Demand for these specialists is being driven by an explosion in patent applications in recent years and a growing need for lawyers to protect old patents or challenge new ones. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office estimates 450,000 patent applications will be filed this year, up from about 350,000 five years ago.Not good for society when smart people are choosing to spend their time and energy fighting to protect ideas rather than generating new ones. While some lawyers are necessary to protect the fairness of the system, society is best served when there are as few lawyers and as many lab scientists as possible. The lab scientists create new value, the lawyers just determine how that value is allocated.
For at least some students who might otherwise gravitate toward a science career, the promise of much bigger paydays is a powerful lure. Others say the opportunities in academia are not as certain as they once were.
Newly minted lawyers will earn $160,000 at the nation's top firms this year, and perhaps more with a postgraduate science degree or federal clerkship. The leading intellectual property firms plan to match or top that figure.
"It's an exciting area of legal practice right now," said University of Pennsylvania law professor R. Polk Wagner. "Every year I see more and more people coming into law school with technical backgrounds."
"It almost scares me," said Wagner, whose proteges include Weathers. "Who's left in the lab?"
Ironically, almost a quarter of lawyers want to leave the profession because of stress and long hours, so maybe those that left the lab will be returning shortly.