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AIA Increases Need for Patent Attorneys, But Not Patent Litigators

By Robyn Hagan Cain | Last updated on

The common refrain these days is that going to law school is a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad idea. There just aren’t any jobs.

Perhaps the real issue is not that there aren’t any jobs; it’s that the only jobs are going to that rare breed of lawyers that understands math and science: patent lawyers.

According to data compiled by Peer Monitor, demand for intellectual property patent work rose 5.1 percent year-over-year in the first quarter of 2013, Thomson Reuters reports.

(Patent law is not only a growing field, some firms are even paying off IP attorneys' law school debt.)

The reason for the spike was the new first-to-file rule. On March 15, the day before the USPTO implemented the new system, the USPTO received 13,888 patent applications, according to Thomson Reuters. That's the second-highest single-day application total.

The first-to-file system awards patent protection to the first inventor to file a patent application instead of the first to invent. While the first-to-invent system invited prolonged patent litigation, first-to-file rewards inventors for finding a lawyer and filing fast.

"It's a big deal, and all the patent attorneys I know are busy right now, filing applications before that goes into effect," Robert Barr, a UC-Berkeley intellectual property professor told Wired in March. "Under the old system, if you kept lab notebooks ... you could prove you were the first inventor even if you were not the first to file ... Now, with a few exceptions, you need to be the first. If two people come up with the same invention, and they often do ... it's not going to matter if you can prove you were the first inventor if you weren't the first to file."

While the changes to the patent system arguably simplify the process, they will most likely mean less patent litigation. Hopefully the increase in patent work offsets losses in intellectual property litigation. Thomson Reuters reports that intellectual property litigation declined 6.8 percent year-over-year in the first quarter.

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