The Intellectual Property Office (IPO) maintains and builds the framework for intellectual property rights, comprising patents, designs, trade marks and copyright. Here, we take a closer look at the IPO to help you understand its function.

Part of the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS), the IPO’s role is to help manage an intellectual property (IP) system that encourages innovation and creativity, balances the needs of consumers and users, promotes strong and competitive markets and is the foundation of the knowledge based economy. It operates in a national and an international environment and its work is governed by national and international law, including various international treaties relating to IP to which the UK is a party.

Find out more about opportunities at the IPO.

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IPO Question & Answer:

What would a typical day working at the Intellectual Property Office involve? 

There are a wide variety of jobs at the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) for supporting each of the areas of Intellectual Property (IP): patents, designs, trade marks and copyright.

Focusing on the role of a patent examiner; a typical day would involve scrutinising both the technical and legal aspects of a patent application, comparing the new invention against those found in patent databases, before considering whether or not to grant a patent. If an application meets all the requirements of the Patents Act 1977, the examiner will send the application to grant.

Each patent application goes through several stages before being granted, including search and examination. These stages take up most of examiner’s time.

A typical search will involve searching through patent databases to find out whether the patent application is new and inventive. If a patent does not meet the requirements of the Patents Act 1977, the examiner will issue an examination report explaining why the application cannot be granted (e.g. why it is not new or inventive).

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How does working as a patent examiner differ to working as a patent attorney?

A patent examiner is responsible for searching, examining and granting patents that are filed at the IPO. As such, they work to make sure that an application is patentable and can be granted. This differs from a patent attorney, who acts on behalf of the applicant. Among other duties, they are responsible for writing and filing an application and responding to search and examination reports written by a patent examiner at the IPO, with the aim of getting the best possible patent granted for their client.

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I am a second year student and have a year in industry as part of my course. Do the Intellectual Property Office offer internships or industrial placements at all?

We have offered summer internships in the past to provide technical assistance to patent examiners. This involved reading a patent application prior to the patent examiner and writing a technical summary of the application including any problem overcome by the invention. Any future internships will be advertised on the Civil Service Jobs website.

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What are the Intellectual Property Office’s key duties and responsibilities? I know you maintain the UK’s intellectual property system but could you tell us a little bit more about how you do this and how you help anyone who may wish to patent or protect an invention?

The Intellectual Property Office (IPO) is the official UK government body responsible for intellectual property (IP) rights including patents, designs, trade marks and copyright.

We are responsible for: IP policy, educating businesses and consumers about IP rights and responsibilities, supporting IP enforcement, and granting UK patents, trade marks and design rights.

We help someone wishing to protect an invention by granting patent applications that have a high presumption of validity. This gives inventors, creatives and entrepreneurs the confidence to invest in innovation and to reap the benefits of their investments.

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How closely does the UK’s Intellectual Property Office work with the European Patent Office (EPO), if at all? For example, is the work and duties undertaken by these two bodies similar at all?

The European Patent Office (EPO) is the executive arm of the European Patent Organisation, which is an intergovernmental organisation that was set up on 7 October 1977 on the basis of the European Patent Convention (EPC) signed in Munich in 1973. It is not a European Union organisation.

The EPO grants European Patents that provide patent protection in up to 44 countries, including the UK; whereas the UK IPO grants GB patents that provide patent protection in the UK only. Patent Examiner’s at the EPO are governed by the EPC, whereas the UK IPO patent examiners are governed by the Patent’s Act 1977.

The European Union Intellectual Property Office (EU IPO) is the EU institution responsible for administering EU trade marks and EU designs. An EU trade mark or design is valid across all of the EU whereas the UK trade marks and designs, administered by the UK IPO, are valid only in the UK.

Patent examiners at the EPO and trade mark and designs examiners at the EU IPO will need to carry out similar searches and checks to those of their counterparts at the UK IPO.

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What are your requirements for non-UK EU students? Does this change if you have further education qualifications such as a PhD?

The Patent Examiner post is defined as a non-reserve Civil Service position, applications are open to UK nationals, Commonwealth Citizens, EEA Nationals of other member states and certain non-EEA family members.

The minimum requirement for the patent examiner role is degree-level knowledge (or equivalent industrial experience) in a relevant technical field. We welcome additional qualifications such as a PhD, but it is not necessary.

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What key skills do you look for in a candidate hoping to train as a patent examiner?

We require degree-level knowledge (or equivalent industrial experience) in a relevant technical field and an ability to apply that knowledge in practical situations.  Analytical skills are important in the role and candidates should be able to analyse, understand and evaluate technically complex scientific and/or engineering information and an ability to reach conclusions quickly, accurately and decisively. Communication important in the role and a strong ability to express ideas effectively, both orally and in writing, and with sensitivity and respect for others is necessary.

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Do you need any prior knowledge of law before applying to become a patent examiner?

No – we are more concerned with candidates having knowledge in a relevant technical field. Upon joining the office you will undertake a two month full-time training program. This is comprised of a series of lectures, tutorials and coursework which are delivered by experience patent examiners. The course will teach you the basics of UK patent law and provide you with enough legal knowledge to get started on the job.

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What training and support do you offer to trainee patent examiners at the Intellectual Property Office?

Upon joining the office you will undertake a two month full-time training program. This is comprised of a series of lectures, tutorials and coursework which are delivered by experienced patent examiners. The course will teach you the basics of UK patent law and provide you with enough legal knowledge to get started on the job.

After the training course is complete, you will move to an examining group and start working on real cases. You will be assigned a revising officer, who will go through your work with you and provide guidance. Your revising officer will identify any further training that may be useful for you to attend and help you to understand legal aspects that you have not previously encountered.

You will have the opportunity to attend many other further training courses throughout your career as an examiner. After 2-4 years in the office examiners are offered the opportunity to do a Diploma in Intellectual Property Law.

As well as legal training, examiners are also encouraged to attend technical training to keep up to date with advances in their technical field. This may be attending conferences, lectures or product exhibitions and may take place internally or externally.

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What is your recruitment process like?

All applications for patent examiner roles must be submitted via the Civil Service Jobs website by filling in an application form. Progression to the interview stage is based on if you have sufficiently demonstrated the necessary competencies that are outlined in the application form.

There is a single interview, which will consist of some questions alongside interactive short tasks. These are designed to assess your analytical skills and allow you to demonstrate your technical knowledge. There will also a short written task.  After the interview we provide a tour of our office and the facilities and benefits we offer.

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Learn more about the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) and their job opportunities here.

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