• Role: Technical Assistant
  • Location: London
  • University: Cambridge
  • Degree: MSci Natural Sciences & PhD Particle Physics
  • Organisation: Carpmaels & Ransford

Jenny Archibald

Since starting at Carpmaels & Ransford, I have often been asked about my career path; moving on from a PhD in physics to a law-based profession may not seem to be an obvious move. To choose a career so different from the scientific field I spent eight years studying might well seem strange… until you understand the field of patent law.

Patent law has allowed me to use the skills and knowledge acquired during my studies, in a profession which suits me better. Trainees are recruited into the profession from a wide variety of scientific backgrounds. This reflects the wide variety of technical areas from which patentable inventions arise.

At Carpmaels, we concentrate on the practice groups of biotechnology, chemistry and engineering & IT. With my background in physics, I am part of the Engineering & IT group. This group sees a huge variety of work, from everyday objects, such as hangers and window hinges, to medical devices, telescopes, aeronautical components and electronics.

While my specific technical knowledge is useful in understanding inventions, it was quickly apparent that an inquisitive mind and an analytical approach to problem solving are also essential.

I have found that there are many similarities between academic life and working in this profession. Understanding and absorbing large volumes of information from technical documents, while identifying and extracting the relevant and useful details, are key in both fields. Arranging my thoughts clearly and concisely, forming a coherent and convincing argument, is similar to writing a thesis and assuming personal responsibility for handling deadlines feels the same as managing a workload during an undergraduate degree or PhD.

However, instead of focusing on an ever-narrower specific aspect of science, this profession provides the opportunity to work in a broad range of fields, and on a wide variety of subject matter, even over the course of a single day.

Looking at what my day involves

My day begins with a cup of tea while I catch up on emails from foreign attorneys or clients. I then check my prompt list, which tells me about any deadlines that might be coming up. From my very first week I was given responsibility for my own files. This means that I am responsible for preparing the required work in good time before any deadlines. The relevant partner will have final approval and is available if I have any questions.

After checking my prompt list, I can prioritise my work for the day and get started on any reporting letters. These inform clients of new developments on their applications and address any client queries.

Late morning, I attend an in-house training session before joining some of the other technical assistants for lunch in the firm’s café area. Carpmaels runs in-house tutorials for trainees in the first four months to introduce the major aspects of patent law and to provide a practical overview of the key aspects of day to day patent work.

After lunch, I continue with my work and have a few meetings with the partners. During these meetings, the partner will review my work and answer any questions I may have. Being thrown in at the deep end without any knowledge of patent law or practice may well sound intimidating but it is far less daunting than it sounds.

After work, I join several other technical assistants and associates at a bar near the office for a drink. The firm organises a number of sporting and social events throughout the year and these are a great way to get to know colleagues in other departments.

The best bits of my job

One of my favourite aspects of this job is the opportunity to fully manage my own workload. Keeping in mind all upcoming deadlines and prioritising when necessary, I can decide what I work on, structuring my day as I choose.

As a first year trainee at Carpmaels, I share an office with three other trainees. As well as quickly becoming friends, my colleagues are a great support network. As we progress, we share our experiences, enabling each of us to gain a more complete and rounded understanding. We can also support each other when we sit the qualifying exams.

Interview advice

As well as learning about the profession from Inside Careers and CIPA, I was fortunate enough to attend one of Carpmaels’ Open Days. As well as formal presentations, we had the opportunity to chat to trainees, associates and partners in an informal setting. This was a very valuable opportunity to learn more about the profession and the practicalities of the job.

As a preparation for interview, it might be useful to practice some simple description exercises, as these often come up as part of the selection process. For example, pick a simple mechanical household object, and try to describe it clearly, concentrating on its essential features and how it works.

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