At the crossroads of science, engineering and law, a position as a patent agent will suit scientific minds eager to be at the forefront of innovation!
The role of the patent agent
This professional helps businesses or inventors define and obtain an intellectual property title to legally protect their inventions. “It’s like building a fence around a house to delineate what belongs to us,” explains Benoit Yelle, partner and patent agent at Gowling WLG. To do this, he first assesses the patentable nature of the invention. Then he writes a detailed description for the Patent Office, which will or will not issue the title deed. A certified patent agent is the only one who can represent an inventor or business at this institution.
To become a certified patent agent, no particular training is officially required. The Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO), however, requires at least 24 months experience under the supervision of a certified patent agent before being able to pass the federal examination. “So you have to convince this person to hire you to acquire the necessary baggage,” says Mr. Yelle. “Not having technical or scientific training becomes a major handicap, because the firm or company is looking for a candidate who will be operational quickly and able to understand the inventor’s technical language to translate it legally.”
After learning the ropes of the business, the trainee patent agent must pass the CIPO exam. There are four tests on the program: writing a patent application, preparing an opinion of validity, prosecution (negotiation with the Patent Office) and counterfeit opinion. “This examination is notoriously difficult, because it is quite unpredictable. The passing rate for a first test is close to 2%,” warns this senior patent agent. In addition, it only takes place once a year. So it is not uncommon for the training period to extend beyond the two required years.
The qualities to succeed
According to Mr. Yelle, the patent agent must “be able to quickly make links between scientific or technological knowledge and the proposed innovations.” A scientific mind and curiosity are therefore essential to pursue this career in frequently intense intellectual and solitary work, although the profession includes a portion of teamwork.
Regarding the exam, patience and humility are required. “You have to put in the time,” concludes Benoit Yelle. “It’s a way of thinking that is learned by being in contact with other patent agents and people connected with litigation. Passing the exam will be facilitated if one understands the entire process, from writing the application to a potential judgement in progress.”