At the time I left school, virtually no one outside the profession knew of patent attorneys. Unlike many of my contemporaries, however, I did not fall into the profession. I had the good fortune that my mother was a careers officer. When I was 16, she sat me down and asked me what I wanted to do with my life.
After we had dismissed the possibility of rock star or footballer we settled on patent attorney. This seemed a particularly attractive option because I was something of an all-rounder – pretty good at both science and arts subjects, although not outstanding at any of them. I went to university to read Chemistry.
After a year I decided that it was far too difficult and switched to Biochemistry, completing my degree three years later. My university career was not outstanding but I managed a comfortable 2.2, which was enough to get me a job at W.P. Thompson & Co. in Liverpool.
My early training at W.P. Thompson & Co. was very good for my development to becoming a patent attorney. There were two main factors in this. The first was that I shared a room with another, slightly more senior trainee. That meant that every time I had a question there was someone who I could ask without feeling embarrassed about not knowing the answer. I also learnt a lot from listening to him talk to clients on the telephone.
The second factor that significantly aided my development at Thompson’s, was that I was exposed to a wide variety of technology and problems, and was also allowed to sit in with clients from an early stage. That meant that I developed a breadth of knowledge and also, crucially, learnt the importance of fitting an answer to an academically interesting legal problem with the business needs of the client.
From qualification to the present day
My training at Forresters continued much as the training at Thompson’s, with a variety and breadth of work, which stood me in very good stead for early qualification. I passed all of my exams first time, with the exception of one of the two drafting papers. I qualified first time as a European Patent Attorney and on the second attempt as a UK Patent Attorney.
Given the notorious difficulty of the UK exams, I am reasonably proud of that achievement. I have progressed through the firm to the point where I am now the senior partner of our London office, although I am not quite sure how that has happened. Possibly the only people more concerned than me about my elevation to the senior position are those who work with me.
My career as a patent attorney has been very fulfilling. I enjoy the job particularly because each new file presents a new problem to tackle. There is very little that is routine, compared with many other jobs. Of course, when one first enters the profession, one does more routine, humdrum, tasks than I do now. It is worth bearing in mind that that is true of any job.
There are a number of qualities that you need to succeed in this career, although you don’t need to possess all of them when you start. You obviously need the ability to understand science and the law.
More importantly, you need to be able to apply the law to the science and put it in a business context. It is all too easy to become wrapped up in the legal niceties of the situation, and end up agonising over issues which are either very unlikely to occur, or which could be avoided with ease if you take a more restrictiveposition, but one which is not incompatible with the client’s business requirements.
Most importantly, this profession is about communication of ideas. You have to put your ideas clearly and in a manner that is easily understood, both to the patent offices with whom you work and to your client. However brilliant you are, if you are unable to communicate your ideas in a straightforward and understandable way, you will end up frustrating the people with whom you work.
I thoroughly enjoy my time as a patent attorney and I look forward to the remainder of my career. In particular, I find that, even in my dotage, my role continues to develop as law and practice progress, and as my role in the firm changes.