I joined Venner Shipley in January 2011 after completing a PhD and working for a short time at the Food Standards Agency. Like many others now in the patent profession, I realised that I enjoyed being at the cutting edge of research but without the long hours at the bench, and it was not long before I discovered that a career as a patent attorney more than fitted the bill.
Choosing a career as a patent attorney
I first became aware of the possibility of becoming a patent attorney from my university careers service. However, it was not until I was managing research projects and negotiating contracts at the Food Standards Agency that intellectual property really came onto my radar.
After further researching the profession it became clear that a career in patenting was right for me. The opportunity to work at the forefront of a wide range of technologies and the defined career structure are just some of the reasons why I chose to become a patent attorney, and I certainly don’t have any regrets about my choice.
Main duties as an associate
Venner Shipley works in the general practice areas of electronics & telecommunications, mechanical engineering and chemical & life sciences. I am part of the chemical & life sciences group. Our group handles technologies in fields ranging from medical devices and biotechnology to pharmaceuticals and food technology.
On a day-to-day basis the work I do can vary considerably. One afternoon I will be meeting a client to discuss a new invention so that I can draft and file a new patent application, and the next I will be preparing arguments to oppose a granted patent that was filed by a competitor of our client. The variety of work and the different clients that I work for certainly keeps things in the office very interesting.
Reviewing objections raised by patent offices during the examination stage of a patent application and thinking of arguments to submit in response also forms a large part of my day-to-day work. Although it can take some time to persuade an examiner that an invention is patentable, when this happens it is a very satisfying and rewarding part of the job.
A significant part of my work over the last six months has been a part-time secondment to one of our clients, where I have been acting in an in-house role. This has been an excellent opportunity to see how the work a patent attorney does fits into the bigger picture. It is very rewarding to see how the patent applications that I am prosecuting during my time at Venner Shipley fit with the client’s business needs.
The people at Venner Shipley are a friendly bunch. In addition to drinks after work, we have regular evening events, and summer and Christmas parties, giving plenty of chance to mix with attorneys and support staff across the firm.
Training and exams
Although you will have a good technical knowledge of your subject area when entering the patent profession, there is of course a lot to learn on the legal side to become a patent attorney.
At the beginning much of the learning comes from on-the-job training. I discuss and review each piece of work that I do with my supervising partner.
Receiving feedback on a daily basis means that I am constantly honing the skills needed to be a patent attorney, not only in terms of knowledge of patent law but also prioritising workload and communicating effectively. Also, I sit with the other trainees at my level in the London office, so we can quickly bounce ideas and questions off each other if we are not sure of something.
In addition, Venner Shipley provides introductory lectures for new starters to explain the main aspects of patent law. We are also encouraged to attend a weekly lecture series run by The Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys (CIPA), which is a good opportunity to meet fellow trainees from other firms.
One of the biggest challenges that trainee patent attorneys come across is the dreaded ‘e’ word…exams.
If you’re considering the patent profession it is likely that you have a strong academic background. The exams can be very different from the science exams that you sit as an undergraduate, and it is not uncommon to sit some of the UK Advanced level exams several times before passing. However, you’re certainly not left to tackle the exams on your own, and the training plan at Venner Shipley offers a good balance of external courses and internal tutorials to help you prepare for these.
I am about halfway through my exams for qualifying as a UK and European patent attorney.
After working in Venner Shipley for nine months I attended the three-month course run by Queen Mary University to obtain a Certificate in Intellectual Property Law. This has given me exemption from sitting the UK Foundation level exams. The next exams that I sat were a UK Advanced level paper in November and the European Qualifying Examination (EQE) pre-exam the following February. To prepare for these, I worked in a study group with other trainees and attended external courses. This approach seems to have worked, as I have passed both of these exams and will sit the rest in October and February 2014.
Application and interview advice
At the risk of stating the obvious, make sure that your CV and covering letter read well and are free of any typos or grammatical errors. Attention to detail is an important skill of a patent attorney and having errors in your application documents will not make a very good impression.
As well as doing the usual interview preparation including learning about the profession from CIPA and Inside Careers, it would be useful to familiarise yourself with patent applications in your technical field. The Espacenet database provided by the European Patent Office is an excellent tool for patent searching.
A common task that is set in interviews is to describe an everyday object or the rules of a game, to see if you can describe something clearly and at the right level of detail. You can prepare for this by practising describing objects such as kitchen utensils or stationery in a simple and straightforward way, focusing on the essential parts of the object.