Less than 2% of Attorneys are Patent Attorneys
In 2022, there were approximately 1.33 million lawyers in the USA. In the same year, there were only 36,764 registered Patent Attorneys. And only approximately 60% of registered Patent Attorneys are currently practicing. This means there are only approximately 22,000 active Patent Attorneys in the US, which is less than 2% of all lawyers.
Patent Attorneys: Higher Requirements Than Other Lawyers
- Law School Graduate
Patent Attorneys have the same law school requirements as other lawyers.
- Pass State Bar Exam
Even though Patent Attorneys practice federal law, they still must pass their state bar exam.
- Technical Degree
In addition to the above legal requirements all lawyers have, Patent Attorneys must also have a Bachelor’s, Master’s, or PhD in one of the specified fields of science, technology, or engineering.
- Pass US Patent Bar Exam
Patent Attorneys must pass TWO bar exams. In addition to passing their state bar exam, they must also pass a second bar exam with the US Patent Office.
- 6 Years Experience before Competence
Even after becoming a registered Patent Attorney, it generally takes a minimum of 6 years experience working under a senior Patent Attorney before becoming competent enough to write effective Patent Applications without supervision.
Number of Patent Attorneys is Rapidly Declining
Patent Attorney Eligible Law Students Dropped 47%
While fewer students are applying to law school overall, applicants with a technical or science degree who are eligible to sit for the patent bar exam have dropped even more rapidly. In just 6 years, from 2009 to 2015, patent exam eligible law school applicants declined 47%, compared to the overall decline of 35% for all law school applicants. This drop in eligible law school applicants is a good predictor for how many attorneys will likely take the patent exam four years later.
New Patent Attorneys Dropped 50%
This country is facing a critical shortage of new Patent Attorneys. In just 10 years from 2008 to 2018, the number of new Patent Attorneys fell by 50%.
This rapid decline is likely driven by the demand for science and engineering professionals in the tech industries. High starting salaries and high demand give graduates of these fields less incentive to spend time and money on law school instead of working in the growing tech sector.
New Patent Attorneys Will Soon Number Less than Those Retiring
Estimated rates for Patent Attorneys leaving practice (through retirement or death):
- after 20 years, around 15% of practitioners stop practicing
- after 30 years – 55 years, 2% stop practicing each year on average
20 years ago, an average of 1,350 new Patent Attorneys registered each year. Adding those leaving after 20 years, plus those leaving after 30-55 years, approximately 900 Patent Attorneys stop practicing each year. With new Patent Attorney registrations currently dropping to less than 950 per year, if the number of new registrations continues to decline each year as predicted, soon there won’t be enough new Patent Attorneys to replace those leaving, let alone handle increasing demand.
Demand for Patents is Rising
At the same time that the number of Patent Attorneys is rapidly declining, the demand for patents is steadily increasing. The average Patent Attorney is busy and only getting busier.
From 2000 to 2014, Patent Application filings increased by an average of 5.0% per year, while the number of registered practitioners decreased by 1.4% per year. From 2009 to 2015, the number of Patent Applications increased by 30%, from 482,871 to 629,647. During the same period, the number of issued US Patents increased 70%, from 191,927 to 325,979.
With Increased Workloads, More Patent Attorneys Will Quit
With fewer and fewer Patent Attorneys to handle the steadily increasing demand for patents, productivity will have to increase significantly. As Patent Attorneys are asked to work more hours to meet demand, more of them will quit, thereby making the critical shortage of Patent Attorneys even worse. Also, as the number of Patent Attorneys shrinks, existing Patent Attorneys will charge more for their services. This will make it even harder for individuals and small companies to find and afford Patent Attorneys to protect their inventions.
Large Firms Offer Patent Attorneys Higher Salaries
Current Patent Attorneys can demand higher salaries for their work, because law firms fear that the increasing shortage of Patent Attorneys will leave them unable to handle the growing patent portfolios of their large corporate clients. Demand is so high, in fact, that Patent Attorneys account for more than 15% of law firm job openings while representing less than 2% of all lawyers in the U.S.
As more of the already dwindling supply of Patent Attorneys are hired by big law firms and by large corporations and universities as in-house Patent Attorneys, there are fewer and fewer available to work with individuals inventors and small companies.
Finding the Right Patent Attorney Requires a Nationwide Search
With declining numbers of Patent Attorneys each year, and most of those working for large law firms or corporations, the majority of Patent Attorneys are concentrated in major metro areas. As you can see from the interactive map below, most people would struggle to find a local Patent Attorney, let alone one who works with smaller clients.
Interactive Heat Map – Patent Attorneys by County
Entrepreneurs Need Patent Attorneys Who Specialize in Clients Like Them
Individual inventors and smaller companies have different needs than large corporate clients. Many smaller clients have little to no experience with applying for patents, and they need a Patent Attorney who will take the time to educate them on the patent process. They need a Patent Attorney with business experience who will understand how their patent strategy needs to fit into their business as a whole. They need a Patent Attorney who understands the strategic business elements of a Patent Application that can help attract investors or potential licensees. They need additional services that most law firms don’t provide: business services to help commercialize their invention, taking it “From Your Mind to the Marketplace®“. They need a Patent Attorney who is available when they are working: outside normal business hours on evenings and weekends. And they need a Patent Attorney with predictable flat fees they can budget for, rather than the typical billable hours that can leave them paying more than expected.
Patent Attorney Shortage Will Make it Harder for Entrepreneurs to Find One
Declining numbers of Patent Attorneys, rising demand for patents, and large firms and corporations hiring the majority of the available supply, will leave entrepreneurs and smaller companies struggling to find adequate representation. Add in the unique needs of these smaller clients, and finding the right fit can begin to feel like searching for a needle in a haystack.
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