Thursday, May 5, 2016

Anyone know anything about the patent agent exam?

Does anyone know anything about the patent agent exam? Hard, easy, how to study? Are prep classes worth it?

Are there exams for specific localities? If so, Maryland, DC and (maybe?) Virginia are relevant here.

Any help would be greatly appreciated. (If you feel like it, e-mail me at chemjobber@gmail.com - confidentiality guaranteed.) 

12 comments:

  1. Yes, I have been studying for it in my spare time while working as a tech spec at a law firm. It's a very very tedious exam with a pass rate around 40ish percent. 100 multiple choice questions split into two 3-hour periods. With no patent experience a prep course would probably be recommended, mainly because the MPEP is very difficult to navigate if you don't know what you're looking for.
    For what it's worth if someone was interested in patent law I would recommend just applying to law firms or the USPTO without having taken the patent bar exam. A lot of firms will pay for you to take one of the good courses (like The PLI one). A lot of firms will hire people straight out of graduate school with no prior patent experience. After failing miserably to get a pharma job I applied to a variety of firms with no experience and got hired straight out of grad school. I love the work.

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    1. And the exam is the same wherever you take it.

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  2. Unless you have a lot of experience writing and filing patents, a course is essential. The exam has little to do with specific scientific knowledge but rather the mechanics of the patent system. Old tests are available at the USPTO website with which to practice. The test is uniform nation wide. I recall at least two occasions when labmates with PhD degrees from top five schools took the exam and reported they just quit for they couldn't even understand the questions. These were both chemists with issued US patents written by others.

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  3. To further expand on my previous comments, the America Invents Act passed a few years ago completely changed patent law and makes a lot of pre-existing free internet study material (and the published exams on the USPTO) not very helpful at best and misleading at worst. The courses are a real rip off, but probably worth it

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  4. To expand a bit on the above comments, if you don’t know what the MPEP is, then I would not recommend taking the exam. The best way to prepare for the exam in my opinion is to work, under supervision, in patent preparation and prosecution for at least a few months. If that isn’t practical, then an agent's class would be next best choice. PLI and Patent Resources Group are both good. I haven’t taken their agents exam class but other short courses have been excellent. I think old exams are still helpful. You probably haven’t taken a multiple choice test since high school, the questions using double negatives need a bit of getting used to, and you can practice looking up answers in the MPEP. The revised patent law did change some aspects of determining priority dates but the large majority of what you do is the same.

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  5. The US patent bar exam is not just taken by hopeful patent agents. It is taken by anyone who wishes to obtain the license needed to practice patent law in the US meaning agents and lawyers. It is a federal level test so it is exactly the same anywhere in the country. It is one of two areas of law that a person can practice without being a licensed attorney. The other is tax law. A person can prepare and file their own taxes and can also prepare and file their own patent applications. With respect to patents, such an inventor is called a pro se inventor. They can also usher their own patent applications through the system which is called prosecution of the patent application.

    It is three hours followed by a one hour break followed by another three hours. It is given through a computer and is all multiple choice. It used to be written and part of it was to construct a series of claims from information given. I guess the feds do not want to include a written portion anymore. Time management during the test is critical. The exam is open-book but the book, the MPEP, is available only on-line during the test and you cannot search it in one go. In fact, if you don’t know what section to look in for help with an answer, you are already wasting time and will probably not get the question correct. You are not allowed to bring any reference materials, paper or pencils into the test room. The test site will supply paper and pencils which have to be turned in at the end of the exam.

    I found the test to be very difficult probably because it is nothing like a chemistry exam. Many of the questions concern very unusual or convoluted circumstances. Just because you can write a patent does not mean you will do well on the exam. Very little of the exam is actually concerned with how to write a patent application. I asked a number of patent attorneys and agents one question which I remembered and each one selected a different answer from the choices given so that should give you an idea as to how hard the exam can be.

