Becoming Patent Bar Eligible: What Courses are Acceptable?

By Gene Quinn
June 7, 2012

For those who want to represent inventors or companies in their pursuit to obtain a U.S. patent it is necessary to take and pass the Patent Bar Examination and become either a Patent Attorney or a Patent Agent.  Not just anyone can take the Patent Bar Exam.  In order to qualify to even take the Exam it is necessary for the individual seeking to take the test to demonstrate to the USPTO’s Office of Enrollment & Discipline (OED) that they: (1) Possesses good moral character and reputation; (2) Possesses the legal, scientific, and technical qualifications necessary for him or her to render applicants valuable service; and (3) Is competent to advise and assist patent applicants in the presentation and prosecution of their applications before the Office.  Generally speaking, the main hurdle for most who are unable to sit for the Exam is the scientific/technical qualification requirement.

Those applying to take the Patent Bar must demonstrate to OED that he or she possesses the scientific and technical training necessary to provide valuable service to patent applicants. The General Requirements Bulletin sets forth the particulars for most situations, and divides qualifications into three distinct categories that define what the applicant must provide OED — Category A, Category B and Category C.  With Category A having a Bachelor’s Degree in a specified field is enough to qualify.  Under Category B you need a certain number of credit hours, but you must also have a Bachelor’s Degree, which means that college students are not eligible to sit for the Patent Bar Exam until they have graduated.  Category C allows other relevant technical background to suffice, but those allowed to sit for the exam under Category C are few and far between, and one would have to wonder how easy it would be to obtain employment without at least some scientific coursework at a college or University level.


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Showing Required Scientific and Technical Training

An applicant is considered to possess the necessary scientific and technical training if he or she provides an official transcript showing that a Bachelor’s degree was awarded in 1 of 31 different scientific or engineering disciplines by an accredited United States college or university, or that the equivalent to a Bachelor’s degree was awarded by a foreign university.  For a listing and discussion of these Category A degrees see Who Can Take the Patent Bar?

Those who have a Bachelor’s degree in a subject not listed must demonstrate possession of the necessary scientific and technical training under either Category B or Category C. For more on this see Patent Bar Qualifications: Category B.

It is not uncommon for individuals to have a Bachelor’s degree in a field not listed on the Category A list, but does possess a Masters degree or Ph.D. in a field that is listed on Category A.  For those who have a Master’s or higher level degree in one of the Category A fields, but does not have a Bachelor’s degree in such subject, will need to establish to the satisfaction of the OED Director that he or she possesses the necessary scientific and technical training. In other words, the mere possession of an advanced degree in a Category A discipline does not automatically qualify you to take the Patent Bar Examination.  Possession of the necessary scientific and technical training is typically established in the manner set forth under Category B.

This is sometimes surprising to those who hold advanced degrees, who question why the USPTO would have such a silly requirement.  The unfortunate truth, however, is that this is not a silly requirement. There are “engineering or science sounding advanced degrees that focus almost exclusively on business and/or management topics, which is not the case for Bachelor’s degree programs.  Those with advanced degrees but no Category A Bachelor’s degree should NOT panic.  You should easily have enough credits under one of the Category B options to qualify to sit for the Exam.

 

Which Courses Qualify Under Category B?

It is not uncommon for those wishing to become a Patent Attorney or Patent Agent to need to qualify under Category B by counting course credits.  There are 4 separate options.  Option 1 requires 24 credit hours of Physics with all classes qualifying for credit for Physics majors.  Similarly, Option 3 requires 30 credit hours of Chemistry with all classes qualifying for credit for Chemistry majors.  Whether you are seeking to qualify under one of the 4 Category B options the question becomes this: Which courses will the USPTO recognize as counting toward fulfillment of the required number of credit hours?

