There actually are job opportunities for EEs interested in a career change. For example, you could work as a patent examiner, or as a staff technical advisor in a law firm specializing in IP cases, or as a patent attorney if you're really ambitious. Look no further than the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), which hopes to fill its ranks.
More than 350,000 patent applications were filed with the USPTO in 2001, a 70% jump over a five-year span. Many of them were for software. As a result, the USPTO says that it expects to hire an additional 600 new patent examiners annually for the next several years.
The demand for technical talent is also strong in law firms. Boston-based Wolf, Greenfield & Sacks P.C., a law firm specializing in IP, has several engineers on staff to advise its attorneys on the technical aspect of patents and patent applications. Some of these engineers are attending law school at night.
In the view of Randy J. Pritzker, a partner with Wolf, Greenfield & Sacks, the opportunities for technically trained patent examiners and analysts is huge. "One thing I have noticed is that the standard for patentability (in high-tech industries) is a lot higher than it should be," he says. "The threshold for patentability is a lot lower than many 'experts' think it is."
He says that patents for new products don't have to represent pioneering technology. They just have to be an improvement over what already exists. As a result, there's a great deal of opportunity in the field for people with knowledge and training. From a legal standpoint, business is picking up.
"A lot of IP is untapped," says Pritzker. "But with the downturn in the economy, more companies have focused on mining their IP."