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Author Topic: Patent Agent: Inquiry on realistic work-life balance  (Read 923 times)

enkagent

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Hi
I've been browsing this board, looking for insight on what the patent agent work-life balance is and not finding the bottom-line information.  (Also note to web admin:   the "search" function does not actually work, just leads to a blank page after entering the keywords/phrases of interest) 

Questions are: 
--What are the typical hours per week needed to fulfill the duties successfully as a career agent singularly?   No intentions on going to law-school. 
-- Are "billable" hours required for agents?
-- How often is weekend work needed??   
-- Is it the same "cutthroat" mentality for work-output from patent agent vs patent attorney?? (probably related to the above questions)

Background:   I'm an electrical engineer (Master's EE) with 15 years of industrial experience and considering a major career change to patent agent.  Undergrad is in Physics.
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jothya

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Re: Patent Agent: Inquiry on realistic work-life balance
« Reply #1 on: 03-20-17 at 10:50 pm »

Quote
the "search" function does not actually work

Use Google and search using "'search terms' site:http://www.intelproplaw.com/" or use the advanced Google search. 

Happy hunting.

Quote
looking for insight on what the patent agent work-life balance is and not finding the bottom-line information

You will probably find others in your search:

http://www.intelproplaw.com/ip_forum/index.php?topic=27895.0

http://www.intelproplaw.com/ip_forum/index.php?topic=13522.0

http://www.intelproplaw.com/ip_forum/index.php?topic=10328.0
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midwestengineer

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Re: Patent Agent: Inquiry on realistic work-life balance
« Reply #2 on: 03-21-17 at 09:44 am »

Hi
I've been browsing this board, looking for insight on what the patent agent work-life balance is and not finding the bottom-line information.  (Also note to web admin:   the "search" function does not actually work, just leads to a blank page after entering the keywords/phrases of interest) 

Questions are: 
--What are the typical hours per week needed to fulfill the duties successfully as a career agent singularly?   No intentions on going to law-school. 
-- Are "billable" hours required for agents?
-- How often is weekend work needed??   
-- Is it the same "cutthroat" mentality for work-output from patent agent vs patent attorney?? (probably related to the above questions)

Background:   I'm an electrical engineer (Master's EE) with 15 years of industrial experience and considering a major career change to patent agent.  Undergrad is in Physics.

First, be aware that you will likely need to take a major salary hit to make the transition.

Second, patent agent salary is based primarily on production.  The more you produce/are able to produce the more you will be paid.

Third, your ability to produce is extremely difficult to predict.  Some people either have the right mind for the work going in or develop it.  Some people are unable to develop the right mind.  If you fall into the latter category the work will be exhausting and it will be difficult for you to meet your production requirements/goals.

In terms of the hours, this is primarily dictated by your ability to produce.

Assuming that you are good at producing, the number of hours that you work and the requirement for weekend work will be determined by how much money you want to make/how much revenue the firm you work for wants you to generate.  Again, huge variation between firms.
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fewyearsin

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Re: Patent Agent: Inquiry on realistic work-life balance
« Reply #3 on: 03-21-17 at 04:30 pm »

In my experience (noting, as stated by previous poster, that every firm varies) . . .

An agent will work the same or slightly less than a prosecution associate attorney.  Which is about 8-10 hours working every weekday, and probably at least one weekend a month.  And when I say 8-10 hours working, I mean actually working.  I worked engineering, and there were plenty of people in the office for 8 hours, but were lucky to get 3 or 4 hours of actual work done.  As an agent/attorney, if you are in the office but not being productive, you are wasting your time.  The above-poster also notes that, in that some people can stay effective and productive for 8 hours, but if you burn out every day, or need lots of breaks, you will be working 14 hour days to get done what others can in 8 hours.

My 2c.
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enkagent

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Re: Patent Agent: Inquiry on realistic work-life balance
« Reply #4 on: 03-21-17 at 05:27 pm »

Thanks very much for the responses.

Would the same hold true for firms that use a "flat-fee" model instead of the billable-hour model?   

Cutting to the chase, I want to know whether it's possible to hold ~40-hour work weeks, as a patent agent with only occasional need to work late nights/weekends....assuming the firm uses the flat-fee model.  Or is this totally unrealistic?  (I'm not seeing many "in-house" listings for patent agents, but seeing quite a bit of patent trainee positions at law-firms)
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novobarro

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Re: Patent Agent: Inquiry on realistic work-life balance
« Reply #5 on: 03-21-17 at 06:45 pm »

Quote
Cutting to the chase, I want to know whether it's possible to hold ~40-hour work weeks, as a patent agent with only occasional need to work late nights/weekends....assuming the firm uses the flat-fee model.  Or is this totally unrealistic?  (I'm not seeing many "in-house" listings for patent agents, but seeing quite a bit of patent trainee positions at law-firms)

Depends on your billing requirements and how efficient you are.  higher billing requirements, means you make more money, and you work more hours.  Flat model would be more difficult to keep your hours reasonable.  The firm charges a flat rate for work regardless of complexity and how much time you spend on it.
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enkagent

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Re: Patent Agent: Inquiry on realistic work-life balance
« Reply #6 on: 03-21-17 at 06:51 pm »

Novobarro, Patent agents work on salary (i.e. set monthly income), am I right?  It's the partners that make a percentage cut, so your commentary that the more you bill, the more you make doesn't pertain to agents....or am I missing something?

