Career Alternatives for EE's

Discussion in 'Career Advising' started by patentlawguru, Dec 12, 2016.

  1. patentlawguru

    Thread Starter New Member

    Dec 12, 2016
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    Hi All,

    I am an electrical engineer turned patent attorney, which was actually not my intention when I acquired my EE degree. Anyhow, fast forward 10 years and I now mentor/tutor engineers (specifically EEs) that are looking for additional career alternatives and help them get hired by law firms. One such alternative is practicing as a patent agent (patent prosecution), which does not require going to law school. Based upon my research, the average starting salary for an EE is around $70K, whereas the average starting salary for an EE patent agent is around $90K ($140K for an EE patent attorney).

    So my question is, at what point in the career of an EE (on average) is their pay rate prohibitive of them making the conversion to become a patent agent? For instance, at what point (2-4 years, 5-7 years, 8+ years) would a typical EE's salary surpass $90K to the point where considering becoming a patent agent is not financially viable?

    Thanks
     
  2. GopherT

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    Nov 23, 2012
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    It depends on their skills. They can earn close to 90k at graduation.
     
  3. GopherT

    AAC Fanatic!

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    No, he has a career. He is asking about other people being available and how he can do his job better, like everyone else in the general electronics chat forum.
     
  4. patentlawguru

    Thread Starter New Member

    Dec 12, 2016
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    Thanks GopherT. I'm assuming that $90K is on the high end since ~$70K is the average (at least based on payscale.com: http://www.payscale.com/research/US/Job=Electrical_Engineer/Salary). So, for purposes of my question, I'm trying to stick to the average. So the question then becomes: Assuming a new hire comes in around $70K, how many years (on average) would it take that new hire reach $90K?

    I understand that people may not have hard data on this and each situation is different, but I'd appreciate any personal or other experiences on what this trajectory looks like or might look like.
     
  5. GopherT

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    At least 5 years unless they have additional skills in ARM programming or other hot skill. People from smaller engineering schools working at smaller companies have retired recently and never saw $90k. Even in the same company, engineers working on the manufacturing floor don't make as much as PLC programmers or design engineers or technical sales people. Kids graduating from top engineering schools are starting at $80k and make over $100k in three years.

    Wages are stating to increase in the past 6 to 9 months. We may see starting pay jump by 10% or more in the next year for new graduates. Unemployment is getting low so people will start jumping from their current employers to get better offers too. Hard to give you a single answer.
     
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  6. patentlawguru

    Thread Starter New Member

    Dec 12, 2016
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    Hmm, thanks again! So what that tells me is that the legal industry will also have to keep up with those raises that EE's are receiving as well in order to convert EEs to patent agents. Since EE patent attorneys and EE patent agents are in high demand (because most new technology/inventions have at least some EE-based components) on our side as well, the financial incentive to convert an EE to a patent agent has to be there. Unless its just a matter of someone falling out of love with engineering and looking for other career options to leverage their degree.

    There is a high demand for EE patent agents right now because they do the same thing as EE patent prosecution attorneys but for way less money ($90K vs $140K). For instance, I'm working with a few law firms right now that (provided the candidate has some patent prosecution training) would bend over backwards to hire an EE even before they've taken the patent bar.

    Based on your info above, it does seem like there is still a pretty decent market for those that would consider a bump up to $90K to be significant, especially within 5 years of employment. So if I have some opportunities I'll post in this forum as well, but in the meantime, if anyone is interested in this type of work, please let me know.
     
  7. GopherT

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    What country are you in and, if you are in the US, are the laws about patent agents not needing a law degree the same in every state?
     
  8. patentlawguru

    Thread Starter New Member

    Dec 12, 2016
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    Yes, U.S. The patent bar is regulated by the United States Patent & Trademark Office (federal law) and is the only quasi-area of law that does not require a law degree (more info here: https://www.uspto.gov/sites/default/files/OED_GRB.pdf. Generally, as long as you have a science or engineering degree you qualify to take the patent bar. Those that pass the patent bar are called patent agents and they perform the same functions as a patent prosecution attorney (prosecution attorneys they take the patent bar, complete law school, and take a state bar).

    Engineers can also be hired by law firms, prior to passing the patent bar, as technical specialists. Technical specialists make slightly less than patent agents but generally receive the patent agent pay bump when they pass they patent bar. A lot of people make the mistake of thinking they have to go to law school to practice patent prosecution and/or make the mistake of thinking that law schools actually prepare them to practice as a patent prosecutor.

