Patent law is actually part of a broader area of law known as intellectual property law. It grants exclusive rights of a discovery or invention to its founder or creator. You’re essentially staking claim to something for a limited time, allowing you to sell, license, develop or do whatever you like with your “property.” Patent lawyers assist in the process of applying for patents, which can include anything from preparing, drafting and filing applications for patents to representing clients during patent infringement hearings.
As of 2012, the average lawyer brought home $130,880 a year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Those involved in patent law, however, earned nearly 57 percent more, found a 2011 survey by the American Intellectual Property Law Association. In 2010, half of all intellectual property attorneys earned at least $205,000 a year.
Pay by Practice Setting
While the particular field of law has long affected an attorney’s pay, the same can also be said for practice setting. For example, partners at law firms earned nearly 47 percent more than attorneys heading corporate IP departments. As of 2010, the median income was $374,328 and $255,000, respectively. Corporate IP attorneys, however, fared better than associates at law firms, earning almost 30 percent more per year. According to the AIPLA survey, the median income was $213,701 and $165,000, respectively.
The relatively high pay is at least partly due to schooling. In general, aspiring lawyers spend at least seven years earning their juris doctor, with four years in an undergraduate program and another three years in law school. Also contributing to the high pay is the return they provide to their employers. As of 2010, half of all IP lawyers billed at least $486,500 to clients over the course of a year.
The BLS expects employment for lawyers to be fair, with an average job growth rate of 10 percent from 2010 to 2020. By comparison, the national average for all U.S. occupations is projected at 14 percent during this same period of time. Although the 10 percent adds nearly 74,000 new jobs to the job market over the course of the decade, expect strong competition for open positions, as there are often more candidates than available jobs.
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