Changing career from research to patent law was a big decision. I was a post-doc with 10 years’ experience in biological research, so to start again in a career that seemed so different was a little daunting. However, patent law has all the best aspects of research with an additional set of interesting and challenging opportunities and it was definitely the right choice for me. Patent law has allowed me to use the skills and knowledge acquired during my research in a profession which suits me better.
Trainees are recruited into the profession from a wide variety of scientific backgrounds, reflecting the diverse range of inventions encountered. Carpmaels & Ransford’s patents practice is organised into Biotechnology, Chemistry and Engineering & IT practice groups, although there is a lot of overlap and interaction across the firm. With my background in immunology, I am part of the Biotechnology group, which sees a huge variety of work, from antibody therapies, stem cell technologies and cutting-edge antisense treatments to bioinformatics methods.
My specific scientific knowledge is useful in understanding inventions but it quickly became apparent that it’s the ability to analyse unfamiliar subject matter and apply structured problem solving that is most useful. The aspects of academic life that I found stimulating and enjoyable are still apparent in my day-to-day work. Clarity of thought, attention to detail and advocacy are also critical and these are all skills that someone coming from an academic background should have been trained for. Indeed, writing a response to a patent examiner to argue a scientific point employs many of these skills in a similar manner to writing a journal article. The best thing now is that I get to learn about completely new areas of technology on a daily basis, rather than focusing on a single domain in a single protein of interest until my grant runs out.
A typical day
I start the day with a coffee while I check emails and the list of deadlines on my cases. We are given ownership of files right from the start, so it’s important to stay on top of them and learn to manage and prioritise the workload. If I have any questions, or need guidance on a specific case, the partners’ doors are always open.
My work changes daily and might involve writing reporting letters to inform clients of new developments on their applications, or reading up on a new technology to draft an argument to overcome objections from the patent office.
Carpmaels & Ransford takes a very proactive approach to training and in the first few months I attended regular in-house tutorials. These cover both the procedural aspects, such as completing basic forms, and the substantive issues relating to patents that we need to know to make appropriate arguments. The tutorials really help to get you up and running in a profession that can be a little daunting, and the handouts are a useful reference guide to keep at hand later on.
Lunch is a great time to catch up with colleagues and in summer we make the most of the firm’s roof terrace and eat outside. In the afternoon, I often meet with Partners to review work done so far. This is an important part of the highly tailored training process.
Carpmaels & Ransford has a sociable atmosphere and it’s nice to end the day with a post-work drink with friends. There are also plenty of other things to get involved with, such as the softball team, the lunchtime running club and practice group outings.
The best bits of my job
As a first year trainee at Carpmaels & Ransford, I share an office with trainees in the Biotechnology and Engineering practice groups. As all our experiences are slightly different, we are able to help each other out if we ever get a little stuck. One of the reasons I wanted to become a patent attorney was to be exposed to ever wider areas of research. Taking this knowledge to the level of being able to argue the details is challenging, stimulating and enjoyable – that is, everything I hoped it would be.
As well as learning about the profession from Inside Careers and CIPA, I would recommend trying to talk to someone about the career before formally applying. Before the interview I would definitely practise some of the simple description exercises that you can find online, but also be prepared to explain, discuss or advocate on topics that may be unfamiliar – it’s all part of the challenge, and of the fun!