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Preparing for the Patent Bar

Published July 2009, last updated September 2010

If you’ve decided to pursue a career involving patents or are even just considering it, you’ve probably heard of what is commonly referred to as the Patent Bar. Passing this exam, which is officially called the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) Registration Examination for Patent Attorneys and Patent Agents, is required to represent inventors, associated individuals, and corporations in their endeavor to obtain patent protection in the United States. If someone is also a member of at least one state bar, upon passing, they are considered to be a patent attorney. However, if someone takes this exam and is not also an attorney, they are referred to as a patent agent. The process can seem daunting, but this article provides the answers to some common questions and will hopefully alleviate any anxiety you may feel about the exam.

List of Questions to be Answered

Where can I find information on how to register?
When can I take the exam?
Who can sit for the exam?
How do I apply for the exam?
How much does the exam cost?
What is covered on the exam?
What are the best ways to prepare for the exam?
When should I apply for the exam?
What is taking the exam like?
When will I receive my results?
After passing the exam, what do I need to do to become a registered agent or attorney?
Who wrote this article?
Can the author tell us more about his or her personal experience?
What are some useful links?

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Where can I find information on how to register?

A good place to look for this information is on the USPTO website itself. General exam information can be found at and the document that outlines how to apply and provides the necessary forms, the General Requirement Bulletin:

This document is quite the behemoth for the purpose it serves, at 37 pages. Although this article aims to point out the main things you need to know, however it is still suggested that you also read through this linked pdf, as there are intricacies not explicitly addressed here.

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When can I take the exam?

You can take this exam at any time, but you will need to pass this test before prosecuting patents before the USPTO. Thus, if you are planning to attend law school, you could take the exam before, during, or after law school.

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Who can sit for the exam?

In order to actually take this exam, you need to first apply and be approved to take the exam. There are several categories of exam applicants distinguished by the USPTO, and this admittedly becomes a little complex. In addition, you need to be a citizen of the United States. An exception to this rule is for non-citizens who are registered patent agents/attorneys in their home country.

Category A

Bachelor’s Degree in a Recognized Technical Subject – This is probably the simplest way to gain admission to the examination. You just need to supply an official original transcript showing that your degree was earned in one of the following subjects (taken from the USPTO General Requirements Bulletin):




Aeronautical Engineering


Agricultural Engineering


Biomedical Engineering

Computer Science*

Ceramic Engineering

Electronics Technology

Chemical Engineering

Food Technology

Civil Engineering

General Chemistry

Computer Engineering

Marine Technology

Electrical Engineering


Electrochemical Engineering

Organic Chemistry

Engineering Physics


General Engineering


Geological Engineering

Textile Technology

Industrial Engineering


Mechanical Engineering


Metallurgical Engineering


Mining Engineering


Nuclear Engineering


Petroleum Engineering

*Only Computer Science degrees that are accredited on or before the date they would be awarded can be used to qualify to sit for this exam. You can check to see if your degree qualifies here:

This list of majors applies only to bachelor’s degrees. Although it may seem counter-intuitive, if you have a master’s or doctoral degree in one of these subjects, but not a bachelor’s, you will need to qualify under Categories B or C instead.

Category B

Bachelor’s Degree in Another Subject – There are four options for meeting Category B requirements (taken from the USPTO General Requirements Bulletin):

Option 1

24 semester hours in physics. Only physics courses for physics majors will be accepted.

Option 2

32 semester hours in a combination consisting of the following:

8 semester hours of chemistry or 8 semester hours of physics, and
24 semester hours in biology, botany, microbiology, or molecular biology.

The 8 semester hours in chemistry or 8 semester hours of physics must be obtained in two sequential courses, each course including a lab. Only courses for science or engineering majors will be accepted.

Option 3

30 semester hours in chemistry. Only chemistry courses for chemistry majors will be accepted.

Option 4

40 semester hours in a combination consisting of the following:

8 semester hours of chemistry or 8 semester hours of physics, and
32 semester hours of chemistry, physics, biology, botany, microbiology, molecular biology, or engineering.

The 8 semester hours of chemistry or 8 semester hours of physics must be obtained in two sequential courses, each course including a lab. Only courses for science or engineering majors will be accepted. Up to four semester hours will be accepted for courses in design engineering or drafting. Computer science courses that stress theoretical foundations, analysis, and design, and include substantial laboratory work, including software development, will be accepted. Such courses include the representation and transformation of information structures, the theoretical models for such representations and transformations, basic coverage of algorithms, data structures, software design with a laboratory, programming languages with a laboratory, and computer organization and architecture. Other acceptable courses in computer science include artificial intelligence and robotics, networking, linear circuits, logic circuits, operating systems, and software methodology and engineering. However, none of the aforementioned courses may be substituted for the eight semester hours of chemistry or physics required.

Category C

If you cannot qualify for the examination under Categories A or B, it may still be possible to sit for the exam through a demonstration of practical engineering or scientific experience by relying on the Fundamentals of Engineering test. This test is administered by the State Board of Engineering Examiners in each State, and is not connected with the USPTO.

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How do I apply for the exam?

