Promoting Patent Practitioner Diversity: Expanding Non-JD Pathways and Removing Barriers
The patent field suffers from a reciprocal problem: the cost of becoming a Registered Patent Attorney is high, and the diversity of the patent bar is low. The high cost of law school tuition (over $50,000 per year at some schools) prices out individuals from less privileged backgrounds, thereby decreasing the number of diverse candidates who could become Registered Patent Attorneys. The relatively low number of students with science, technology, or engineering (STE) degrees also restricts the number of diverse candidates who could become Registered Patent Attorneys. These factors contribute to a lack of diversity in the patent bar, reflecting poorly on the profession. An estimated 30 percent of registered patent practitioners are women, and an even lower percentage are racial minorities. The United States is currently at a critical juncture in the fight against systemic racism. It is incumbent upon the patent ecosystem to increase racial and gender equity in the profession because it is simply the right thing to do. This Article recommends increasing the diversity of patent practitioners by: (1) expanding avenues for individuals who aspire to become patent practitioners but want to avoid the burdensome time and financial commitments of a traditional Juris Doctorate (JD) program which artificially raises the costs of patent legal services, and (2) removing systemic barriers these individuals face at the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). These actions should increase diversity in the patent profession. They should also provide an economic benefit by (i) increasing innovators’ access to representation by patent practitioners and (ii) decreasing innovators’ cost of patent protection through representation by lower-cost Registered Patent Agents.
Christopher M. Turoski