• Role: Patent Attorney
  • Location: London
  • University: Durham
  • Degree: Physics
  • Organisation: Haseltine Lake

James Hutchison

Starting out

The first time the possibility of becoming a patent attorney entered my sphere of consciousness was during my penultimate year at university, when many of my friends on three-year degree courses were looking for jobs themselves. Out of desperation, I must have eventually picked up one of my friends’ careers guides to read.

Upon arriving at the ‘Science Graduates’ section, I was not overwhelmed by the number of options advertised, so it was easy to identify the stand out candidate, an advert for a trainee patent attorney. Fortunately, there appeared to be a little overlap between the skills required and my own skills, so I researched it in more detail and eventually sent off a tranche of applications at the beginning of my final year.

Getting the job

I came down to London for an interview with Haseltine Lake in February of my final year at university. Importantly, I met the two partners for whom I would be working if successful in my application, and a trainee in the department. I received and accepted an offer of employment, and have now been working in Haseltine Lake’s London-Munich Electronics and Telecommunications team for almost three years, based primarily in the London office but also spending time in Munich. I am part-qualified, having passed all of my foundation level exams, and at the time of writing am about to start revising for my first attempt at the UK finals.

Big clients

People often claim that ‘there is no typical day’ in their job. For me, I would say a typical day follows a fairly set routine of arriving at work, having some breakfast, doing some work, having some lunch, doing some more work, and then leaving. However, that is not to say that the work itself is not varied, and I am fortunate to spend a large proportion of my time working for one of our major clients who have a broad range of technological interests.

This means that, from a scientific point of view, there is a great deal of variety. An advantage of big clients is that the procedure for handling a file for a big client is usually uniform among their cases, so I can quickly pick up a new file to work on and focus on immersing myself in new and diverse areas of technology without having to worry about mundane procedural details at every juncture.

I have a ‘to do’ pile in my room, which largely comprises files containing European patent applications originating from corresponding overseas applications, and in which the European examiner has raised objections against the application. One of my favourite aspects of the job is picking up a file I have not previously worked on, and learning a new invention (by a combination of studying the application itself and background reading).

Once I have learned about the invention, I then have to find ways to overcome the Examiner’s objections, which often involves a great deal of creativity and persuasive writing. If this aspect of the job, essentially finding out how things work and creating lines of argument based on your understanding, does not appeal to you, then this may not be the job for you.

Small clients

Small clients are often new to the world of intellectual property, and the language and approach one uses in dealing with them is completely different from dealing with a client more familiar with the intricacies of the patent system. I enjoy this part of dealing with small clients, as it challenges me to think about every word I use in communicating with them and to consider what it actually means.

It is the antithesis of the frustrating jargonistic writing style that many of my friends in other careers have to use. A lot of smaller clients seem to enjoy doing business face to face, which is great from my point of view as it adds a personal touch to the work and provides a welcome enhancement to the established daily routine.

Working for a smaller client is an interesting challenge, as it often requires commercial and strategic awareness. I have a small client in the telecommunications sector, a company with only three employees, for whom I (along with one of my supervisors) drafted and filed a patent application.

The client is now in the process of licensing (an agreement allowing someone to perform an act which would otherwise infringe your patent in return for payment) the patent application to a global electronics device manufacturer. To have been so deeply involved with this project, the client’s principal business concern, which effectively defined whether their business sank or swam is incredibly satisfying, and I would rank my work for this particular client among the highlights of my career so far.

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