• Role: Trainee Patent Attorney
  • Location: Leeds
  • University: Imperial
  • Degree: MSci Physics, PhD Astrophysics
  • Organisation: Haseltine Lake

Olivia Tsang

When I graduated from Imperial College I decided to pursue a career in academia, so immediately after graduationI started my doctorate at the University of Heidelberg in Germany. During my doctorate studies, I realised the many downsides of a career in research, and was looking for an alternative which would allow me to still be involved in science in some ways, but have a more stable and clearer career path. I stumbled across this profession when I was browsing the Inside Careers website, following a recommendation from a friend, and it appeared to tick all the boxes.

Meanwhile, my husband just found what he considered as his dream job. The company that offered him the job is based in Leeds, so I naturally looked into patent attorney firms in Leeds. Although none of the firms in Leeds were recruiting trainees at the time, I noticed through reading company websites that Haseltine Lake had begun developing business in China. Being Chinese and having had most of my education in the UK, I figured I could use that to my advantage, and sent a speculative letter with my CV to Haseltine Lake.

They gave me two interviews, and I have now been working there for about a year and a half.

Most of the cases that I have worked on come from big corporations, and are applications seeking European patents. Once in a while I receive cases from local (UK) clients and smaller companies or individuals. Cases from big corporations tend to involve more mundane jobs such as writing to the European Patent Office arguing how wonderful the invention is, when a lot of the time you in fact agree with the patent examiner that the so-called invention is merely an obvious development. That can be part of the fun sometimes when you have to be creative with your arguments, but the fun mainly comes from meeting local clients.

I would not say the following example of my week is typical at all, as it can vary considerably.

Monday

In the morning, I received a message from the receptionist that a potential new client has called to ask for advice on obtaining patent protection. I promptly called the new client back to find out a little bit about his inventions. They sounded fairly promising, and he did not appear to be someone who has watched too much Dragons’ Den. I explained briefly to him on the phone about the procedure of filing a patent application, and reminded him not to disclose it to anyone. We arranged to have a meeting at our office on Thursday afternoon for a more detailed discussion.

In the afternoon, I resumed the creation of more ingenious arguments, which were probably related to mobile phone signals.

Tuesday

In the morning, I received an email from an absent colleague, asking me to return a call to someone whom he has been advising. The person I was asked to call was an independent inventor, who was keen to obtain a patent for his invention, which he will then market to some big corporations. I reviewed his file before calling and it was obvious at that point that he does not have much experience with patents.

During the phone conversation I tried to explain to him, as delicately as I could, that I did not think his invention has a very good chance of being a granted patent. However, at the end of the conversation, he insisted that I study his invention in more detail, and give him my honest opinion.

I find this is one of the more difficult parts of the job, to discourage someone who believes his own idea is a wonderful invention, and that getting a patent for it will earn him millions. We often need to explain to them that applying for a patent may not be the best route, or put them off by telling them how much the whole process may cost, which is typically in the range of thousands.

Sometimes the independent inventors can be very persistent, such as in this case. Then you will have to make more effort to persuade them to drop the case or to improve on their invention. We do not charge for all of the hours of hard work that can be put into dissuading people from filing an application. Nevertheless, I spent the afternoon combing through patent documents and internet articles, and wrote to him explaining how those documents and articles have destroyed the novelty of his invention.

Later in the afternoon, he wrote back to thank me for my opinion and advice, and informed me that he will think of some new ideas for his invention.

Wednesday

The independent inventor wrote again to let me know that he came up with some new ideas and asked for a meeting. I decided to pass his file back to my colleague.

Thursday

In order not to appear completely unprepared for the meeting, I spent most of the morning looking on the internet for anything related to the invention that would be the subject of the afternoon meeting, and any information on the company that the new client represents. Wikipedia is often a good place to start when an invention just sounds completely alien. The new client emailed to ask if he could bring a couple of prototypes. This is usually good news, because when it comes to describing someone else’s invention, having seen the physical object and knowing that it does actually work is definitely a big help.

The meeting went on for the whole afternoon; I came out feeling quite optimistic that there is a good chance the new client will get a patent, and he came out of the meeting looking enlightened by the advice we provided.

Friday

Fridays tend to be a bit more relaxed in the office, so I spent some of my time searching for patent documents relating to one of the inventions we discussed in the meeting the day before. Although the new client has no problem paying for the fees and for our services, we usually conduct a quick document search for our local clients before preparing an application for them, so that they do not waste money on an application with little prospect.

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