    So I work with engineers, technical specialists, patent agents, and patent lawyers to provide them with the skill set they need to apply for patent related jobs and then partner with law firms who are looking for entry level technical specialists, patent agents, and patent lawyers to fill their needs. It just so happens that EE and Comp. E are the most highly sought after degrees in this field (requiring only a bachelors degree). Since I've developed programming to specifically help engineers convert, I'm gathering as much info as possible to continue to support people who are interested in this as a career path (i.e.: I need to be knowledgeable about the typical career trajectory and salary of today's EEs). Especially since I haven't practiced as an engineer in over 8 years.
     
  9. wayneh

    Expert

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    What you're asking is how long it takes for a EE to add ~30% to their starting salary, right? I think an industrious and hardworking one could easily get a 10% or more boost in each of their first two years. I remember getting a 16% boost my first year on the job, but that was back when my mortgage was 14-3/4%!! Things are tamer now but I watched my daughter get pretty nice raises just a few years ago. The balance to get to 30% might take 2-3 years more. So I'm in rough agreement with @GopherT 's 5 year estimate. Of course there will be exceptions on both sides of the average.
     
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  10. GopherT

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    I think you would be surprised how many young engineers get their degrees and are willing to give up their planned career trajectory for a business analyst / marketing / product management / technical sales position.

    About 30% of engineers my company hires jump out of their engineering specialty as soon as they are allowed to by our HR policy (3-years). About half will have an MBA paid for by the company in their first 10-years. My company pays well and let's people apply for any internal open position they want so we don't lose many people.

    How much do you charge the engineer for your services/training or does the hiring company pay?
     
  11. patentlawguru

    Thread Starter New Member

    Dec 12, 2016
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    Well there are a couple of different options, one of which will probably give most people sticker shock so I'll go into depth about why. When I attended law school, I had already passed the patent bar so that I could apply for patent agent jobs during school, however I couldn't get hired because I didn't actually have any experience in drafting/prosecuting patent applications. So I started a company to address this need for law students, and then I realized that there is a huge market of patent agents and technical specialists that can leap over into this world without investing 3 years and $100K + in a law school education that will not teach them what law firms need then to know to justify hiring them.

    In the past, law firms have brought me (and my team) in to teach their new associates/patent agents/etc., so in that case the law firms paid for it. However, without practical experience, technical specialists/patent agents/attorneys have a tough time getting their foot in the door in this industry. Conversely, we have pretty close to a 90% job conversion rate for our trained EE technical specialists/patent agents/attorneys.

    Fast forward 6 years, and I was recruited by Georgia Tech to bring this type of education to their professional education program (https://pe.gatech.edu/courses/patent-preparation-and-prosecution) to provide their engineers and others with alternative career options. We've lengthened the All Virtual program, increased the sample listings, and brought in multiple attorneys to train up-and-coming patent agents on how to specifically prosecute EE & Comp. E type patent applications (because thats what the law firms want). So with additional programming comes additional costs. Additionally, knowing the demand for EE patent agents, we have partnered with law firms to offer these students guaranteed interviews and resume reviews. Needless to say, when you stamp the Georgia Tech seal of approval on any curricula and match students up with in-demand employment opportunities, the cost increases, so the the current cost is $9000. However, this is way less than any law school and it actually teaches you exactly what you need to know to get your foot in the door and then places your foot in the door by guaranteeing interviews (which is just the cherry on top). Obviously some people would need to be open to relocating or just selling local firms on their experience. Many of our students were previously hired just by having our curricula listed on their resume (without us pairing them with a firm).

    So there is obviously a cost/benefit analysis that all EEs would have to consider for this type of training and this line of work, which gets me back to my first question about the employment/salary trajectory of todays EEs. Assuming it would be hard to convince an EE making over $90K to pursue this as a career path, unless they're just burnt out, then it looks like our target demographic (generally speaking) is any EE with 5 or less years of experience under their belt. Obviously there is additional upside if one decides to go to law school, but the best way to do it is to get the experience and get a job with a firm first, and then go to law school for the additional pay increase, rather than invest the money in law school and not be any better prepared to to tackle the job market than you were prior to law school.
     
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