I realised quite early on during my DPhil that life as a bench chemist was not for me. One of my main frustrations with academic research was that my chemistry knowledge was becoming too specialised and I often found it difficult to see the ‘real world’ application of the research I was doing.
I was first introduced to the field of intellectual property during a placement year at a large pharmaceutical company. After attending a number of careers fairs and open days, the patent profession stood out as being a career that would enable me to apply the scientific knowledge and analytical skills I had developed during my academic career in a commercial setting. I was also attracted to the additional challenge of beginning a career in the legal sector.
Training and path to qualification
Since my first day at Beck Greener, I have been given real cases to work on and I have been exposed to a wide range of patent work. The majority of the training is on-the-job, under the close guidance and supervision of one of the senior partners. Over the past two years, as the level of supervision has decreased, I have started to gain more independence and an increasing amount of client contact. Although I initially found the job a little daunting, Beck Greener offers a supportive and friendly working environment and everyone’s doors are always open.
Generally, most firms expect you to qualify both as a Chartered UK and European Patent Attorney. After a year in the profession, I attended the Queen Mary Certificate Course in Intellectual Property Law which is designed specifically for trainee patent attorneys and provides exemption from the UK foundation exams. The course provided me with an excellent introduction to intellectual property law and it was a great opportunity to form friendships with trainees from other firms.
I have recently sat the pre-examination for the European Qualifying Examinations (EQE), and I plan to sit my UK final qualifying patent exams this October and my final European Qualifying Examinations next March.
Although the amount of studying can seem overwhelming at times, attendance at external lectures, courses and tutorials is strongly encouraged and support is always at hand from the partners and associates at Beck Greener.
A typical day
My average day is spent in the office, working through my ‘to do’ pile or dealing with instructions or queries from clients. The work can vary from drafting a patent application for an individual inventor to prosecuting patent applications for multinational companies.
A lot of my time is spent preparing arguments in response to Examination Reports from the European Patent Office. The ‘eureka moment’ when you identify a crucial difference between your client’s invention and a very similar technology, or develop an argument which persuades the Examiner to withdraw their objection, is a very satisfying and rewarding aspect of the profession.
One of the things that attracted me to the patent profession was the opportunity to work in a wide variety of technological fields, and it has certainly not disappointed. The nature of the profession means that you are learning about new technology on a daily basis. One day you can be reading about the latest advances in solar panel technology or bioengineering and the next about novel drug formulations or additives for cosmetic compositions. Every case presents its own particular issues, resulting in an intellectually stimulating and challenging working environment.
Outside of the office
The profession is not all about work and exams, and it is definitely possible to maintain a good work/life balance. Beck Greener is a very friendly and sociable firm and organises firm-wide annual summer and Christmas parties. There are also regular after work pub trips and we take part in the inter-firm softball games in the summer. The CIPA Informals committee is also very active in organising social events such as pub quizzes, summer balls and monthly ‘happy hour’ drinks.
What skills are useful for a patent attorney?
One of the most important skills is the ability to communicate clearly both orally and in writing to a wide range of audiences. This could involve explaining a complex legal situation to scientists, engineers and business people or presenting a clear and persuasive argument to a patent examiner or another attorney.
Accuracy and an eye for detail are also crucial. There are situations when the core of an argument is centered around a seemingly minor difference between two very similar technologies.
Due to the deadline oriented nature of the patent profession, you will often be required to juggle several pieces of work simultaneously. It is therefore essential that you are able to prioritise and manage your own workload, particularly since a lot of time is spent working independently rather than as part of team.
Advice for anyone wanting to get into the industry
As the majority of firms do not offer a standard graduate recruitment programme they generally recruit as and when the need arises. The highly competitive nature of the job market means that it is very much a numbers game, and therefore I not only applied to firms advertising a vacancy but also sent speculative applications to around 20 other firms.
In terms of the interview process, my advice would be to be meticulous with your preparation and thoroughly research both the firm and the profession.
One of the key skills of a patent attorney is being able to describe the technical features of often complex inventions in a simple and logical way. It is therefore inevitable that during an interview you will be asked to give a technical description of a simple mechanical object, either verbally or in writing. A great way to practise is by looking at simple everyday objects and trying to describe both how they work and also how they look. I would also advise that you read a few patent specifications to familiarise yourself with typical patent language and terminology.