If, like me, you are interested in technology and language, you are a bit of a pedant and you are always up for a challenge then this is definitely a career you should think about!
Like so many other people I didn’t really feel any particular calling as my time at university drew closer. Initially, I studied for an applied physics degree (MPhys) and then worked towards a PhD, which was really a crossover between physics, electronics and semiconductor device technology. So, a job in research either at university or in industry seemed inevitable.
However, whilst undertaking postdoctoral work in the UK and France I occasionally found it necessary to review some patents (alive and dead) and they piqued my interest in the profession. After digging around a little, the role appeared to me on the face of it to require a blend of science/engineering knowledge, the ability to argue (to be honed into advocacy) and legal knowledge (to be acquired after entering the profession). It also seemed there would be additional challenges later in the career as it became clear that working in private practice offered the opportunity to become a partner in a business. This seemed to mean helping develop and guide the strategy and direction of the business itself. The more I looked into the profession and the opportunities it presented, the more I liked the sound of it. My instincts weren’t wrong.
After entering the profession, working towards being a fully qualified European patent attorney and a Chartered Patent Attorney is not easy. It takes at least 3-4 years, and sometimes longer. A basic requirement for qualifying as a European patent attorney is a science/engineering degree and three years ‘on-the-job’ experience. Find out more about patent qualifications here.
The challenge of qualifying was one of the reasons I chose Mewburn Ellis as my preferred firm from the outset. The reputation the firm has for training their wannabe attorneys to a high standard, relatively quickly, is well deserved. This is in part due to the many in-house tutorials and workshops operating under a formal in-house training structure that all the trainees attend. Of course, there are external courses and seminars that they are encouraged to attend too, for example arranged by CIPA and by CEIPI. However, the thing that I think accelerates development the most is actually sitting and working alongside a partner doing ‘real’ work for clients from day one. It amazed me how much I learned ‘by osmosis’ just by sharing an office with a senior partner in the firm. It meant I could listen in to conversations with clients, and have ad hoc discussions about cases and tricky points of law or argumentation. This was amplified by training with several different partners over the course of the first three years or so, including working in different cities. All of this resulted in an ‘accelerated’ experience that I think really helps when it comes to taking the UK and EQE exams.
Day to day?
I am now a fully qualified patent attorney and a partner in a large IP firm. I necessarily have to blend these two roles throughout the day/week. The proportion of the day given over to each role will vary from day to day of course.
On the patenting side, as you will read and hear numerous times, there really is no such thing as a typical day. However, I think it’s fair to say that most days I am working at my desk, talking with clients and patent offices by letter, email and telephone etc. Beyond that, no two days have really been the same.
The technology, the legal issues and the commercial considerations can vary hugely from case to case, so the substance of the work from day to day varies commensurately. That makes it a highly stimulating and challenging job, but then that’s the attraction! It’s also very satisfying to be able to help a client use their IP to successfully commercialise a product or protect that product.
As a partner in the firm, I also have management responsibilities which can, on occasion, dominate my day. It requires a different, but perhaps overlapping, skill set to my role as a patent attorney. It is equally enjoyable, but for very different reasons.
Beyond that I travel a lot to Asia (Japan, Korea, Taiwan and China principally) and around the UK to meet with existing clients and prospective clients, and to attend conferences and professional seminars. It’s harder work than it sounds! But it can also be great fun, and it’s an opportunity to meet people and make friends that would never otherwise happen.
Do I recommend the career?
Whole heartedly! It’s intellectually a very stimulating and rewarding job. The partnership aspect (if that’s of interest) brings its own different flavour of challenges and rewards too.
How do you get there?
First and foremost, take the time to research the patent profession as a whole and decide if you think it is for you. As noted above, it is primarily a desk job. Contact with clients/inventors is mainly in writing and by telephone. Is that attractive to you?
Some firms offer open days. Mewburn Ellis does. Try and attend one (or more!) to get a better feel for the job. It’s also an excellent way to get a feel for the culture of the firm providing the particular open day you attend. This will also give you an idea of whether they are a good match for you!
If, after all that, you’re keen to enter the profession then I would apply to as many firms as you find attractive. However, be sure to research each firm, so that you can tailor your approach and comments suitably. Not all firms will have employment opportunities in all technical fields each year. Indeed, the number of employment opportunities across the profession in any given year is usually not very large. So, make sure you apply early and with a well-tailored application so that you stand out.
The interviews will inevitably be testing and challenging, but engage with the exercises and tests. They are there to help you show what you can do, not to try and trip you up.
Finally – good luck!