To enter the profession, a degree in a science, engineering, technology or a mathematics-based subject from a recognised institution is strongly preferred. A science/engineering background is required to enable you to understand a client’s invention. This mix between science/engineering and law is one of the aspects that make the role of the patent attorney such an interesting career.
No, a Masters degree is not generally required to become a patent attorney.
The training to become a patent attorney occurs largely on-the-job. This generally involves working for one or more fully qualified patent attorneys, and preparing for and sitting a series of examinations.
The examinations include those set by the Patent Examination Board (PEB). The PEB is a committee of CIPA accredited by the Intellectual Property Regulation Board (IPReg) to set and administer the Foundation Certificate and Final Diploma patent attorney qualifying examinations. The PEB sets UK qualifying exams and these must be taken in order to become a registered (UK) patent attorney. The work of the PEB is overseen by an independent Governance Board, which operates autonomously from CIPA Council. Examinations are also set by the European Patent Office (EPO). These must be taken in order to become a European Patent Attorney.
Qualified patent attorneys become Chartered by becoming a Fellow of CIPA. Chartered Patent Attorney is a protected title and is a recognition that the holder has attained the highest standards of professional practice in intellectual property law and is committed to continuing professional development in order to maintain these high standards.
In addition, many patent attorneys also handle trade mark work, therefore they may benefit from becoming a registered trade mark attorney (UK qualification) and a European trade mark attorney. For more information, see the Chartered Institute of Trade Mark Attorneys (CITMA).
The examinations set by the PEB are held annually. Consequently, the minimum length of time to become a Chartered Patent Attorney is two years. However, it is not unusual to work as a technical assistant (trainee) for between four and six years before qualifying as a patent attorney. The examinations set by the EPO are held annually and require candidates to have worked for two years under the supervision of a European patent attorney before sitting the main examinations. For this reason, it is common for people to become a Registered Patent Attorney before becoming a European Patent Attorney.
Technical assistant / graduate trainee vacancies are sometimes advertised on the CIPA website.
However, more detail on becoming a Chartered Patent Attorney as well as graduate vacancies can be found on the IP Careers website. Further information on intellectual property careers can be found on the Careers in Ideas website.
A Google search for trainee patent attorney jobs brings up more graduate vacancies.