The process needed to become a patent agent trainee depends entirely on location, but almost always requires a strong background in the hard sciences and technology, as well as some experience working in the patent law field. Different countries have different definitions for “patent trainee,” and different requirements for how to get started in the field. The first thing to do when looking to become a patent agent is to research your country’s rules, then tailor your career planning to follow.
Canada and Australia are examples of countries where a patent agent trainee is someone who is working at a junior level while studying for a national patent exam. In the UK, however, a trainee is someone who has already passed the patent exam and is in the first few years of working as a patent agent. The United States does not have a trainee option. Nearly anyone with a science background is able to sit for the US patent agent’s exam, and passage is often all that is needed to start a career as a full patent agent.
Despite these national differences, a background in science is universally required to become a patent agent trainee. Patents are highly complex intellectual property rights that depend on a deep understanding of scientific principles, concepts, and mechanisms. Degrees in chemistry, mechanics, engineering, and medical biophysics are often some of the most helpful to a patent career. In most cases, a bachelor’s degree is enough to qualify for traineeship, though employers often prefer more advanced degrees. The more education you have, the better your chances to become a patent agent trainee.
Experience with patent law is often also required. In Canada and Australia, you will get this experience once you become a patent agent trainee, or patent attorney trainee as the position is called in Australia. The Australian legal system does not consider “lawyer” and “attorney” synonymous, and a “patent attorney” is essentially what other countries would consider a “patent agent.” Both Canada and Australia make traineeship mandatory to becoming a full-fledged patent professional.
A person who wishes to become a patent agent trainee in these countries usually starts by seeking work in patent firms and corporations with large patent divisions. Candidates are often eligible directly out of degree programs, though some work experience in a scientific or technical industry is often desirable. A company who hires someone on as a patent agent trainee usually commits to mentoring that person and showing him or her the basic tenets of the job, while also allowing time to study for the national patent exam.
Most countries have a patent exam that agents and attorneys must pass in order to begin working independently. A traineeship in countries like Canada and Australia is often analogous to an apprenticeship or patent agent internship, with participants learning the profession through both books and hands-on experience. Companies who hire trainees must usually commit to educating them, while also supporting them in their desire for exam passage.
In countries like the United Kingdom, the process to become a patent agent trainee is a bit different. The UK, much like the US, does not set a training requirement for taking the national patent exam. Examinees must usually prove that they have the requisite technical education, but beyond that registration is usually open. People who pass the patent exam in the UK must complete a probationary period as a patent agent trainee with a patent firm. This sort of traineeship is akin to full employment in patent agent jobs, but usually comes with diminished responsibilities and a lot of mentorship from more senior agents.
Getting a traineeship in countries following the UK’s structure often just requires persistence, networking, and continual application. It is often the case that more people pass the patent exam than there are available trainee jobs, which makes the patent agent career track rather competitive. People who pass their traineeship period are usually hired permanently, which means that there is little turnover. It also means that a lot rides on a good trainee job placement. Take the time to research your options, and look for positions that are good fits for your skills, training, and interests.