• Role: UK Patent Attorney
  • Location: London
  • University: Imperial
  • Degree: MEng Aeronautical Engineering
  • Organisation: Kilburn & Strode LLP

Laurence Lai

I studied engineering at university because I’ve always been curious about how things work. After I graduated, this naturally followed on to working in an engineering consultancy, although I did briefly consider becoming an intellectual property solicitor. After two years as an engineering consultant, I was still thinking ‘what if’ and found that becoming a patent attorney would be a route into intellectual property law with the benefit of on-the-job training rather than having to attend law school.

I began my training at another London firm of patent attorneys, moving to Kilburn & Strode after three years. The decision to move wasn’t easy, but it helped that I had met other trainees from Kilburn & Strode through social events, inter-firm softball matches and organising the annual Intellectual Property Ball.

Getting a job as a trainee patent attorney is as much about your skills as about you fitting into the firm you’re joining – each firm has a different culture. Everyone I met from Kilburn & Strode, including at interview, was friendly and personable, and this gave me the confidence that it would be a great firm to move to.

There’s a large cohort of trainees at Kilburn & Strode, with a lot of support and camaraderie. The partners are very approachable too, despite the firm having quite a traditional structure. I work for different partners, giving me exposure to a range of clients and styles of working.

Patent attorneys are always learning, not just through exposure to shifting technology trends, but also because of evolving patent law and different relationships with clients. Some of the work I find most interesting is when patent-savvy clients ask insightful questions and you need to work out what would be best for them, and translate legalese into commercially useful advice.

Generally, most of my work involves ‘prosecuting’ patent applications – responding to a patent office examiner who usually thinks that the application shouldn’t be granted. This involves understanding the subject matter of the application and reviewing the documents the examiner has identified. The challenge is then to find a clever difference that also provides the client with a useful patent, and frame the response to the examiner in a way that fits within patent law.

At Kilburn & Strode, there’s also plenty of opportunity to get involved in contentious cases, such as where a client’s competitor is opposed to a patent being granted. These types of cases are particularly engaging because they highlight the value of your client’s invention to someone else.

At Kilburn & Strode, trainees are trusted to take ownership of their work, and to manage their own workload. Trainees also get direct exposure to clients early on. There are opportunities to get involved in marketing to bring in new clients, as well as writing news articles for the firm’s website or various industry magazines.

Advice for others

In terms of the routes to qualification, it might take at least four years of training to become a UK and European patent attorney; it’s worth being aware that this can feel like quite a commitment, especially early on in your working life.

New trainees at Kilburn & Strode start in the autumn, but for other firms it’s worth bearing in mind that for the European qualifying exams, you must have been training for at least two years before the date of the first exam. This exam is held annually around the beginning of March, and so if you start your training in March, you might just miss out and have to wait until the following year. In terms of a career as a patent attorney, it’s not much of a setback but it can be frustrating if you want to get the exams out of the way. 

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