June 18, 2014

Day 17: What I Do All Day

Above you see my new job here in DC: I was recruited by the Obama Administration to take selfies in their front yard.

... Obviously, I'm kidding.  I actually came to DC to be a patent agent.  The selfies are just a perk.

I usually get two pretty universal responses when I tell someone I'm a patent agent: 1. The glazed eyes of someone who's stopped listening and is now thinking about lunch or 2. Some variation of, "So you like, bust through windows and stuff?"  (Just to clear that up: a patent agent and an FBI agent are two different things.  Both of which are different from a secret agent, so no, I don't wear a wire either.)

The thing about being a patent agent is that basically no one knows what you do unless they know a patent agent. It's a pretty specialized career that, let's be real, doesn't really affect most people's lives.

To sum up what I do: I spend all day writing letters trying to convince people that I am right.  So yeah, I guess you could say I spent the first 22 years of my life preparing.

The slightly longer explanation of what I do: I work for a law firm that represents inventors in front of the US Patent and Trademark Office.  Our job is to help inventors get patents for their inventions.  And if you're not familiar with patents, a patent is just a legal document that basically says, "This is my invention and it's new and it's mine and no one can use it unless I say so."

Getting a patent goes something like this: The inventor comes to our firm and tells either a patent attorney or patent agent (me) all about his or her invention.  The attorney or agent then writes a patent application describing the invention and sends it to the Patent Office, where it is assigned to an Examiner.  The Examiner, as you can imagine, examines the application.

Now if you've invented something like hydrating tequila or regenerating meatballs, the Examiner will send back a letter and tell you that your application is approved and you are allowed to pay lots of money to get a patent.

Normally, though, the Examiner sends back a rejection.  The rejection usually says something along the lines of, "Uh, this isn't even new because I have these two patents here and if you combine them, they're pretty much what you just said."  And that is where the arguing comes in.

Most of my job is dealing with the stuff that happens after you send in the application, but before you get a patent.  It's called the prosecution of the patent.  Basically, it's a friendly penpal-type exchange with the Examiner over many, many months during which I try to convince him that this is definitely new, and he keeps telling me "not so much."

And if I can do anything in this world, it's write, argue, and be totally convinced that I am right for long periods of time.

You might be wondering why the inventor doesn't just write the application and argue for himself, instead of paying us a lot of money to do it.  And some do, but Patent World is not like Real World; you have to know all the rules and all the nonsense lingo.  I say weird things like "one of ordinary skill would not be motivated to combine these references" about seven times before lunch.

You also might be wondering what the difference is between a patent agent and a patent attorney.  In the eyes of the Patent Office, there isn't one.  The real life difference, though, is that a patent attorney went to law school and a patent agent didn't.  Basically, I can't represent anyone in court.  So once you get a patent and you try suing someone for making your regenerating meatballs... I can't help you.

Or maybe you're wondering if I went to school to be a patent agent.  And the answer to that is no, I actually didn't even know they existed until two years ago when I Googled, "What can I do with a biochemistry degree?"  But it turned out that if you have a degree in biochemistry, you can spend your days arguing about food and drug patents.  You know, the good stuff.

(...Okay, so you really weren't wondering any of that; I just wanted to tell you.)

And that, my good people, is why I traded in my beloved Chicago L for the DC metro.  That, and I'm really hoping to get a selfie with Obama.

“I don’t get paid to be nice. I get paid to be right.” 
- R.L. Griffin

This post is part of the #9to5totalsocial linkup with Sarah and Helene.  They rule, so go check them (and it) out!