• Role: Technical Assistant
  • Location: Southampton
  • University: Cambridge
  • Degree: PhD in Biochemistry
  • Organisation: D Young & Co

Feng Rao

As many appreciate, it is difficult to leave bench science after so many years; however joining IP presents the opportunity to be at the science forefront. In fact, one of the things I quickly realised as I started at D Young & Co was that everyone around me was also passionate about the science behind the inventions they were arguing for in front of patent offices worldwide.

Why did you choose a career in patent law?

I had encountered the intellectual property profession long before I had to make a decision on my career choice – my PhD project was based on research that had been considered for patent protection. Thus the industry was always in the back of my mind as my own research was drawing to a close. While I certainly considered other options available as a post-university profession, I did want to try and maintain a link with science.

For me, patent law ended up ticking a lot of the right boxes – as well as being quite literally on the cutting-edge of science, it provides good job stability and D Young & Co offers a very good work/life balance. I also quite liked the fact that it is a bit of a niche field – not only do you have to have the technical background, but you also can’t be fazed by the prospect of learning the law!

Many may think that going from ‘science’ into ‘law’ represents a huge shift in the type and nature of the work that you do from day to day. This is far from the truth. You may not be on a bench but the scientific analysis and reasoning that you have to apply have to be just as thorough as if you were conducting research. I would definitely recommend this career to any scientist who is interested in developing these skills in a different setting.

What skills are useful in this profession?

Beyond the analytical skills which are expected from a technical background, I would consider communication and attention to detail the two most important attributes to my job.

One of the biggest challenges in this profession is being able to explain, in a concise and coherent manner, complex matters of both science and law. Most of the time, this will be to people who are not familiar with the detail at hand. This could be your supervisor asking you to summarise a few pieces of prior art, or to a client when they ask you the legal reasons behind the suggested amendments you have made to their patent application.

Attention to detail, especially to language, can be crucial in the outcome of a case. I found this to be the biggest difference from academic science. The fact that most scientific articles, read by people in similar fields allow many more assumptions to be made, means small differences in how something is written down are sometimes overlooked. However, in patent law, while the science behind the invention is undoubtedly crucial when you argue why it is novel and inventive, the invention is ultimately judged on the wording of the patent application.

Is it a 9-5 job?

Deadlines at patent offices are reasonably generous so extremely urgent matters are rare. In any case, your work will be dependent on supervision from an associate or partner at your firm. This is not to say that long days won’t happen. This can happen most commonly when a client wants to file an application within a short space of time because they want to disclose their invention in some way (e.g. at a conference).

Additionally there are a number of exams you need to take to qualify as a patent attorney and there will often be times when you will need to spend time studying outside of work.

However as a firm, D Young & Co is passionate about having a life outside work, whether you live close to the City office or travel to Southampton along the coast or from the country.

What have you experienced in the profession so far?

I am coming to the end of my second year at D Young & Co. I recently took and passed the Certificate in Intellectual Property at Queen Mary, University of London, which is a common way for trainees to progress towards qualification in the UK.

By far the most interesting experience I have had is going to a hearing (Oral Proceeding) at the European Patent Office when we have opposed the validity of a patent. That really showed the level of knowledge and skill that patent attorneys must have, in order to make both legal and technical judgements on the spot.

Any advice for someone wanting to get into patent law?

Aside from talking to people, my main suggestion would be to just look at some patents. While their structure and some of the language may not be familiar, I think it’s a quick way to have a feel for what the profession is about, as you’ll be reading a lot more of these as a trainee!

For the interview, being sure of your technical knowledge is crucial. Most people will not expect you to understand the ins and outs of patent law. However, it may be helpful to have an idea about the concepts of ‘novelty’ and ‘inventive step’.

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