The most specific and direct statement in the General Requirement Bulletin about courses is the paragraph that deals with the types of courses that are examples of courses that will not be deemed sufficient to demonstrate the necessary scientific and technical training, which says:

The following typify courses that are not accepted as demonstrating the necessary scientific and technical training: anthropology; astronomy; audited courses; behavioral science courses such as psychology and sociology; continuing legal education courses; courses in public health; courses relating technology to politics or policy; courses offered by corporations to corporate employees; courses in management, business administration and operations research; courses on how to use computer software; courses directed to data management and management information systems; courses to develop manual, processing or fabrication skills (e.g. machine operation, wiring, soldering, etc.); courses taken on a pass/fail basis; correspondence courses; ecology; economics of technology; courses in the history of science, engineering and technology; field identification of plants and/or animals; home or personal independent study courses; high school level courses; mathematics courses; one day conferences; patent law courses; paleontology; political science courses; repair and maintenance courses; radio operator license courses; science courses for non-science majors; vocational training courses; and work study programs. Also not accepted are college research or seminar courses where the course content and requirements are not set forth in the course descriptions; and courses that do not provide scientific and technical training. Further, not accepted are courses that repeat, or which are substantially the same as, or are lesser-included courses for which credit has already been given.

But what about online courses, which are growing ever more popular?  I couldn’t find that answer specifically in the General Requirements Bulletin so I asked OED if they could clarify the Office’s position on such courses.  According to OED, “online courses appearing on an official transcript will be considered on a case-by case basis.”  OED went on to tell me: “Factors that come into play in determining whether credit is acceptable toward the requisite technical and scientific training include the school’s accreditation and how the school treats credit for the course.  There is no per se rule regarding on-line courses.”

While this may seem like no help at all, this answer from OED is particularly enlightening if you are familiar with the way the Patent Office evaluates courses generally.  Furthermore, if online courses are evaluated on a case-by-case basis that must mean that there are indeed some online courses that the Patent Office is willing to accept.

When determining whether to accept a particular course one particularly important consideration is whether the course has been accepted for college-level credit for a Category A degree at an accredited U.S. college or university.  We know that the USPTO will accept courses taken at Community Colleges if those courses would count toward a degree listed on Category A.  Indeed, some who are short credits will take them at Community Colleges and then be admitted to take the exam.  The same rationale seems to apply when OED is evaluating online courses.  So before you take a class at a Community College or online make sure that the credits for the course could be used by someone pursuing a Category A degree.  If the answer is that the course would count toward the credit requirements for a Category A degree you should be fine.

 

Transcript Requirements

A copy of a diploma, the actual diploma itself or an unofficial transcript are not acceptable evidence of a degree in the eyes of OED. Similarly, a letter from the registrar specifying a degree or degrees is not sufficient. It is necessary for the applicant to provide an official transcript from a college or university as evidence of the degree received. An official transcript issued to an applicant will be accepted provided the transcript includes a university or college stamp or seal.

The one issue that sometimes arises is with respect to name changes, as may be the case due to marriage or divorce.  Transcripts must show the same name as the application.  If there is a difference between the name on the transcript and the name of the applicant sufficient legal documentation of the name change, such as a marriage certificate or court order, must be provided.

 

When to Apply for the Patent Bar Exam

If you file a complete application and you qualify under Category A or B you will likely receive an admission ticket to take the Patent Bar Exam within two weeks.  It is important to keep in mind that those seeking to qualify under Category B will need to submit not only an official transcript, but will also need to include course descriptions for each course relied upon.  This can take some time because the course description must be the official course description for the course in the year in which the course was taken. Colleges and Universities do keep old course descriptions and they can be obtained, but it can take at least several weeks (or longer) to get the information you need, particularly for old courses where that information may be stored in archives off-site.  So if you are going to attempt to qualify under Category B you should do the leg work necessary in advance.  Don’t wait to the last minute before you want to apply and think you will be able to apply quickly or easily.

When you obtain an admission ticket to the Exam you will have a 90 day window within which to schedule the Exam at a Prometric Test Facility. Those who have taken the PLI Patent Bar Review Course are told that they should spend another 100 hours studying materials we provide for the “post course.”  Typically students will apply when they are about 50% to 60% through the 100 hours so that by the time they get the admission ticket they will be able to take advantage of the full 90 window.  It doesn’t make sense to apply too early and just have your window closing day after day when you are not yet ready for the Exam.

