Patent attorneys are not just lawyers, but lawyers who have specialised in the highly complex field of intellectual property and patent law. Because patent attorneys generally have advanced degrees or certifications, they typically earn higher salaries than general civil attorneys. In 2005, the American Intellectual Property Law Association (AIPLA) estimated that the average salary for patent attorneys was over £117,000 a year.
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Federal patent laws have existed, in one form or another, since 1790 when the Progress of Useful Art Act was enacted. This act provided that any two of the Secretaries of State, the Secretary of War and the Attorney General could grant patents for terms of up to 14 years for inventions that were considered to be "sufficiently useful and important." To gain a patent, the grantee would have to submit a specification describing the invention, or a model of the invention, for review and approval. This basic law has been changed and revised over time, thus necessitating the training and paying of patent attorneys.
A bachelor's degree in science or engineering is generally required to take the patent bar exam, but many firms will expect a higher degree to go along with this experience. Accordingly, patent attorneys, in addition to writing and prosecuting patent applications, may also prepare for infringement cases and offer legal advice to businesses and individuals concerning patent litigation to justify their higher salary.
Patent attorneys earning the highest salaries are those at the top of the pay scale, such as partners in large private firms. These lawyers earn approximately £195,000 a year, according to statistics given to the AIPLA in a survey of its members. Associates in smaller private firms will make less, or approximately £81,250 a year, as reported by AIPLA. AIPLA also estimates that the average starting salary for a patent attorney with minimal experience is £65,000 a year. Experience, training and background can also affect patent attorney salaries. Regardless, these numbers are still significantly higher than those for most attorneys in non-patent practices.
The function of patent attorney salaries is to to reward those attorneys with highly specialised experience who are useful to those law firms with a business or contract practice. Patent law lawyers are especially in demand now that technology and internet developments have created unique patent law issues that require the specialised and complex research, representation and litigation skills of the patent lawyer.
Due to the fact that patent attorneys need advanced degrees and certification, those high patent attorney salaries may be offset by law school tuition costs and student loans. Regardless, patent law is a field that is only expanding as technology and invention expand, and the need for patent attorneys will only increase thus justifying their high salaries.
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