TAKEAWAY: A new design patent practitioner bar will open the door to registration for practitioners with certain degrees in the art and design fields. 

On November 15, 2023, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) announced it is amending its rules to create a separate patent practitioner bar for design patents.

Historically, there has been one patent bar for practitioners, regardless of the type of patent handled (utility, plant, or design). Admission criteria for the current patent bar include specific scientific and technical degree categories or equivalent experience, meeting one of Category A, B, or C:

  • Category A: a bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, or doctorate degree in a recognized technical subject (engineering and technical degrees, among a few others)
  • Category B: a bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, or doctorate degree in another subject for which a set number of semester hours in particular subjects have been completed (physics, chemistry, or biology, among a few others)
  • Category C: practical engineering or scientific experience, including passing the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) test

USPTO examiners with at least four years of experience may qualify for a waiver from taking the exam for registration in the patent bar.

Based on comments elicited from the public and responses to a notice of proposed rulemaking, the USPTO decided to create the new bar to broaden participation and better suit design patent practitioners. Applicants for this new design patent bar must have a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctorate degree in one of the following areas or an equivalent: industrial design, product design, architecture, applied arts, graphic design, fine/studio arts, or art teacher education. Those seeking admission will be required to take the current registration exam. In addition, design patent practitioners will be required to add the word “design” (in any format) next to their handwritten or e-signature to indicate their status.

In its final rule announcement, the USPTO indicated “[e]xpanding the admission criteria of the patent bar encourages broader participation and keeps up with the ever-evolving technology and relating teachings that qualify someone to practice before the USPTO.”

The rule implementing the new design patent bar will be effective on January 2, 2024. Practitioners already registered to practice before the USPTO in the current patent bar will not be impacted by the change.