    The best way to study for the exam is to take as many practice questions as you can under test conditions. The PLI, PRG, and OmniPrep courses are good preparation courses. You will also not want to take too long to study for the exam. Keep it on the order of just a few months or less. If you stretch it out, you might forget some of the details and will not be as primed as you need to be. I suggest being able to get at least a 90% on practice exams at least two times in a row before you sit for the actual exam. To me it is different from a chemistry exam in that it is not as important that you understand the “theory” as it is that you have learned about specific instances of how the law and rules are applied in very unusual circumstances. The MPEP is not necessarily laid out as logically as a chemistry text is. You must memorize where things are in the Manual. Different related parts are sometimes in very different parts of the Manual.

    Good Luck!

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  6. I used Patent Resources Group (PRG), which was highly recommended to me by practicing agents/attorneys and I thought it was helpful and well worth the money. You can take the exam essentially whenever you want at a Prometric test center - there are many such centers around the country so there should be one close to you ("10,000 in 160 countries" according to the USPTO). You need to know the parts of the MPEP that the USPTO considers the most important backwards and forwards. The only way to do that is to take a course, read various websites where the exam is discussed, and take many, many, many practice exams. As already said, the exam consists of two 3-hour sessions of 50 multiple choice questions each. My eyes were completely glued to the CRT for the duration of each session and I had maybe 10 minutes at the end of each session to go back and check my answers. I took the exam twice, barely missed passing the first time (still kicking myself for that) and passed the second time. It is open book in that access to the MPEP is provided. HOWEVER, you will not have time to use the MPEP for more than a very few questions. In addition, and this is very important, the MPEP is provided in a very old version of Acrobat. I kid you not - the version used for the exam is something like 15 years old. Searching in this version is very difficult. You absolutely, positively must do all of your practice using this version of Acrobat. I'm convinced that I would have passed the first time if I had done that. Do not use the version provided at the USPTO website or as the default used by PRG - both of them provide access to the version used for the exam, but you need to go find it and use it.

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  7. From the inbox:

    The registration exam permits one to practice before the USPTO, so the main purpose is to make sure you are reasonably competent with regard to relevant statutes and rules. The exam is difficult, not so much because the subject matter is hard to understand but because it is arcane. If you are not familiar with patent prosecution, it will also be a bit abstract, which adds to the difficulty. Despite this, you can pass the test just like any standardized test.

    First, you should familiarize yourself with the main statutes and what they mean. For example, 35 USC 101 refers to what's patentable, 35 USC 102 refers to what qualifies as anticipation of an invention, and 35 USC 103 refers to what's obvious. You should be pretty comfortable with what these concepts mean. One wrinkle with this as one commenter noted: congress recently passed the America Invents Act, which significantly alters some statues to make the patent system a 'first to file' system (which is used in all (?) other countries). There is now a transition period where some applications are treated under the old statues (pre-AIA) and new applications are AIA applications. Therefore you now need to know the differences between the two.

    Next, you'll need to familiarize yourself with the Manual of Patent Examining Procedure (MPEP) (http://www.uspto.gov/web/offices/pac/mpep/index.html). This is a large compendium of patent examination rules, laws, and court cases, and is the main tool practitioners use to navigate complicated issues that crop up. In many ways, the registration exam is a test of your ability to recall certain sections of the MPEP. To pass the test you'll need to know what sections of the MPEP relate to what topic. For example, if there's a double patenting issue, you should know that's covered in MPEP 800, and if there's a question about the acceptable form of the claims, then that's in MPEP 602. Don't worry about these terms if you are new to the field, you will learn them. Just know you'll have to have a good grasp of where to look in the MPEP to limit the time you spend searching during the test.

    And now about the test, and how to pass. The test is a set number of multiple choice questions of which you need to pass a certain percent, pass/fail. The test is 'open book' in that you are given access to the MPEP, which has all the answers you seek. The wrinkle is that it is timed. I recommend finding out the current duration and number of questions for the test (my memory is out of date). Like a standardized test: know how much time you should spend on each question and know which ones to skip or save for later. This is key. People often run out time because they get stuck trying to answer the most complicated questions, but you just need to answer enough correctly, not solve the hardest one.

