Law School Up Close

Enrolled - An Intro To the Patent Bar

Welp, here I am. After about a month of considering the option, I have enrolled in the Practicing Law Institute’s prep course for the “Patent Bar”, the USPTO Registration Exam.

In April, I first read of the possible benefits in taking the course prior to starting school. It is apparently easier to acquire jobs in the summers between law school if you have this under your belt. In fact, I asked the mentor that I was assigned upon admission about this, and he agreed wholeheartedly. My main objective in taking this step though, is the personal and public affirmation of my intentions in law school. This is a two-fold decision, but the first of which is that I will be going to school with my girlfriend. I want to clarify during the hiring process what area of the law I am committed to studying, so that we are not competing for jobs, but I also feel that this is important to affirm to myself, as I begin learning about the other aspects of law. See, other aspects of the law interest me, but I know that my path is through the field of patent law, because I belong in the technical domain. The glories of more visceral cases may appeal to me upon impression, but I want to leverage the technical skills and understanding that I have worked hard to understand through engineering.

You may be asking, why did I choose the priciest course, when there are several more affordable options available? This really came down to circumstance, as I was presented with an opportunity to sign up through a student group at the school, which brought the enrollment down to $872. This may be more pricey than other courses, but given the sticker price of the course ($2875), it seems like the best value. If you go to a school where you expect there will be more than a few others taking the Patent Bar, seek out a “PLI Student Rep” late in the spring. I was lucky enough to stumble across a post on the Facebook page for our incoming class.

An Intro to the USPTO Registration Exam

The Patent Act of 1790 paved the way for patents in the United States. At that time, Thomas Jefferson, Henry Knox, and Edmund Randolph held the lone power in granting patents to inventions they deemed “sufficiently useful and important”. Samuel Hopkins carried the first United States patent for the invention of “Making Pot and Pearl Ashes”.

Patent registration started in the 1880’s, and the USPTO Registration Exam came about in the 1930’s. Prior to that, the way to become a Patent Prosecutor was through apprenticeship. Attorneys began to abuse the role of the apprentice, so the USPTO began administering the test as a way to set your own terms in getting a registration number at the patent office. In the beginning the test had several different section formats, similarly to the LSAT, and included a portion that was dedicated to the specific engineering discipline.

Now, the test is 100 multiple choice questions, and you need to score 70 correct in order to pass. While the tradition BAR Exam has passage rate of 85-90%, the USPTO Registration Exam has a passage rate of 45%. Ouch.

The exam is based mostly on a 3,000+ page manual called the MPEP (Manual of Patent Examining Procedure). White says that some portions of this massive tome have not even been edited, and that it really doesn’t make sense to read the thing the entire way through. The MPEP is actually written for Patent Examiners, the people who analyze the Patent filings to determine the ruling as to whether the patent can be granted.

The speaker of the free introduction video, John White, has been teaching students to prepare for the exam since 1989. He notes a cryptic occasion where a class of students being administered the exam had a 13% pass rate. He also notes that there is generally a large clump of grades right in the middle for the exam, with most students getting between a 68 and 71. He says that some students will “get a 72, 73, but those are the real curve-busters”. He suggests that the course will take about 150-160 hours to study for, so I guess I will have to cut down on my blog posts a bit.


Ted Rand