 

Additional Information about the Patent Bar

If you are interested in taking the patent bar exam please see the General Requirements Bulletin from the USPTO. I have also collected all the information you need to know about the Patent Bar Exam and preparing for the examination in the links below. For more information on the patent bar exam please see:

 

The Author

Gene Quinn

Gene Quinn is a Patent Attorney and Editor and founder of IPWatchdog.com. Gene is also a principal lecturer in the PLI Patent Bar Review Course and an attorney with Widerman Malek. Gene’s specialty is in the area of strategic patent consulting, patent application drafting and patent prosecution. He consults with attorneys facing peculiar procedural issues at the Patent Office, advises investors and executives on patent law changes and pending litigation matters, and works with start-up businesses throughout the United States and around the world, primarily dealing with software and computer related innovations. is admitted to practice law in New Hampshire, is a Registered Patent Attorney and is also admitted to practice before the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. CLICK HERE to send Gene a message.

Warning & Disclaimer: The pages, articles and comments on IPWatchdog.com do not constitute legal advice, nor do they create any attorney-client relationship. The articles published express the personal opinion and views of the author and should not be attributed to the author’s employer, clients or the sponsors of IPWatchdog.com. Read more.

Discuss this

There are currently 16 Comments comments.

  1. Chris June 7, 2012 6:28 pm

    I have a B.Sc. in Computer Science (and an advanced degree), however, strictly speaking, I don’t qualify under category A, because I studied at a university in Germany which it is not listed at ABET.
    I am wondering if category B could work for me. However, CS does not include many physics courses. So, is “physics” to be taken literally? I mean, I have had a lot of engineering courses, way more than 24 credit hours. Having to qualify through category C seems just not right.

  2. Gene Quinn June 8, 2012 11:07 am

    Chris-

    Computer Science majors who do not qualify under Category A because the University does not have the required certification must qualify under either Category B or C. In many cases people with a Computer Science degree, like you, will find it most easy to qualify under Category B option 1, which requires 24 credit hours of physics for physics majors. That frequently requires the taking of 8 three credit physics courses at a community college.

    I wish I had better news for you.

    -Gene

  3. Chris June 8, 2012 11:17 am

    Thanks for your update, Gene.

  4. Anon June 8, 2012 5:55 pm

    OT, but I know this is a topic that Gene has interest in, there is an interesting post of pleading at Patently-O:

    http://www.patentlyo.com/patent/2012/06/pleading-requirements.html

  5. David June 10, 2012 1:57 pm

    Eugene,

    I have been wrestling with the thought of qualifying under category B. I need about 15 more chemistry units to qualify under the category. The issue is that I just graduated from law school and currently studying for the California bar. Do you think it is worth pursuing post-bar? I estimate that I would need 4-6 classes, which may take a year to complete because some classes are year long.

    Thanks in advance for any suggestions.

  6. Gene Quinn June 10, 2012 5:14 pm

    David-

    It is hard to give advice without knowing your particular situation, but it sounds like your only option is to pursue more classes. I would just point out that it can be difficult for even those with a BS in chemistry to find a job in the patent field. In the biology and chemical area many firms, if not most firms, are looking to hire individuals with advanced degrees. Thus, I would recommend you do some work to see whether there are realistic job opportunities for those who qualify under Category B by counting chemistry credits.

    -Gene

  7. Isaiah July 14, 2012 2:26 pm

    Gene-

    Thank you for posting this information. I am planning to apply for the patent bar, but I am figuring, based on my transcripts, that I am two biology classes short under Category B. Due to my work schedule, and traveling, I need to take online classes, and although I have already registered for the classes, I have been trying to determine what the unwritten guidelines were in determining when a course will be accepted, particulary online courses. Now I know. Additionally, you answered a second and third question I had concerining the time it takes to get a response after I have submitted my packet and how far out I need to start studying. You have helped out a lot.
    Thanks again

  8. Isaiah July 14, 2012 2:43 pm

    Gene-

    What can you tell me about the Patent Bar being revised over the next year, increasing the amount of information I have to understand and memorize, thus making it twice as hard?

  9. Mary August 13, 2012 4:54 pm

    I also just graduated from law school and took the July California Bar. I am looking into taking the patent bar, but not completely sure if all of my science classes will qualify. I received my undergraduate degree in Nutrition Science, and thus took several physics, biology, chemistry, and organic chemistry classes that all qualify. My question is regarding other science classes such as anatomy and physiology (which both had labs) as well as advanced nutrition classes which were all science with labs. Has anyone heard whether those classes may qualify?

