In my last two articles, I explained how new candidates often overestimate their market value. While this is understandable, it is also important to get a realistic assessment of your market value at an early stage from a good legal recruiter. In Part I, I focused on partners and senior attorneys. In Part II, I focused on associates. In this final part (III), I will address patent agents.
In order to determine whether to make an offer to a patent agent candidate, law firms primarily looks at five factors. They are: (1) Whether the candidate has a high level degree in a technical area that is in high demand, such as electrical engineering (EE) or computer science (CS) or similar degrees ; (2) Registration as a patent agent with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO); (3) At least two years of patent prosecution experience; (4) the candidate’s personality and how well they interview; and (5) whether they have any “red flags.”
Some further clarification of these factors is in order. First, with respect to the first factor, other types of degrees, including mechanical engineering, biology/biotech and chemistry, are currently in lower demand. But there is at least some demand for them, including some recent growth in those areas. There is virtually no demand for most other types of degrees, however. In addition, the higher level of the degree, the better. With respect to the second factor, the way to become a registered patent agent with the USPTO is to take and pass the patent bar examination. As for patent agent experience (especially at the larger and more prestigious law firms), this is critical for the nearly all patent agent positions. Firms usually define such experience as preparing and prosecuting patent applications. I see a great many “prospective” or “entry level” patent agent candidates who entirely lack such experience. With only a few exceptions, they are truly in a tough market. The great majority of law firms, especially the larger and more prestigious ones, will simply not consider them, no matter how great their other qualifications may be.
With respect to these “entry level” candidates, I advise most of them to search the smaller law firms on their own (many of these small firms don’t use recruiters anyway). The smaller firms are more flexible and less competitive, and thus more likely to consider a patent agent candidate who lacks patent agent experience. If successful, they can get the necessary experience and then apply to the larger, more prestigious firms if they wish. In addition, they should apply for and pass the patent bar as soon as possible. Failing to do this gives firms the impression that they are not serious about their desire to become a patent agent.