The Difference Between A Patent Agent And A Patent Attorney Explained

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Businesses seeking to protect their inventions often take recourse to obtain a patent from the United States Patents and Trademarks Office (USPTO). A patent gives them exclusive rights to manufacture, sell, or use their invention for a fixed time period. Patenting allows a business to monetize its invention by selling, licensing, or commercializing the product and thus offers an avenue of income/profits. 

But the journey to obtaining a patent is complex and fraught with legal and technological challenges that are difficult for the common man to comprehend. This is where professional help in the form of patent agents and patent attorneys steps in. This article explores the difference between the two, so you know whom to approach with specific patenting issues.

Table of Contents

Educational Qualifications 

A patent agent has passed the Patent Bar through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). 

A patent attorney has passed the State Bar exam as well as the USPTO exam and graduated from law school.

Legal Training

Patent agents possess only a technical degree and have cleared the bar exam with no legal training. They are therefore not qualified to offer any legal advice to clients.   

Patent lawyers hold a Juris Doctor degree, have undergone legal training, and have passed the bar exam of their respective state bar. Since they possess the necessary legal training, they are fully qualified to offer advice in legal patent matters. 


The billable hours of patent attorneys tend to be higher than patent agents due to their higher educational qualifications. 

Patentability & Prior Art

By virtue of having passed the Patent Bar Exam, patent agents should be able to help with questions related to patentability. But keep in mind that their exposure in prior art matters may be less than patent attorneys. 

Patent attorneys have the added benefit of legal training that adds to their knowledge and gives them a wider perspective on patentability matters. They are better able to understand the legal ramifications and offer more comprehensive advice. 

Patent Filing 

Both patent agents and patent attorneys can file a patent for registration and granting. But the legal expertise of a patent attorney can be more helpful in other areas. Only patent attorneys are qualified to appeal or appear before a judge if so required

Trademark Filing  

Trademarks can be filed by patent agents as well as patent attorneys. Again, the difference boils down to the specialization in IP law that patent attorneys possess. This helps them render legal advice when required. 

Hire A Patent Agent Or Patent Attorney? 

This is a common question on everyone’s mind when filing for a patent. The answer lies in determining the exact tasks that you need to be performed. If your requirement is limited to writing and filing an application and acting as a liaison between you and the patent office, then patent agents are well-equipped to accomplish it. But if your needs extend beyond this to legal aspects and navigating other areas of the patent landscape then a patent attorney would be the ideal choice.  

Keep in mind that patent agents charge a much lesser fee than attorneys and choosing one with more experience can be a good option. Always check if the patent attorney/agent is a registered practitioner by looking them up on the OEDCI page of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office website. 

Tips To Choose A Good Patent Attorney/Agent  

  • The experience of the patent agent/attorney is an important consideration. Always ask for the number of years they have been practicing.  
  • Specialization in the same field as your invention is always an added bonus, so consider this aspect before hiring. 
  • Ensure that they are registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. 
  • Check the certifications as well as their training institute. 
  • Go by referrals and reviews as they are the most dependable yardstick for judging performance. 
  • Ask to see their past work to check references. 
  • Find out the fees they charge. This aspect should be clarified at the beginning along with a detailed list of tasks that will be included in the fees. 
  • Assess their transparency and level of communication. Everybody has a different style of working; select a patent agent/attorney whose style matches yours. 

Career Avenues For Patent Agents 

If you are keen to pursue a career as a patent agent, then there are plenty of opportunities. Patent agents can work in an attorney’s office or in the legal departments of corporates. They can also work independently or as examiners for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The average salary drawn by a privately employed patent agent in 2023 ranges between $88,293 and $123,728. The future looks bright as companies continue to innovate thus creating the need for securing patents. 


To sum it up, one is not better than the other when it comes to patent agents and patent attorneys. In big firms, they work side-by-side to draft and file patent applications, with each focusing on their area of expertise. A good patent agent with enough experience excels in patent drafting due to their familiarity with specific technical principles.  

Which one you hire for your patent filing ultimately depends on what you need them to do. Both patent agents and attorneys are valuable tools needed to successfully accomplish your dream of owning a patent. So, take your time with the decision, and when in doubt always use the years of experience as a measurement of your expertise.  

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