Finding practical work experience in patent firms is challenging. Due to the variety of work and issues surrounding the confidentiality of clients and inventions, opportunities in this sector are rare – but they do exist.
Patent work experience is typically unpaid (though travel expenses may be reimbursed) and can last from two days to two weeks. Prospective patent attorneys should be studying for a technical degree, typically science or engineering, though some firms will request specific disciplines. As for patent graduate roles, firms will be looking for applicants with a strong academic background who are on track for a 2:1 or above. You should be an excellent communicator with strong analytical skills, attention to detail and the ability reason clearly and logically.
The application process
The application process will most likely consist of an online application form and/or CV and covering letter. If successful, candidates may be invited to a short interview assessment or telephone interview; tips for telephone interviews can be found here. During the application process you will be expected to explain why you want to work for the company, what you think you’ll gain and what will make you a good patent attorney. You may also be asked behavioural interview questions such as ‘tell me about a time when you worked well in a team’.
Not only will a patent internship allow you to gain invaluable experience and knowledge of what could be your future career, but it will also give you the opportunity to see first-hand what it’s like to work as a patent or trade mark attorney. You will be able to see how the company interacts with their clients, get a feel for their ethos, and a better understanding of what you can expect from a career with them. If you perform well during your work experience you may be offered a place on their graduate scheme the following year.
What will I do?
The specific nature of your work experience will differ greatly from firm to firm. You may have the opportunity to work on real cases as well as across teams and offices. You will almost certainly be able to work with various members of the team, including partners. Some firms will place you in the position of an entry-level trainee patent attorney; here you could be reading patent applications, corresponding with clients and researching relevant legal documents. Other schemes will offer case lessons, workshops, group exercises, shadowing, mentoring and presentations. These sessions aim to build your technical knowledge and soft skills by analysing real IP problems with the support of fully qualified attorneys. Though your day-to-day tasks will vary, work experience in this sector will give you an understanding of what a patent attorney does and develop some of the key skills needed to succeed in the profession.
And if I can’t get work experience?
Don’t panic! Opportunities in this profession are still rare and academic excellence is normally prized above work experience by most prospective employers. If you are unable to secure work experience, talking to one or two patent attorneys and visiting a patent firm before applying for graduate roles will greatly increase your chances. Many recruiters host open days, details of which can be found here.