Frequently Asked Questions

Here are the questions most commonly asked about the Patent Office's Registration Exam and our course for it. If you are an engineer or scientist with no legal training, you should also view the Engineers & Scientists Page. But you should be sure to also read the general FAQs below.

  • What is the Patent Registration Exam for patent agents and attorneys (the "Patent Bar Exam")?

    The exam consists of two three-hour sections, one given in the morning and one in the afternoon. Each section is composed of 50 multiple-choice questions. It is an 'open book' test of the Manual of Patent Examining Procedure and other documents. Passing this Exam requires memorizing a basic core of information, organizing yourself for quick look up of other rules in the MPEP and elsewhere, and achieving an intuitive feel for the three-minute-per-question pace the Exam demands. This is best achieved by questions practice, eventually under mock exam conditions.

  • What qualifications do I have to have to be allowed to take the Exam?

    Generally, if you have an undergrad degree in Engineering or Science (or have passed the FE Exam) you will be admitted to take the Exam. If not, then basically two years of college-level science (and maybe engineering with some science credits) will suffice. The requirements have been evolving in recent years and have ambiguities. If you have any doubts, the General Requirements Bulletin details the current Patent Office requirements.

  • Do I have to be a US citizen to take the USPTO's Registration Exam?

    Not necessarily. But you have to have at least a work visa that allows you to do patent prosecution. Or permanent resident alien status (a "green card"). Or US citizenship. You cannot take the Exam with only a student visa. BUT if you have the right technical background and a useful foreign language fluency (Mandarin, Hindi, Japanese, Korean, German, etc.), you shouldn't have trouble finding a firm that will hire you and sponsor you for a work visa, so that you can take the Exam.

  • What’s the difference between a patent agent and a patent attorney?

    A patent agent and patent attorney are functional equivalents at the Patent Office. They can both equally handle patent prosecution cases. The only difference is that the patent agent has no special authority OUTSIDE of the patent office. Cases that are not handled in front of the patent office (patent litigation, trademark cases, etc.) can only be handled by an attorney.

  • If I pass the Exam before I graduate from law school, do I have to take another Exam before I can call myself a patent attorney?

    There is only one Exam required for registration to practice before the Patent Office. The Exam is the same for agents and attorneys.
    Once you have passed it, you need never take it again (assuming that you keep yourself in good standing with the Office).
    If you pass it while you are in law school or before attending law school, you will be a patent agent unless and until you pass a state bar exam…any state bar exam. Then you simply notify the Patent Office that you’ve passed a state bar exam and they will change your designation on their Website from "Patent Agent" to "Patent Attorney." It’s as simple as that.

  • When is the next Exam?

    The USPTO Exam is now computer-based and essentially on demand, available daily at testing centers throughout the country. If you want to take the Exam on paper, that option is only available for one or two weeks a year, in July, in Alexandria, Virginia. The General Requirements Bulletin calls that “the PTO-administered Exam”.
    You must first apply to the USPTO to take the Exam. If you are admitted to take the Exam, you will get a letter with instructions on how to sign up to actually take the Exam and a specific 90-day window in which you can take the Exam.

  • How do I time my review course, once I know when I want to take the Exam?

    The Exam is now available on computer at a testing site on an almost daily basis throughout the calendar year. Since the Exam itself is only a single day, it can reasonably be scheduled for any free day. So, the date of the Exam itself shouldn’t be your focus. Rather, the key to scheduling your Exam is more dependent on your schedule for exam preparation: When can I prepare effectively so that when the Exam day arrives I am at peak preparation?

    With PLI's Exam Focus approach, you'll need 150 hours of preparation time, at a minimum. So you should begin by identifying a period of time where, over a 4-8 week period (preferably), you will be able to devote 150-200 hours of your time, preferably in at least 3-4 hours increments. This prep time may be available over the summer, or over the winter holidays, or for students, spring break. But any time that you can study full-time for one month or half-time (20 hours per week) for two months should suffice.

    Once you've determined when the required prep time is likely to be available, you need to think about what course suits you specifically. A live course is the most time-efficient and focused method of being exposed to all of the tested subjects and working your way through them. Especially if you tend to put work off until outside factors force you to react, a live course is the "outside" factor for you. It will take you through the materials at a set pace and at a predetermined time. If a live course is best for you, choose the live course that fits your need to have structure and commitment, and falls within your 150 hours of prep time. Preferably, the live course will not be at the beginning or the end of the 150 hours, but somewhere in the middle…toward the beginning (about two weeks after your preparation time frame starts) is ideal.

    Of course the online course is always available for those who cannot make a live location or don’t need the structure and the discipline that a live course imposes. Our online course is the same content as a live course, and certainly can be spread over the same (or a greater) amount of time. A homestudy course works as effectively as a live course, especially for people that are disciplined and motivated. And you get email contact with the faculty, so that you can get the feedback that you’d get in a live course.

