This is a career that can grow and change as you do…
I graduated from the University of Sheffield with a degree in Physics, an open mind and a modest overdraft. In this profession the hardest part is usually finding your first job, and in the spring of 1988 I was fortunate to be offered two positions in Yorkshire. The first of many forks in the road presented itself.
After accepting one of these, I qualified relatively swiftly, benefitting from a very enjoyable hands-on training which suited me – and my boss. From the beginning I have been privileged to work for – and with – some of the best patent attorneys in the business. I like to think that I have learned something from all of them and also that I have passed on much of this wisdom.
Why did you choose a career in the profession?
Looking back on my career it seems odd now that it should have happened almost randomly. As with many people I just had no strong view about what I wanted to do. So, towards the end of my second year at Sheffield I sat down to read the entire tome-like Graduate Opportunities 1987 directory in which many employers were listed.
Fortunately, before I had reached the end of the A’s I had found an employer offering entry to a profession which, though I had never heard of it, really caught my interest. Information was sparse (there being no Inside Careers back then) but from what I could discover the job of Patent ‘Agent’ held plenty of attractions for someone who loved science and technology – but didn’t want to be a scientist.
What is a typical day like for you?
It’s funny, but in the dozen years or so that I acted as CIPA’s adviser, I must have asked this question of many people, and yet until now I never asked it of myself. The truth is that there is almost no such thing as a typical day in this profession – and that is one of its most attractive features.
When you are in the early stages of training your employer will structure your activity to ensure that you are exposed to all of the necessary different kinds of work. But once you have gained some autonomy your clients will set the agenda and your days will become as varied as their demands.
Further advancement may see you exposed to business activities in addition to your professional duties, adding a further level of variety and unpredictability. My days will usually involve some or all of: answering clients’ calls or emails when they need guidance, corresponding with examiners and overseas attorneys, planning business development, providing cost estimates for services, visiting clients and meeting prospective new ones.
And whilst my list of regular activities has increased over the years, I am pleased to say that I still enjoy exercising many of the basic skills that a trainee patent attorney begins to learn at the very earliest stages of his or her career – such as analysing search and examination reports and drafting patent specifications for new (or hopefully new) inventions.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
This is one question that I have no difficulty answering. When I started out as a trainee my favourite activity was meeting clients with new inventions. It remains the most enjoyable aspect of my work today.
There is something special about the look in an inventor’s eye as he or she is about to divulge (in strictest confidence of course) the latest fruits of his or her labour and imagination.
Inventors are usually enthusiastic about their creations. And enthusiasm can be infectious. The patent attorney is privileged to be a recipient of what is, or at least should be, a closely guarded secret. And sometimes it can be a genuine ‘game changer’.
What would you like to achieve in the future?
I have enjoyed contributing to the training of some very good patent attorneys and I want to do more of that whilst, of course, continuing to improve my own skills and knowledge.
I expect that the profession will continue to adapt and evolve as it seeks to improve the services it provides. I hope I can carry on playing my own small part in that.
Do you have any advice for anyone wanting to get into the profession?
Do your homework on firms or departments before applying to them. Who are their clients? What kind of work do they do? You might be able to get information on this from some of the free patent databases.
Training positions are hard to come by, but once you are in – and have passed some of the exams – there will be opportunities for you to move and, hopefully, advance. So don’t worry if your first job isn’t ideal.
One final bit of advice is always to be honest in your letter and interview. Patent attorneys can smell – let’s call it ‘bullish exaggeration’ – from a mile away.