What is the difference between a patent attorney and a patent agent?

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Patent attorneys and patent agents are similar in many aspects. Both have taken and passed the examination for registration before the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Both patent attorneys and patent agents are required to have some technical education in science, computers, or engineering. Both have demonstrated a minimum competency in the requirements for preparing, filing, and prosecuting patent applications with the USPTO.

The difference between patent attorneys and patent agents lies in their capacity to practice law. A patent attorney has attended law school and taken and passed an examination for registration to practice law in that state. A patent agent is not a lawyer and cannot provide any legal advice, including advice on patent licensing or patent infringement. Only lawyers can draft contracts or non-disclosure agreements or represent you in any legal proceedings involving state or Federal court.

Many patent lawyers get their start as patent agents (as I did), and many experienced agents are very capable of preparing top-notch patents. Whether hiring a patent attorney or a patent agent, however, it is important to make sure that the practitioner has sufficient experience to competently assist you. Generally it takes at least several years of training under an experienced practitioner to reach a level of minimum operating competency. Do not be shy about asking your practitioner about his or her education, experience and postgraduate training. Even a really cheap patent application is no bargain if it is poorly prepared.

Contact John Ferrell at if he can further assist you. 

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About the Author

John Ferrell is a founding partner of Carr & Ferrell LLP, one of Silicon Valley's foremost technology law firms, and specializes in patent and intellectual property law matters. He is the Chair of the firm's Intellectual Property Practice Group.