The necessary forms for applying to admission to the exam are found on pages 32 and 33 of the General Requirements Bulletin, and the address to which the forms need to be mailed is also on these forms. At the time of application, you will need to submit a payment (item 8 of the form) to the USPTO in the form of a certified or cashier’s check, treasury note, USPS money order, or credit card payment with the required Credit Card Authorization Form for the Application Fee ($40) and the Registration Examination Fee ($200 for a computerized exam, and $450 for a paper exam). Note - The whopping $1600 fee shown in item 8b is for those who have been suspended from practice by the USPTO for breaking the ethical code, so it most likely does not apply to you. If you’d like to receive confirmation of receipt form the USPTO, you can enclose a self-addressed stamped postcard with a list of the items enclosed on the back of the postcard, which the USPTO will stamp “Received” and mail back to you. Be advised that this does not indicate that you have been approved to take the exam.

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How much does the exam cost?

There is a $40 application fee and a fee of $200 for the computerized test or $450 for the paper test. Note that Prometric, the company who administers the test, will also charge an additional fee of $150 at the time the test is taken.

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What is covered on the exam?

Everything covered on the exam can be found in the Manual for Patent Examining Procedure (MPEP). An electronic, searchable version of this manual will be available during the exam, and you will use it quite a bit.

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What are the best ways to prepare for the exam?

The best way to prepare for the exam is most definitely NOT to read the MPEP. It is an epic tome that isn’t really written for efficient comprehension. It is recommended to either attend a live preparatory course or to complete a home study/online course. There are a large variety of preparatory materials available, and TLS does not openly endorse any particular company. Do ask around and do some research to find out which materials are most suitable for you.

After reviewing the material learned from the preparatory materials of your choice, the last portion of the preparation should be practice exams. The USPTO provides three, but more may be a part of whatever course your decide to take.

It is hard to quantify how long it should take for each person, but 200 total hours has been recommended by a well-known prep course. On a final note, many of the questions asked aren’t directly related to topics that would arise in the day-to-day work of someone who has been involved in the prosecution of patents, so even those familiar with patent prosecution should allot time for significant preparation. Furthermore, you are not going to be able to memorize everything you need to know for the exam. It is key that you learn how to use the MPEP to look up answers to questions that you are unsure of.

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When should I apply for the exam?

It is recommended that you should definitely get through a first pass of the materials from a course before you apply. The approval from the PTO typically arrives in less than two weeks from the time of application, and from the mailing date of the approval letter, you only have 90 days to register for and take the exam.

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What is taking the exam like?

As it is administered on a computer at a Prometric testing center, you can take the exam most weekdays and Saturdays. The computer interface is very intuitive. You are able to flag questions that you have problems with, and an electronic copy of the MPEP is provided. Alternatively, a paper test is administered once per year at the USPTO in Alexandria, VA.

The exam is pretty much like the practice tests – 100 multiple choice questions total, broken into 50 question segments. You are allotted 3 hours to do each segment, with a one hour break in between. In order to receive a passing mark, you need to answer 70% of the questions correctly. There are some questions that are “experimental” questions that will not be counted in grading, but you don’t know which ones these are. On a final note, it is recommended that you bring your lunch to the testing center, as one hour isn’t really that much time to go out to get some lunch, consume it, and come back to the testing center stress-free.

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When will I receive my results?

For a computerized exam, you will receive preliminary results once you finish the exam and complete a survey regarding your feelings about the testing center. Official results are mailed shortly after the exam.

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After passing the exam, what do I need to do to become a registered agent or attorney?

When you receive your official exam results indicating that you passed, you will need to complete an enclosed form with standard demographic information as well as an oath that requires signature in the presence of a notary and the seal of the notary. Do NOT sign this paper before you go to the notary. If you are in school, there are likely public notaries on your campus. In addition to these two papers, you need to submit a $100 registration fee. This fee is different from the exam registration fee.

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Who wrote this article?

The author has a Ph.D. in biotechnology from UCLA and is a member of Berkeley Law (Boalt Hall) Class of 2012. She is interested in pursuing a career in patent prosecution related to chemicals, pharma, and/or biotechnology.

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Can the author tell us more about her personal experience?

Of course! I decided to take this exam during my last year of graduate school, before I started law school. I purchased a home study course from one of the major patent bar review companies. Beginning in January 2009, I began the watch the videos and complete the related materials – this took three months because I was busy with many other things at the time. Once I finished a first pass of the course material, I applied to take the exam by sending the two pages of completed forms, my official college transcript (which I had sent to me from my university, and enclosed it with the rest of the application package), and a money order as my method of payment. I also included a self-addressed stamped postcard, but did not use the Certificate of Mailing procedure described in the General Requirements Bulletin – it is not required. Once I was accepted, I registered on the Prometric website to take the exam on May 23. This may have not been the best scheduling idea, as my doctoral thesis was due June 1, but it all worked out.

When I arrived for the exam, they requested two forms of identification with photo and signature, even though the General Requirements Bulletin indicates you only need one. I used my driver’s license and a passport. Something I noticed on the exam was that several of the questions were word for word from the previously administered exams – very nice! Once I got my official results, I went to the campus notary to complete the oath (which cost $10) and mailed out the forms and payment (money order).

For those preparing for the exam, best of luck and may the force of intellectual property law be with you!

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Useful links

USPTO website

Exam information from the USPTO

General Requirement Bulletin

Practice Exams

Accredited Computer Science degrees

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