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One of the most common questions we’re asked is “Do I qualify to take the Patent Bar Exam?” The answer can be fairly complex and depend on a number of different factors.
Note that we don't give the exam, nor do we decide who qualifies. The Office of Enrollment and Discipline, which is part of the Patent Office, sets the requirements and reviews the applications. All of the following information is from the General Requirements Bulletin (GRB), which includes the exam application.
First of all, you must pay a total of $390 to take the exam.
In some cases it is difficult or impossible to determine whether you qualify, and the ultimate option is to send in an application and see if it is accepted. There are two drawbacks to this: 1. If you’re declined, your $200 registration fee is refunded, but you are out the $40 application fee, and 2. This leaves a somewhat short amount of time to study.
Since the Patent Office asks you to report any traffic violations with a fine over $100, we receive questions along the lines of “I got a ticket 20 years ago but I don’t remember how much it was, and the records are no longer available.” We sympathize, but all we can tell you is DO NOT LIE TO THE PATENT OFFICE. You should include as much information as you can remember, and a statement about why there is no further information available. In the cases we’ve seen, the applicants were asked for more information, and when nothing else was available, were allowed to take the exam.
There are no requirements that an applicant has gone to law school or is an attorney. A non-attorney applicant will become a Patent Agent, and an attorney applicant will become a Patent Attorney. The exam is the same, and a Patent Agent will become a Patent Attorney after becoming an attorney and filing the correct paperwork with the Patent Office. Since the purpose of the Patent Bar Exam is to test the applicant’s understanding of patenting and patent law, there are no further requirements in this area. Note that to practice trademark law, you must be an attorney, but you need not be registered with the Patent Office.
In order to be sure that the practitioner can understand inventions, there are technical education requirements. You also can’t take the exam if you’ve taken it in the past 30 days (in other words, you can’t take it more than once a month), but you can take it as many times as you need to pass. If you’ve waited more than one year, you must re-submit all of your paperwork (transcripts, etc.) again. There are basically 6 ways to qualify for the exam.
1. Category A Bachelor’s Degree: If you have a Bachelor’s Degree in one of the following subjects, you qualify. The name of your degree must be an exact match. A Computer Science degree is a special case; it depends on whether your specific degree is accredited. See note below. If you don’t have one of these degrees, see Category B.
ii. * To see if your Computer Science degree is acceptable, look up your college or university on http://abet.org.
iii. A graduate degree (such as a Masters or Ph.D.) in one of these subjects does NOT automatically qualify you. You must apply under Category B.
2. Category B Bachelor’s Degree: Category B has 4 different options. You must have a Bachelor’s degree (in any subject) to use this category. Note that only courses with a grade of C- or better can be used. Multiply Quarter Hours by 2/3 to convert to Semester Hours.
i. Option 1: Physics - 24 semester hours in physics. The courses must be for physics majors (for example, physics with calculus, as opposed to physics without calculus.)
ii. Option 2: Biology - 8 semester hours in chemistry or physics, plus 24 semester hours in biological sciences. Only biology, botany, microbiology, and molecular biology courses can be used for this option. The 8 hours in chemistry or physics must be in 2 sequential courses (that is, two courses which contain one curriculum, such as Physics 1 and Physics 2, or Chemistry 1 and Chemistry 2.) These courses must have a lab component, and like Option 1, must be intended for majors in the subject.
iii. Option 3: Chemistry - Option 3 is like Option 1, except that it requires 30 hours of Chemistry courses. Again, only courses for majors are accepted.
iv. Option 4: Science/Engineering – For this option, you need 8 hours in Chemistry or Physics like Option 2 (two sequential courses for majors with a lab), and in addition, 32 semester hours in science or engineering courses. These can include: chemistry, physics, biology, botany, microbiology, molecular biology, or engineering. Computer science courses can qualify if they’re technical enough (see the GRB for more information). 4 hours in design engineering or drafting can be used. Note that if you have, for example, 12 semester hours in physics or chemistry, you can use 8 of them to meet the first part of the requirement and put the other 4 towards the second part.
a. Note that if you have a Bachelor’s degree but are a few credits short for one of the above options, you can take some courses at a local community college to qualify. Just make sure that your courses are acceptable before you take them.
b. Note that, under Category B, you must include official course descriptions from the year the course was taken. These are available from the registrar.
