To prime a pipeline of patent agents and attorneys, Milwaukee-based Quarles & Brady LLP has developed an internship program for science and engineering students who are open to exploring careers outside traditional industry walls.
The firm’s Milwaukee office welcomed its first two interns this summer, one student from Milwaukee School of Engineering and another from University of Wisconsin-Madison. Over the course of 10 weeks, both are gaining firsthand experience in drafting patent applications and facilitating different steps of patent prosecution as they work directly with Quarles & Brady’s patent agents and attorneys.
The need for patent agents and attorneys is on the rise, according to Daniel Radler, partner at Quarles & Brady and chairman of its intellectual property practice group.
While patent agents focus on drafting patent applications and representing clients in the U.S. Patent Office, patent attorneys can represent clients in the U.S. Patent Office and in court and can give legal opinions.
Both patent agents and patent attorneys must have an undergraduate degree and a technical background and both professionals must pass the U.S. Patent Bar. Additionally, patent attorneys must have a law degree.
The field has continued to grow as companies have realized the need to protect their intellectual property, Radler said, adding that the America Invests Act has increased companies’ sense of urgency to file patents.
The 2011 legislation protects the intellectual property of those who are first to file their patents, rather than companies and individuals who are the first to invent. With more emphasis on obtaining patents, more law firms are seeking patent agents and attorneys to walk clients through the application and prosecution process.
But the pursuit of patent agents and attorneys can be a difficult one, according to Radler.
Many students with a technical background aren’t even aware of this particular career path, he said, while other engineering students don’t have an interest in patent work as it requires more reading and writing than other engineering disciplines.
“A career in law isn’t the first thing that comes to the mind of engineering students,” Radler said. “They have a lot of other opportunities in the industry. We’re competing with any other company that needs engineers.”
In creating an internship program in its intellectual property practice group, Quarles & Brady wanted to generate interest among prospective patent agents and attorneys rather than wait for students to express interest.
“We felt we had to go deeper into the pool to find students who were interested in this type of work,” Radler said.
The firm also wanted to build a “supply line” for its patent agent program, in which the firm hires engineers and scientists to work as full-time patent agents. That program, developed about four years ago, adds value for the firm’s clients as agents provide patent services at a lower cost than partners, Radler said.
The program also employs patent engineers, professionals who have an undergraduate degree and a technical background but who have not passed the U.S. Patent Bar. Patent engineers can handle the same tasks as patent agents but cannot officially represent clients in the U.S. Patent Office.
Sam Brooks, an attorney in the firm’s intellectual property practice group, worked as a patent engineer under the patent agent program prior to completing his law degree at Marquette University this past May.
Brooks previously spent five years as an engineer and project manager focused on new product development at Milwaukee-based Rockwell Automation.
Intellectual property and patent law were on his mind from the start of law school, he said.
“Having that technical background, I knew that I’d be able to get into that area,” Brooks said.
He spent a year as a patent engineer at Quarles & Brady while attending law school part time, which gave him the opportunity to transition into the legal field, as opposed to jumping in immediately as an associate.
The program also helped him learn how to write with more creativity and persuasion and exposed him to nuances of patent prosecution not covered in law school, such as navigating relations with the U.S. Patent Office, he said.
Once Brooks passes the U.S. Patent Bar, likely this fall, he will officially be considered a patent attorney.
Law school is certainly an option for patent agents but is not an automatic next step for agents. Quarles & Brady currently has nine patent agents and 42 registered patent attorneys across the firm. Of those nine agents, two are enrolled in law school.
As the firm’s intellectual property practice group continues trying to grow the group, the practice and the firm, Radler envisions expanding the patent internship program to other offices next year as well as recruiting more interns to Milwaukee.