Nearing the end of my degree at Durham University, I knew that I was ready to join the working world. The question was what to do. Whilst the careers office was encouraging me down the well-trodden path of graduate training schemes for accountancy and management consultancy, I knew that I wanted something different.
When I heard about the career of a patent attorney, it sounded ideal. I had also applied to study law at university but had eventually settled on chemistry. With patents I would get the best of both worlds.
I decided to find out more and so, after graduating, I spent the summer working in the patent department of a large UK energy company. During my time there I learnt the basic mechanics of the patenting process and was fortunate enough to obtain some valuable insights into the profession from their in-house attorneys.
I was keen to learn more and so I sought out further experience, this time in the IP department of one of the world’s leading fast-moving consumer goods companies. All of this research confirmed that the career of a patent attorney was for me and also demonstrated to any would-be employer that I was serious about the profession and knew what it entailed.
When I started as a trainee in the profession it was tough and sometimes frustrating. Work that I had agonised over for hours was taken apart (usually with a red pen) by the Partner I worked for. I often wished I could roll the clock forward to a point in time when I knew everything. I have learnt, though, that in this profession, you never reach that point. Over the years, you simply build up a greater bank of experience and a deeper understanding of the law.
I passed the UK qualifying exams the ‘long’ way, taking the six Foundation papers to reach part-qualification before moving on to Finals papers. Following this route, it took me four years to become a UK patent attorney. This had its advantages as it meant that when I qualified I also had four years of practising experience. Nowadays, the Certificate in Intellectual Property is another, quicker and more widely-used route to part-qualification. Both routes have their pros and cons and a good employer will consider the best route for you.
I had face-to-face contact with clients at an early stage in my career since most of my work was UK originating. This gave me a strong commercial awareness from the outset and a clear focus on my role; to add value and provide solutions to try to meet the client’s commercial needs. You may not have any client contact in the early years of your training but it is an important lesson to learn that working in the world of patents is not an academic exercise – every penny that the client spends with you should be a penny well spent.
Choosing a firm to train with
Early years in the profession are focused on learning the basic skills and passing exams. A firm which places high importance on training, like Mathys & Squire, is a must. You will be faced with working and taking examinations in a sphere where you will have little or no experience; this presents a challenge for even the most high flying graduates. Some important factors to consider:
- A structured training policy. You should ask a prospective employer for details on their training and development policy. Are there in-house tutorials? In-house moots? Case law meetings?
- Variety and feedback. Will you have exposure to a variety of work, as well as timely and constructive feedback on the work you are producing?
- Support. Is there a support network; other trainees to confide in, Associates to ask questions to and a dedicated Partner for the more obscure questions and to mentor you as you progress through your training?
What you can bring
In the first couple of years the focus will be on training. During this time, you can still contribute:
- Strong work ethic
- Ability to listen and learn from your mistakes.
My current role
My decision to move to Mathys & Squire was easy. I am privileged to be working within a team of highly-motivated, smart, creative-thinking people and I have been fortunate enough to be able to focus my energies on the areas of patent practice that I enjoy the most – prosecution and opposition. The daily challenges I am presented with to ‘dig deep’ into a case and to use my legal knowledge to problem-solve by persuasive argument are what keep me dedicated to the profession even after having three children.
Since becoming a Partner in 2011, I have grown my own team as well as becoming more involved in the running of the business through sitting on the firm’s board. These are very exciting times for Mathys & Squire, particularly with the recent move of our London office to the Shard, and I am very happy to be contributing to the firm’s ever-growing record of success.
I get tremendous enjoyment from what I do. I wonder how many of my accountant and management consultant contemporaries can say the same.