How to Work as a Patent Examiner

by Clayton Browne
Patent examiners must be technical experts and knowledgeable about patent law.

Patent examiners must be technical experts and knowledgeable about patent law.

A patent is a government grant of the sole right to make, use, sell or otherwise exploit a new invention for a specific period of time. Inventors apply for a patents by completing a patent application at a national patent office. There, a patent examiner will look over the patent application to make sure the invention is novel, and will recommend granting a patent if everything else is in order. Patent examiners are technical experts in specific areas, and they are knowledgeable about their country's intellectual property laws. An undergraduate degree is typically considered the minimum educational requirement for patent examiners.

Earn a bachelor's degree in a science or engineering field of your choice. Inventors apply for patents in every imaginable field, from computer chips to new drugs to genetically modified oil-eating bacteria, so a national patent office such as the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office must hire a wide range of patent examiners with different technical backgrounds.

Work for a few years in your field. The USPTO typically hires examiners with significant industry experience. Develop your personal and professional networks as you learn the ropes of your industry. Use the first few years of your career to work toward professional credentials, such as your professional engineer license, for example.

Apply to the USPTO or other national patent office when you have at least four or five years of professional experience under your belt. Most patent offices, including the USPTO, post open examiner positions on their websites.

Complete the USPTO training academy program. The training academy is a two-phase, 12-month training program to teach new examiners everything they need to know to do their job. U.S. intellectual property law is the primary focus, but trainees also receive cutting-edge training tailored to the specific technology areas where examiners will work. A section on the use of the latest automation, database searching and communication tools is included in the program.


  • Consider earning a graduate degree before becoming a patent examiner. Having a master's degree, a J.D., an M.D. or a Ph.D. will help you stand out from other patent examiner candidates.

About the Author

Clayton Browne has been writing professionally since 1994. He has written and edited everything from science fiction to semiconductor patents to dissertations in linguistics, having worked for Holt, Rinehart & Winston, Steck-Vaughn and The Psychological Corp. Browne has a Master of Science in linguistic anthropology from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

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