Patent Attorney

Patent attorneys work in the field of intellectual and industrial property law. The word "patent" in its general and wider application in the field of patents means "intellectual" and/or "industrial" right of ownership.

Their work extends over four major areas:

Patents: A patent is a limited monopoly granted by the state to the inventor. Patents are synonymous with new and advanced technology. Patent attorneys must therefore possess a fairly wide knowledge of the various technological aspects of patents. Since this is not always possible, there is a growing tendency for patent attorneys to specialize in specific technological fields, such as electronics, pharmaceutical or organic aspects. Even then they must possess at least an elementary knowledge of the other fields of technology.

Patent attorneys provide their clients with confidential advice regarding the protection and exploitation of inventions and about their rights on ideas that the clients may have. They then set to work in obtaining and safeguarding those rights, both in South Africa and in overseas countries. After having obtained such legal rights, the attorney advises and assists their client on how to apply such rights and what steps are to be taken in case someone or some other party should violate their rights. Another aspect of patent attorneys’ work is to enlighten their clients on the rights of other persons.

Patent attorneys evaluate the technological aspects of inventions. They prepare legal documents and patent specifications; file and process patent applications; and handle court procedures regarding patents. It is recommended that patent attorneys obtain a technical qualification as well as a law degree.

Trade marks: a trademark is a distinctive mark, brand name or sign used for goods to signify their origin.

Registered designs: the creative and visible features of a design are protected by design registration.

Copyright: the copyright owner’s work (literary, artistic, music, sound recordings etc.) is protected against being copied.

Most patent attorneys have their own private practices, although some are employed by established legal firms. Some patent attorneys are employed by large industrial corporations and are usually in charge of the legal section of such industries.

Personal Requirements

  • enjoy working with people
  • able to communicate well in writing and in speech
  • able to reason logically
  • able to interpret problems quickly and correctly
  • honest, reliable and have integrity
  • logical mind and above average intelligence

How to Enter

Schooling & School Subjects

National Senior Certificate meeting degree requirements for a degree course
Each institution has its own entry requirements.

What to Study

Degree: Law degree plus a technical qualification with Chemistry, Physics or Applied Mathematics. Two years of service under articles of clerkship need to be served with a South African firm of attorneys, or community service at an accredited law clinic or approved office of the Legal Aid Board, plus the successful completion of the Attorneys Admission Examination. A legal training course approved by the Law Society will have to be attended before application can be made for admission as an attorney. Practical training is undertaken in the office of a patent attorney in addition to the examination of the Patent Examination Board.


  • business corporations
  • central, provincial or local government
  • self-employment, with the necessary experience can start a private practice or work as a consultant for various organisations

Further Information

South African Institute of Intellectual Property Law
Ground Floor, Lakeview Building
1277 Mike Crawford Avenue
Centurion, 0157
Tel: (012) 683-8827

Getting Started

  • try to obtain vacation or part-time work in a patent attorney’s office
  • arrange to speak to a patent attorney about this type of career

Programmes by Study Institutions

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