seriously. Are companies finally coming to their senses and realizing that patents are not needed? There are way too many parasitic, rent-seeking patent lawyers contributing to the patent drag that hinders innovation. Maybe they will go back to being creative engineers and scientists and actually do real productive work? America needs more entrepreneurs, not patent lawyers. Read Boldrin and Levine’s book: Against Intellectual Monopoly. That book changed my life, and made me richer than if I would have stayed working in patent law. If you’re smart enough and have the work ethic to be a patent lawyer, you can do the entrepreneur thing and succeed. If only people would try it.

  6. for nearly all of them, the exam is in a foreign language too.

    There’s that many people in Europe who can’t speak the European language?

    /daytime gameshow contestant off

  7. Max, I couldn’t get hired in the UK to get the experience. That’s a large part of why I’m in the US. So, no, I don’t believe you. Sorry.

  8. Yup, nothing elite about it now. I have a patent attorney doing my proof reading on a contract basis. There are also a few patent attorneys in my firm practicing other types of law as low-paid associates. The barrier of entry in patent law is very very high now.

  9. Great luck finding a job. The increase in the gross number of patent agent/attorneys is far outpacing the available positions.

  10. Kayton (PRG) alumnus 1992 here. Back then, the Patent Bar was a big deal and a rite of passage. My firm on the west coast sent me to Washington DC to take the PRG prep course, since PRG and PLI were pretty much the two major ones from which to choose. I remember Professor Kayton telling us that “you will all be wealthy,” the implication being that patent attorneys were an elite group, having not only to be scientists or engineers (already an elite group) but to complete law school and pass at least two bar exams, one of which was the notoriously difficult Patent Bar. It was given twice a year, as you recollect, and I had to travel to Los Angeles and stay overnight. I had studied hard, and I passed. My firm’s tradition for one who passed the Patent Bar was to toast them with champagne in the conference room and give them a pen and pencil set engraved with their new Registration Number. Even with PRG’s prep course, I would have had a difficult time passing the Patent Bar had I not already had a year of experience as a patent agent cum law clerk with a firm. The hurdles are so much lower today, and being a patent attorney seems like no big deal. Thank God I have only another 10 years or so until retirement. This career is not what it once was.

    Oh, and by the way Professor Kayton, I am far from “wealthy.” I have engineer friends in Silicon Valley who earn more than I do.

  11. What’s “democracy”? A high proportion of the 7 billion humans on this planet have no mechanism for voting their Government out of office. Thus, they live in slavery.

    We don’t. Let’s be very thankful for that.

    It’s binary. It’s that simple. Let’s not blur the difference.

  12. If anything, what I see today is a large number of small firms of 2-10 patent attorneys of whom most have 10-20 years of experience. We are refugees who fled the bigger firms because we didn’t need the big-firm ligitation infrastructure in order to simply prosecute patent application. There is no need for leadership roles in an organization that has a flat (non-pyramid) structure.

  13. I remember the spray gun patent exam well, Keaton’s course in 1996 or 97 taught us to draft claims to connect moving parts. The spray gun nozzle had no moving parts. It took an hour or so just to figure out the channels, apertures and orifices, the pressure changes and it worked. The national pass rate for the claim drafting afternoon section for that exam (was it bi-annually back then?) was only between 30 to 35%. Removing the claim drafting requirement, changed the testing process significantly, and removed the fundamentals of who could take the exam. Back at that time, it was very unusual for anyone to take the patent bar exam without first having worked in a patent law firm. I and those taking the bar exam with me graduated in 1994 and 1995, and had one or more years of experience working in a patent practice, before we took the patent bar exam. As such, the assumption that one gets the bar license before experience was different back then as the change of the testing now only requires book education, and no practical claim drafting.

  14. The last time I saw a prosecutor made partner….. Wait. I’ve never seen that.

    With the change in compartmentalizing prosecutors into draftsman and cutting them off from any other work like settlements, filing strategies, employment agreements, licenses, etc.; the likelihood of developing a sustainable book of business is low enough that you just don’t need to make prosecutors partners. What are they going to do about it?

  15. Still ain’t democracy. And yes, Ianae we got a lot of undemocracy here, too.

    I agree that we can’t have everything decided by plebiscite, but sooner or later some politician has to face the “little folk” and answer for bureaucratic asininity. If it is not allowed to be at the ballot box, then it will be at the street barricades.

  16. I don’t think that “made partners” is the same thing as “move into leadership roles.”

    I think it more likely a reference to leading groups of partners (as in being managing partner roles and the like).

  17. The joke is that the EPO is owned by its competitors, the national Patent Offices of the 38 Member States (which in turn are owned by the governments of those Member States). Is it then any wonder, that EPO fees are high?

    The EPO President proposes rule changes to the EPO’s Administrative Council, populated by those representatives from the democratically elected governments of those 38 Member States. The AC decides whether to enact those new Rules.