  • When do I send in my application?

    We recommend that you at least look at the application to sit for the Exam before you start your preparation. If you are a Category A taker (someone with a science or engineering degree on the PTO’s list), you can probably set aside the application for now, and work on it slowly as you’re preparing. If you are a Category B or C taker, you need to start gauging how much time it will take you to collect the required documents, and begin that process early. You should probably request all of the documents you’ll need for your application before you order a course. Once the course arrives, you won’t want the distraction of having to chase down application documents.

    It takes about two weeks for the PTO to respond to a Category A applicant, and about 4-6 weeks to respond to a Category B applicant. So, a Category A applicant probably wants to be nearing the finish of the course proper, and ready to embark on regular questions practice before you send in your application. That way, your letter will arrive at a time when you have sufficient questions practice under your belt to be able to look at your performance data in Patware® and know pretty exactly where you are in your preparations. (If you’re scoring at least 70%, especially on the important, most testable chapters, you should pick the first date available in your 90-day window. If you need more preparation, pick something later in your window, accordingly.)

    If you’re a Category B applicant, you’ll probably be somewhere in the middle of the course lectures proper when you’ll want to send off your application … again expect to get your response letter in about 4-6 weeks, depending on how closely you fit one of the Category B Options. You will want to have completed a significant number of Patware® questions by the time you get the letter with your 90-day window, so that you have some concrete basis to plan your Exam date on.

  • Who grades the Exam?

    The Exam is graded by the Patent Office.

  • What is the philosophy of the PLI course?

    The PLI Patent Office Registration Exam Course is obsessively focused on helping you pass the Exam. This Exam is not a test of patent law generally, or even patent prosecution generally. Rather it is a test in depth of certain specific procedural rules. We focus only on those rules and the amount of time we spend on each topic is in direct proportion to its importance on the Exam.

    The way to hone skills is by both learning and doing. We walk you through the MPEP (and the other documents tested on the Exam), showing you what’s tested, what it means, and how it’s tested. Then we take you through mini exams of increasing length where you are forced to use the testable documents, and learn by doing. Then we give you directions on how to proceed with your questions practice, using our Patware® software which tracks the actual Exam and includes sophisticated diagnostics, until you reach the level of proficiency.

  • How many hours do I need to budget in order to be ready for the Exam?

    You need to budget somewhere between 150 and 200 hours of focused, intense study and preparation time. We suggest that you try to study in at least 3-4 hour increments regularly for one-two months. You need to treat this like an at least part-time job, and plan to spend at least 20 hours per week on it.

  • When should I begin preparing for the Exam?

    We believe that you should begin your studies about two months before you plan on taking the Exam. It can be done in a month, if you can devote yourself to it full time (40 hours a week, at least). But anything less than that is not advisable; this material does not lend itself to last-minute 'cramming'.

    Likewise, it's probably not a good strategy to extend your study period for too long, or you risk that you will never develop the full view of the material that is necessary for all of the little rules to cohere into a comprehensible, understandable system.

    Two-three months is the most we would recommend. If you are going to stretch your preparation over a longer period than that, we still recommend that you find some time near your Exam date to immerse yourself in this closer to full-time, for at least a couple of weeks.

  • What about live courses versus homestudy?

    The best news about our new course is that you don’t have to choose. Anyone registering for a live course gets automatic access, at no extra charge, to all of the features of our online course. It’s the best of both worlds!
  • What do you do to help me in the weeks before the Exam?

    Our course includes assignments of additional practice exams, and we make ourselves available by phone and email to the day of your Exam.
  • Is this going to be an incredible ordeal?

    You can make it one, but it doesn't have to be. PLI's course is a program and if you follow the program step-by-step and put in the time, you will be fine. Certainly, the Exam is no more difficult than the typical state bar exam.

  • How much would a course on IP or patent law help me prepare for the Exam?

    In most cases, no help at all. An IP survey will save you a few hours by introducing you to the general concept of a patent and the big issues. Even a patent law course as such won’t save you much time, as this Exam is not a test of patent law as you would most likely learn it in law school. It is not about the big concepts and the big cases. It is a test of picky procedural rules that are unlikely to ever make an appearance in a law school class. Even a course that does broach these rules of patent prosecution, will likely only save you two or three days of study. The Exam is very narrowly focused and very picayune. It wouldn’t hurt to have such a course before you take the course, but it will not help that much.

  • What legal or technical knowledge do I need to succeed on the Exam?

    None. The exam is not a test of law and it is not a test of engineering or science or any particular technical background. It is a test of procedural rules found within the Manual of Patent Examining Procedures(MPEP) and other tested documents. You need a science or engineering background to take the Exam, but that background will not be tested on the Exam.