3. Training or expertise in one of the subjects in Category A. This is seldom used, see the GRB for more information.
4. Other Education (including Life Experience). We’ve seen very few people apply under this category, and even fewer do so successfully. See the GRB for more information.
5. Military Service: Courses taken during military service. These credits must be able to be applied towards a degree at a college or university. See the GRB for more information.
6. Category C: Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) Exam – The qualification requirements for this exam are different in each state. Most states require you to have an engineering degree to take this exam, but Michigan and New Hampshire do not (last we checked). While you may be able to go to one of these states and take the exam, this isn’t to say that it’s easy, in fact it’s probably more difficult than the patent bar. You also need a Bachelor’s degree in any subject. For more information and preparation courses for the FE exam, see http://ppi2pass.com. Note that we are not affiliated with this company.
If you’re not sure whether your courses will be accepted, the Bulletin has a list of examples of courses which are NOT considered technical enough to be accepted. The following paragraph is from the Bulletin:
The following typify courses that are not accepted as demonstrating the necessary scientific and technical training: anthropology; astronomy; audited courses; behavioral science courses such as psychology and sociology; continuing legal education courses; courses in public health; courses relating technology to politics or policy; courses offered by corporations to corporate employees; courses in management, business administration and operations research; courses on how to use computer software; courses directed to data management and management information systems; courses to develop manual, processing or fabrication skills (e.g. machine operation, wiring, soldering, etc.); courses taken on a pass/fail basis; correspondence courses; ecology; economics of technology; courses in the history of science, engineering and technology; field identification of plants and/or animals; home or personal independent study courses; high school level courses; mathematics courses; one day conferences; patent law courses; paleontology; political science courses; repair and maintenance courses; radio operator license courses; science courses for non-science majors; vocational training courses; and work study programs. Also not accepted are college research or seminar courses where the course content and requirements are not set forth in the course descriptions; and courses that do not provide scientific and technical training. Further, not accepted are courses that repeat, or which are substantially the same as, or are lesser-included courses for which credit has already been given.
We receive many questions from foreign applicants wanting to take the exam. These fall into two categories: Whether they qualify to take the exam, and if they do, what documentation is required.
Besides meeting the educational requirements, there are citizenship requirements. If an applicant is not a US citizen or permanent resident (green card), there are very limited options to qualify to take the exam.
An alien residing in the United States may be granted permission to take the exam if he or she is admitted to the country to work in activities related to patent procurement. The applicant’s visa documentation must specifically state that they are admitted to the US to do or be trained to do patent work, and the applicant should include copies of all documentation.
For the most part, this means that the applicant must be sponsored by an employer to work in the specialty occupation of patent prosecution. Note also that the applicant won’t become registered as a patent practitioner, but only given limited recognition which expires when he or she leaves the country.
There is reciprocity with the Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO). A person who is registered before CIPO to handle patent cases and living in Canada may submit an application to the USPTO and be registered to represent Canadian citizens and practice in patent cases before USPTO.
Another common question is asked by someone who otherwise qualifies (US citizen, green card, or special work visa) but has a foreign degree.
For the most part, the same qualifications apply, but with some additional requirements.
The applicant must have an official, original transcript. If the transcript is not in English, the applicant must also include a translation along with a certification from the translator that it’s a literal translation.
In some cases, the applicant must also include a report from a company which establishes the equivalency of the courses taken.
If you’re still not sure whether you qualify, you should carefully read the General Requirements Bulletin available here. If you are still unsure or don’t understand the bulletin, you can email us at email@example.com. In addition, you can call the Office of Enrollment and Discipline (OED) which is the department of the Patent Office which administers the exam. Note that they won’t answer questions about whether you qualify, but will only tell you that you need to apply and see if you are accepted. Their number is (571) 272-4097.