Should I take the USPTO exam just because it's there?
January 26, 2009 8:04 PM   Subscribe

I'm a scientist considering taking the USPTO exam. I have a few questions.

I'm considering doing this to put an extra qualification on my CV, and as an emergency back-up career path for the future; I have no immediate plans to switch careers or to patent any inventions. So I have two questions:
1) I'm assuming, without much evidence, that this test is not terribly difficult. With a few weeks of study from cheap or free materials, could I could sit the exam and have a decent chance of passing? What materials would you recommend (other than the manual itself)?
2) Since I plan to invest as little into this project as possible, I expect to pass with a low score, and perhaps not on my first attempt. Could a low score on the exam make things difficult down the road if I decide to work in the field? Or is it truly a pass-fail process, where they care only whether you are or are not certified?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I'm assuming, without much evidence, that this test is not terribly difficult.

I have it on good authority from a former engineer and well-known member of the US patent bar/academic patent circles that the exam is not easy.

Since I plan to invest as little into this project as possible

This is a stupid idea.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 8:17 PM on January 26, 2009

The exam is not at all easy. I know attorneys with Ph.D.'s who have not passed the first time. If you plan to go through with this I recommend you spend time studying for it. The best review process is the PLI Patent Bar Review course. Many law firms put their attorneys and law clerks through the review. That said, if this is just a resume enhancement for the hell of it, you may consider holding off until you find an employer willing to pay for review and time odd for study. Good luck and memail me if you want more info or if you want to talk with some folks who are in your place.
posted by BuddhaBelly at 8:34 PM on January 26, 2009

You mean the Patent Bar?

If so, a very bad idea. The purpose in studying the bar exam is to learn the things you need to know about how to serve your clients.

You have duties towards those clients--it isn't like you can treat it lightly. These people depend on you and you have a real duty to serve them well. The alternative is disbarment.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:09 PM on January 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

"I'm assuming, without much evidence, that this test is not terribly difficult."

Try again. It is incredibly common for less than half of examinees to actually pass the Patent Bar, and I would imagine that a healthy majority of them took their preparation seriously. (I have a number of former classmates who found the patent bar to be more challenging than the "regular" bar exam, fwiw)

I have no idea what the pass rate difference is for patent agents vs. patent attorneys, but since the exam is the same, I would be incredibly surprised if patent attorneys didn't have a markedly higher success rate, especially on the first time.

If you've got the time and money to throw away, there's certainly no harm in taking it and failing, but understand that it's not quite that simple. There is an application process involved to even sit for the patent bar (character and fitness) which may make this much less of a "fire and forget" resume enhancer.
posted by toomuchpete at 9:39 PM on January 26, 2009

The patent bar was an expensive, 6-hour open-book multiple-guess test that was offered twice a year. It's currently administered by computer and (I believe) is no longer open-book, although the Manual of Patent Examining Procedure (MPEP) is available to search online (so it's "open e-book"). It's very hard, in the "figure out how lots of arcane procedural details, dates, deadlines and arbitrary rules interact" sense, not in the "have vast scientific, mathematical or engineering knowledge and strong intuition about how the world works" sense.

I'm not sure how much of a resume enhancer it would be for a scientist. If you work for a university or commercial lab, they'll have patent attorneys to do their filings. Patent agents (which is what you'd be if you passed, but had not been admitted to a legal bar in some jurisdiction) are not typically relied upon to prepare or even prosecute patents. A patent agent with little or no experience, who doesn't even do patent work full-time, would not be much use to anybody.

posted by spacewrench at 9:58 PM on January 26, 2009

The exam is easy, if you do the up front work of learning the CFR cold and get very familiar with the MPEP. The pass rate is low because so many people like you take it for a resume pad. The real bar exam makes it look like a tenth grade science test. You do need to do the work to pass it, but the fundamental difficulty of the exam is not high.
posted by caddis at 10:04 PM on January 26, 2009

Have you looked at one of the sample USPTO exams yet? I don't understand them at all, which is unsurprising since I have zero knowledge of patent law, but the wording of just the first few questions suggests that this is a knowledge test, not a reasoning test. If you know it, you can answer the question. If you don't know it, you can't "figure out" the answer.
posted by Deathalicious at 11:57 PM on January 26, 2009

To piggyback on the question, assume you were a scientist or engineer and that you did want to patent your own inventions (which the anonymous poster does not). Would studying for and passing this exam allow you to file your own patents for things you invented?
posted by procrastination at 7:00 AM on January 27, 2009

You don't need to be a registered agent or attorney (ie. pass the exam) to file for patents on your own inventions. You only need that if you are going to file for patents on behalf of someone else. Patent examiners are very helpful to people who file for their own patents and most of those people end up with very narrow protection that does little to protect their invention from competition in the marketplace from slight variations on their original design. That is not universally true, however,
posted by caddis at 7:29 AM on January 27, 2009

I'm pretty sure the OP was interested in the Patent Examiners test, not the bar exam. I can certainly understand, based on some of the patents approved, his/er belief that THAT exam might be relatively easy.
posted by nomisxid at 8:07 AM on January 27, 2009

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