I began to think about possible careers during my final year at Oxford University, where I was studying for a Master’s degree in Biochemistry. I was encouraged by the university’s careers service to complete an electronic questionnaire and this generated a list of potential careers for which I might be suited. One of these was as a patent attorney; the others, well, they’re best left unsaid.
So, after conducting some initial research, I contacted the professional body for UK patent attorneys, CIPA, for additional information. I was put in touch with a couple of practising patent attorneys, one employed in industry and one in private practice. I took the opportunity to meet with them both, and obtained some valuable insights into the world of the patent profession and what I would be doing on a day to day basis.
I then sought and obtained some work experience in a private practice, sat in on a trial at the Patents County Court, and met the Patents County Court judge. He gave me his thoughts, from ‘behind the bench’, as to the ways in which the patent profession might develop over the next 30 years. Not only did all this research confirm that the career of a patent attorney was for me, but it also clearly demonstrated to any would-be employer that I was serious about the profession and knew what it entailed.
What I found particularly attractive about the profession (and still do today) is that it offers me a way of using science, which I have always enjoyed, in a problem solving context. It’s either this or CSI…
Early years in the profession
In your development towards qualification, it will be important for you to obtain prompt, timely feedback on your work. Only in that way can you avoid repeating mistakes and acquiring bad habits. In the early years, you should probably not be too concerned about ‘face time’ with clients, but should concentrate on acquiring the basic skills and, each and every day, knowing more than you did before.
A variety of work is also very important, and for those in life sciences and chemistry, you should seek out some work on mechanical subject matter. This will help you to pass the UK exams, especially the P3 exam in Drafting and the P6 exam in Infringement and Validity.
Preparation for exams is tough and you will need to balance the demands of the job with a need for thorough revision. Look for a firm which offers an internal system of tutorials and which provides assistance and feedback from more senior colleagues. Also ensure that you have a designated mentor, someone you have reliable access to and who can answer your questions even if they relate to the more obscure aspects of the law.
Finally, don’t forget that whilst acquiring knowledge of the law is important, it must always be applied to a problem in a practical manner and using common sense. Think of two basic questions – What should the client do? What further information do they need?
From qualification to the present day
I joined Mathys & Squire in 1999, and became a partner at the firm in 2002. During that time I have been fortunate to have worked with smart, enthusiastic colleagues, and to advise a wide range of domestic and international clients. Seniority in the firm has also given me the opportunity to recruit and develop ambitious young attorneys and to build a high-performing team that provides the best possible service.
Since qualifying, I have also had the opportunity to specialise. Likewise, whilst it will be important for you to obtain a level of skill and experience across all areas, especially in the run-up to exams and qualification, you should then have the opportunity to decide on the type of practice that you wish to build. Of particular fascination to me is high-value opposition and appeal work in the biotechnology and pharmaceutical fields. This provides an exciting challenge in understanding a complex problem, synthesising the issues and then finding the solution that is most favourable to the client. It’s great to work with clients who appreciate the energy, the commitment, and, most importantly, the value of the strategic and tactical advice that my team is able to provide.
What skills are important?
My advice to anyone considering the profession is to have an enthusiasm for learning and an appreciation that there is always more to learn, whether it be in the scientific, legal or business environment. By being self-critical, and by striving for even higher levels of performance, you will always be one step ahead of the competition; you will certainly succeed.
Attention to detail is of paramount importance, commitment and work ethic too. These are usually a given, and are repeatedly quoted as key skills. But these qualities, even when coupled with a solid scientific and legal understanding, are simply the tools of the trade; it’s what you do with them that counts.