  10. Alyssa March 5, 2013 7:49 pm

    Hi! I am a law student hoping to be able to take the patent bar however, I was a natural science biology major, not one of the approved majors in category A. Under B option 2, I have the two requisite chemistry courses, and at least 12 credits of biology that will definitely count (immunology, genetics, and cell biology). My other courses are a little off the beaten biology path- being that the USPTO does not count ecology for sure, is it likely that they will not count the following courses either? Almost of them are listed as BIO on my transcript. I would only need 3/7 of these to have the requisite 24 credit hours and all of them except physiological ecology had labs.

    Diversity of Life (Intro to Bio for bio majors I)
    Unity of Life (Intro to Bio for bio majors II)
    Conservation of Wildlife Populations (population genetics)
    Wildlife Physiological Ecology
    Evolution
    Animal Behavior
    Mammalogy

  11. Soumya April 5, 2013 11:35 pm

    Hello,

    I was just looking through the Patent Bar requirements. I am not very clear on a few points. Let me give you a short background about myself first.

    I am a Law and Commerce Graduate from India and did a Paralegal Certification from Boston University. I work for a Patent Law firm in New Jersey. I wish to give Patent Bar Exam. Right now i have a L2 visa. My Attorney also wishes that i go for the Bar. Currently due to my husband’s work position, i might relocate to Canada for a while and then move back next year to US.

    My queries are:

    1. Can i take credits from Canada University (Category B) and be eligible to give bar?

    2. What does my Attorney need to do for me?

    Regards,

    Soumya

  12. Sri April 9, 2013 2:28 pm

    Hi, I have Bachelor’s degree in Commerce & Management and Master’s Degree in Computer sciences both degree’s are from India. My company wants me to give Patent Bar Exam. From USPTO website my degree will not qualify under category A. My question are
    1. would it work if I can get course description from my university
    or / and
    2. do I have to evaluate my original transcripts
    3. do I have to take 8 credit hours of physics course

  13. Gene Quinn April 9, 2013 3:31 pm

    Sri-

    You will have to qualify under category B. The easiest route is 24 hours of physics.

    -Gene

  14. Andrew January 5, 2014 12:28 pm

    Hi Gene,

    I am looking to take the patent bar, and meet the Category A requirements with a degree from an Australian University. Unfortunately, the USPTO objected to my application on the basis that my university is a) foreign or b) not recognised, and i will need to get an external consultant to verify my credentials. Do you have any recommendations on reputable companies??

    Thanks

  15. Gene Quinn January 5, 2014 2:52 pm

    Andrew-

    I don’t know for sure, but what you might want to do is consider reaching out to a patent professional in Australia who could review the USPTO requirements, the degree requirements from your university in Australia, and opine that the degree is equivalent.

    I personally would reach out to Mark Summerfield. He is a patent attorney in Australia with more than a decade of experience. He also has a PhD from the University of Melbourne, so I’m sure his opinion would be taken seriously. He is also the author of Patentology, which is probably the most widely read Australian patent blog, and likely known to some inside the USPTO for that reason alone. I don’t know what he might charge you for an opinion letter like this, but that is who I would contact first. His LinkedIn account is:

    http://www.linkedin.com/in/marksummerfield

    If you would like an introduction via e-mail let me know.

    -Gene

  16. Nathan March 4, 2014 4:09 pm

    Gene,

    I’ve really enjoyed your posts on the subject of the patent bar exam, and I have a question that perhaps you or others navigating this site could help with. I have a BS listed in “Applied Math, Engineering, and Physics”, which was a hybrid degree program with elements and coursework from all three. It seems likely to me that as a result of this, I’ll be a Category B applicant. (Incidentally, I also have a Ph.D. in Physics and am quite sad that this coursework can’t be used to apply).

    My question is this: how do people manage to get copies of old course catalogs/descriptions to submit with their application? My degree is nearly 15 years old, and even though my degree was at a flagship state university there seems to be no way to obtain a paper copy of old catalogs. The information is available in very boring HTML at the university’s website, but I get the feeling the USPTO wouldn’t want me to just send them a URL because they also want to see a copy of the front cover of the catalog (?!?).

    Any guidance is appreciated and, again, great site.

    Nathan