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midpatent

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Re: Patent Agent: Inquiry on realistic work-life balance
« Reply #7 on: 03-21-17 at 10:15 pm »

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Novobarro, Patent agents work on salary (i.e. set monthly income), am I right?  It's the partners that make a percentage cut, so your commentary that the more you bill, the more you make doesn't pertain to agents....or am I missing something?

I've never worked as an agent, just an attorney, so I'm making an assumption that agent pay is determined similar to attorney pay (not partner), difference being agents billing rate is less than attorney's, and thus get paid less.  You should be paid a salary, but the salary is based on an expectation that you bill a certain amount.  for example, for attorneys, if the billing expectation is 1800 hours/yr, then salary could be 140,000, but if billing expectation is 1500 hours, then salary could be 115,000.  You could bill less than expected, and you will still get your salary, but your review will not be great, and you may get let go.  On the other hand, if you bill more than expected, you should get a bonus, assuming your work quality is good.

Also, some smaller law firms have pay based on production.

Why do you want to leave your job? 15 years experience, you should be making decent money, probably more than what you would make starting fresh as an agent.
« Last Edit: 03-21-17 at 10:21 pm by midpatent »
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bluerogue

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Re: Patent Agent: Inquiry on realistic work-life balance
« Reply #8 on: 03-22-17 at 01:13 am »

Cutting to the chase, I want to know whether it's possible to hold ~40-hour work weeks, as a patent agent with only occasional need to work late nights/weekends....assuming the firm uses the flat-fee model.  Or is this totally unrealistic?  (I'm not seeing many "in-house" listings for patent agents, but seeing quite a bit of patent trainee positions at law-firms)

That was fairly realistic for the patent agents at the biglaw firm I worked at, but you were also the first to be let go if work dried up and you were largely considered a second class citizen compared to the associates.  Pay 10 years ago was around 100k and your billables were 1800 hours.  I've had friends work for places where you worked more on a commission schedule.  It can vary quite a bit depending on where you go. 

In house listings for patent agents is very, very low.  TI used to do it, but have farmed out most of the work.  It's far more cost efficient to farm out the work than to hire folks to draft in house due to the greater difficulty of letting permanent employees go via layoffs etc.  Plus, most in house drafting positions are being filled by patent attorneys.  I've got former biglaw friends who are doing that.  Years ago, the expectation of in house was 30 patent apps written/year + associated responses and additional responses as patents were examined.
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The views expressed are my own and do not represent those of the USPTO. I am also not your lawyer nor providing legal advice.

ex-aminer?

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Re: Patent Agent: Inquiry on realistic work-life balance
« Reply #9 on: 03-22-17 at 12:28 pm »

IMO, a patent agent only makes sense as patent law bootcamp and a resume builder for a patent atty job.  Maybe working part-time during law school.

You have two major patent-based jobs that are opposite sides of the coin: patent atty vs patent examiner.  There have been many discussions, some my own, of the relative benefits of both.  Assuming a sharp person who could excel at either job, it comes down to Work/Life/Flexiblity vs. Pure $$$. 

To me, an agent doesn't fully reap the benefit of either. 

The straight dope on average base salaries (as far as Glassdoor is concerned) is Patent Atty: $143k, Primary Examiner: $122k, and Patent Agt: $103k.

Now this is base salary, and the bonus for patent attys is usually significant, but I'd guess the average non-partner pulls down $160-200k a year, working 8-10 straight hours as noted above.  A lot of the allure for the atty route is the golden pot of honey called "partner", but it's a giant pyramid scheme and also relies on some luck.

Primaries make more too through overtime.  This really just translates into more quality cases preformed.  Its a lot like inellectual piecework.  As a primary and some OT a week, $160k can be had without the gruelling constant work above.  Flexibility and Autonomy are unparalleled for a Primary, but you'll never be "ballin'" with the cash ceiling.  Work from home sealed the deal for me.  I had been 99% sure I was headed to Law School after a couple of years of experience.

Now a Patent Agent has none of the flexibility, work/life, or lower stress of the Primary.  At the same time, while I'm sure it's possible to bust your ass at a large firm and maybe make 200k, it would be disheartening to know you could have made 50% more with the same effort (that's just throwing out a guess).  I would guess that a significant majority of Primaries out-earn Agents.  The important thing to note is it would take about 5 years to become Primary (assuming you're a good examiner).

After 15 years, the questions I would ask is how much do you work, how much do you get paid, how is your work/life, are you stressed?   I strongly believe the ONLY benefit of becoming an agent over an examiner is that you would probably be paid more the starting few years.  I can't think of another benefit.

I've also found "pure engineers" to not always pick up what it takes to be an efficient quality examiner.  Being an efficient quality Atty is even more difficult.  This is something to consider as well as far as staying put.

My experienced is based on 10 yrs at the PTO, knowing several examiners as well as examiners-gone-private, and chatting with current attys during interviews.  Currently have a friend who went private and came back. 

One disclaimer about my adoration for the Primary position is that I work in the mechanical arts.  I can't really speak for EE.   That being said EEs are very in demand. I think with a masters they could offer you a GS-9.  With one half-year accelerated promotion, you could be a GS-12 and work from home in 1.5-2 years.  Assumes ass kicking at the job.  Experiences vary.
« Last Edit: 03-22-17 at 12:53 pm by ex-aminer? »
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