The patent attorney profession combines law with a technical understanding of the basic science underlying new inventions. I work with a range of clients, from small start-ups to universities and large corporations, to secure patent protection in various jurisdictions worldwide for the inventions that they have created. I specialise in the chemistry and pharmaceutical fields, but the profession is open to anyone with an undergraduate degree in science, from mechanical engineering or electronics right through to biotechnology or plant science.
My job allows me to work in a business-orientated office environment whilst still having a strong connection to basic science. I particularly love the variety of work that the profession offers – no two days are the same! One day, I might be drafting a new patent application for a start-up biotech client, another I may have to formulate arguments to overcome objections raised by a Patent Examiner against an application relating to polymer chemistry, and on a few occasions I have had the opportunity to assist a partner at a hearing before the European Patent Office. These hearings take place in either Munich or The Hague when one of our clients is involved in a dispute with a third party over the validity of a recently-granted European patent. Another huge positive for me is that I have been able to take on responsibility for certain aspects of very interesting projects, often working alongside senior partners, from early on in my career.
If you are interested in becoming a patent attorney, my advice would be to find out as much about the profession as you can. Attend careers fairs and sign up for the informative open days that are offered by some firms. There are also very limited opportunities for internships and work experience. Beyond that, however, just give it a go and apply! Some firms have structured graduate recruitment schemes, but many welcome prospective applications. The biggest challenge to be aware of when joining the profession is that the qualifying exams are tough and require a lot of hard work; however, the rewards that the profession offers are worth it.
The selection process usually involves a combination of submitting written work, one or more technical interviews and possibly an HR interview. The technical interviews are actually quite fun – I think you really know whether the profession will suit you or not after you’ve experienced one. A typical task might be to describe the key features of a simple object, or to briefly summarise a research project you’ve done in terms someone with a basic undergraduate knowledge of your subject could understand.