    No other solution is practicable. An inter-Governmental Conference of 38 Member States was needed, to update the 1973 EPC in 2000. The amended EPC came into force about 8 years later. One of the changes in EPC 2000 was to let the AC change EPO Rules.

  18. Who has oversight?

    Democracy just means people get to vote on things. People at the EPO approve their rule changes by majority vote, presumably. Oversight is not a feature of a democracy, and would only subvert the democratic will of the majority.

    I’ll give you a moment to look around your own country and see how many rule-making bodies and other organizations are not directly accountable to the general public. Including the USPTO. America is about as “democratic” as its market economy is “free”.

  19. Is there a correlation between the jump in registrations and the USPTO’s switch to a purely objective, multiple-choice, computer-based exam? Most seasoned practitioners who registered before that change, and had to perform claim drafting and provide long-form prose answers as part of the exam, find from today’s recent registrants that the exam appears to have no connection to real-world application of the rules. Registration has become a check-the-box credential for most law firm employers at least, who know that it doesn’t really mean anything in terms of competency.

  20. Dennis: Today, many patent practitioners with 10-15 years of experience are moving into leadership roles within their organizations.

    Are you suggesting a sudden surge in the number of patent prosecutors made partners in the bigger law firms?

  21. That would be an after effect IANAE – the debt cannot be a precursor to the rise, as the incident that drives the rise happened prior to both the rise in patent bar and the rise in applications.

    Don’t be in such a hurry to be a smart@$$.

  22. The answer should not be a surprise – and is linked to an agenda often pushed on this very blog.

    Presumably some sort of overlay plot of the median law school graduate’s personal debt is in order, then?

  23. The jump in percentage on this graph appears to be at the 15 year mark, which precedes the super growth in apps on the newer thread.

    So my question would be what event preceded both the jump in registered applicants AND the jump in applications?

    The answer should not be a surprise – and is linked to an agenda often pushed on this very blog.

  24. Doesn’t sound like democracy to me.

    What would sound like democracy to you, in this context? People campaign for a registered attorney position, and the ones with the most votes get in? Is that how they’re doing it in America now? Been so long since I got my reg number…

  25. I knew that this business was a pyramid scheme, but seeing exactly how bad it is (and the likely duration of the situation) gives me pause.

  26. Over the last decade:
    Total Applications flat
    Price per application down
    Actions per application down
    Total number of attorneys way up

    I’m guessing dollars/atty is down slightly.

  27. BB – I understand that you may have number envy, but, just to be clear, I think that I captured your situation with my data because I looked at the date of original recognition not simply the patent number. 

  28. I passed the patent bar years ago, I would have been with a no. in the low 40′s. Instead i was limited recognition. When the greencard finally came through – I was given a number – in the 60s. My experience is not reflected by by no……

  29. Anyone want to take a stab at estimating the total number of patent prosecution dollars out there per registered patent practitioner, and how it has changed over the last thirty years?

  30. Could part of the trend be explained by the registration of laywers that do not practice before the patent office? It seems that during the Internet boom it became fashionable to be called a “patent laywer” so litigators and other IP lawyers registered for the resume value. Is there a way to tell how many registered practioners actually practice regularly?

  31. No problem getting practical experience, and suervision from competent patent attorneys, in a select few of the 38 Member States of the EPO. Look how many of the ten thousand are from DE, GB, FR, NL, CH. Nearly all of them. It’s harder for trainees in all the other Member States.

    And recall, for nearly all of them, the exam is in a foreign language too.

  32. There are only about 10000 EP Attorneys of which many are grandfathered in. This last group will soon be retired and a huge drop in the number of EPAs are expected.

    With EPC 2000 the EPO got the keys to the cookie cupboard and has gone to town in rules changes. Amending the articles require a diplomatic conference while the rules can be changed at will by the EPO. This doesn’t help the pass rate either and certainly doesn’t make life prosecuting patents any simpler either

  33. Of course the difficulty of the European exam prevents a flooding on the market. And indeed, once you have passed the exam it will be relatively easy to find a job. However, you can only enroll for the exam if you have 3 yeasr practical experience as a trainee patent attorney/agent (as you know we do not have this difference in Europe). This practical experience seems to be the bottleneck, since it appears that due to the crisis there is a large decrease in the number of trainees that are hired. This will even more minimize the number of graduates in the next years.

  34. James, I don’t know if it’s easier to get a job as a non-patent attorney vs oatent attorney, but I certainly am sympathetic to the plight of the newbies. Back when I started out, my classmates had a difficult time finding work, but I was fairly lucky; if I were applying for a job today, I’d never even interview me. It’s a shame that the credential inflation has hit so badly.

    My colleagues in Europe still face an exam with an extremely low pass rate, and don’t appear to have the same problem of finding jobs after the magic credential is achieved. Maybe the EPO is on to something.

  35. “Years of experience” and “years since registration” may not be very well correlated. Do patent attorneys have better employment outcomes than regular attorneys with the same law school credentials? These numbers may just be evidence that the patent field has not been immune to the law school bubble.

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