  • When is the best time to take the Patent Bar Exam?

    The best time to take the Exam is probably BEFORE you go to law school (if you’re going at all). If it’s too late for that, then the second best time is after your first year. The third best time is after your second year and the worst time is after you graduate.

  • Can I buy PLI's software separately?

    No. Patware® is now fully integrated into the online homestudy course and not available separately.

  • Can I buy the written materials separately?

    No. The lectures are really necessary to make this dense, detail-oriented material much more manageable and comprehensible

  • When is the deadline for signing up for your course?

    We don't have a deadline. Please sign up at least a couple of weeks before a live course (if you are coming to a live course). We will ship you your materials right away. The more preparation you can do in advance of the live course, the easier and more productive the live course will be for you.
    If you just show up without any notice, we will accommodate you if at all possible, but we cannot guarantee it.
    Please bear in mind that shipping of the materials can take from several days to a week. We can ship overnight, at extra cost.

  • What if I pay for the course and then can't attend because of some emergency?

    We will give you your money back, provided you return the materials in unused condition within 7 days. We also usually can switch you to another course (live or homestudy) at your option.

  • What if I do not pass?

    If you don't pass, you are welcome to continue to use the online course until you do pass. You can also attend a second live course for half price.

  • What if the law tested on the Exam changes?

    If the law changes while you are still an active student with us, we will inform you of the fact, and give you whatever additional materials are reasonably necessary to bring you up to date on the new materials being tested.

  • Are PLI's materials constantly updated?

    PLI's course is updated at least every time the Patent Office changes the Exam. Often, the course is updated between Exam changes to enhance its content or method.

  • What are the basic differences between your course and PRG?

    First, the PRG course is taught from a multi-volume treatise. The treatise is a good summary of many aspects of patent law, but it includes much material which historically has not been tested on the Exam. The PLI materials and lectures are focused only on what is tested.

    Second, the best way to learn anything is by practice. With PRG, there are no practice exams integrated into the course. We include many mini exams and plenty of mock exams as part of the course itself. In conjunction, these practice exams will tell you your weak points and how far away you are from being in a position to pass.

    We believe our approach is better and PRG believes its approach is best. It is up to you to decide which approach best suits you.  The PLI live course is five 9-hour days, plus our lecturers stay around after to answer any questions from our course-takers. We believe that 9 hours are as many as anyone can do in any day with this difficult material. We are further of the opinion that five days of focused hard study are enough to do the in-class job.

  • What if I have to miss a few hours of the course or even a day?

    You get access to all of the lectures online, so you can make up any hours you miss. It’s better, if you know in advance that you are going to miss an hour or even a day that you do those hours in advance of returning to class, as the course materials build upon each other.

  • Do you provide a suggested schedule for homestudy courses?

    The online homestudy course is presented in the appropriate order, to build your understanding of the testable materials (and the working of US patent prosecution) from the most basic to the most sophisticated levels. The beauty of a homestudy course is of course that you are not stuck with a schedule that doesn’t fit your needs and abilities. However, we strongly recommend that you study at least 20 hours per week on average in preparing for the Exam. Otherwise, you endanger your ability to build your understanding in an efficient and effective manner. The live courses have a slightly different schedule, in order to avoid overburdening you in the first days of the course. A schedule for the live course, including assignments to be completed before the first day, will be provided to you well in advance of your first live course date.

  • How do you handle questions at the live lectures?

    We take a 10-minute break at the end of each hour, a one-hour lunch break each day, and instructors will stay after class to answer any questions. Students are strongly encouraged to ask their questions during these periods, because all of the 40-plus hours we have together are spoken for.

    Plus, our course takers come from a wide variety of backgrounds…from those who are just learning what a patent is, to those who have years of experience in the field. It is unlikely that questions from either extreme are going to be helpful to the class as a whole. If you want to hang around the faculty during the breaks to hear what questions are being asked, you are welcome to do so. If any questions of general interest are raised during the breaks, the instructor will share them (and the answer) with the group during the class.

    Also, note that the classes will be small enough to allow interchange between the students and instructors. And if you don’t get to raise your question in class, you can always reach out to our faculty via email and voicemail. No question will go unanswered.

    Questions are a problem with every course of this type because some people want to ask a lot of questions in class while others believe such questions waste their valuable time. All we can do is try to balance these competing desires, and encourage individual questions after or before the lectures.

  • If I have further questions who do I contact?

    You can call us at (888) 296-5973 or email PLI's Patent Exam Office

    Questions or comments? Write to PLI's Patent Exam Office or call 888-296-5973.

You can call us at (888) 296-5973 or email PLI's Patent Exam Office

Questions or comments? Write to PLI's Patent Exam Office or call 888-296-5973.

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