    To pass this test you need to take practice exams to familiarize yourself with the questions they will ask. This is the other key: the questions are effectively re-used over the years, so if you know the gist of what is being asked, it's much easier to work through. "Oh hey, this is that same double patenting question I've done three times (maybe with a slight twist), and if I get in trouble I know the answer's in MPEP 800."

    Practice practice practice. Take repeated tests, under the actual time constraints. Luckily the old tests that are available for you to practice on. This is the way to pass. You will come to know what the question is about because you've seen the format before. But this is the law, so you also need to train yourself to read every word, because each is important. Practice practice practice. Can't stress it enough.

    Like I said, it's difficult, but with lots of practice questions and familiarity with the MPEP, the test is doable and you can become an agent.

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  8. It's hard to answer this question without knowing who is asking. If you're an inventor and have been named as such on multiple patents, that doesn't mean that you are qualified to write and file a patent application. If you're an inventor and have chosen to represent yourself (pro se) through the patent application process, i.e., writing and filing your own application, you may still find the certification exam difficult. Even though the exam is open book, you need to have an idea of where to find things in the MPEP. When patent examiners start at the USPTO, it is very rare for anyone to prepare and take the internal equivalent certification exam before they have been on the job for at least a year or two. As a previous poster said, the best way to prepare is to have some kind of on-the-job training beforehand, so that you have some familiarity with the MPEP.

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    Replies
    1. As far as applying for jobs with USPTO: it's very unlikely that any chemical/biological arts examiner positions will open up anytime soon. But if you're qualified for a position in another technology, then yes, becoming a patent examiner is a good start to becoming an agent/attorney down the road.

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  9. One more thing - 70% correct is the minimum to pass. As another commenter has already stated, the USPTO has adjusted the difficulty of the exam to get a pass rate somewhere between 40-50 %. The exact pass statistics are on the USPTO website => http://www.uspto.gov/learning-and-resources/ip-policy/becoming-practitioner/exam-results

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  10. From the inbox:

    The US patent bar exam is not just taken by hopeful patent agents. It is taken by anyone who wishes to obtain the license needed to practice patent law in the US meaning agents and lawyers. It is a federal level test so it is exactly the same anywhere in the country. It is one of two areas of law that a person can practice without being a licensed attorney. The other is tax law. A person can prepare and file their own taxes and can also prepare and file their own patent applications. With respect to patents, such an inventor is called a pro se inventor. They can also usher their own patent applications through the system which is called prosecution of the patent application.

    It is three hours followed by a one hour break followed by another three hours. It is given through a computer and is all multiple choice. It used to be written and part of it was to construct a series of claims from information given. I guess the feds do not want to include a written portion anymore. Time management during the test is critical. The exam is open-book but the book, the MPEP, is available only on-line during the test and you cannot search it in one go. In fact, if you don’t know what section to look in for help with an answer, you are already wasting time and will probably not get the question correct. You are not allowed to bring any reference materials, paper or pencils into the test room. The test site will supply paper and pencils which have to be turned in at the end of the exam.

    I found the test to be very difficult probably because it is nothing like a chemistry exam. Many of the questions concern very unusual or convoluted circumstances. Just because you can write a patent does not mean you will do well on the exam. Very little of the exam is actually concerned with how to write a patent application. I asked a number of patent attorneys and agents one question which I remembered and each one selected a different answer from the choices given so that should give you an idea as to how hard the exam can be.

    The best way to study for the exam is to take as many practice questions as you can under test conditions. The PLI, PRG, and OmniPrep courses are good preparation courses. You will also not want to take too long to study for the exam. Keep it on the order of just a few months or less. If you stretch it out, you might forget some of the details and will not be as primed as you need to be. I suggest being able to get at least a 90% on practice exams at least two times in a row before you sit for the actual exam. To me it is different from a chemistry exam in that it is not as important that you understand the “theory” as it is that you have learned about specific instances of how the law and rules are applied in very unusual circumstances. The MPEP is not necessarily laid out as logically as a chemistry text is. You must memorize where things are in the Manual. Different related parts are sometimes in very different parts of the Manual.

    Good Luck!

    ReplyDelete