“Joining the partnership has kept the job interesting. I see it as a bonus that some years in, just as I was getting the hang of the day job, I needed to start learning how to run a law firm” – Anna Hatt talks us through her career, from completing her Masters degree to becoming Partner at Beck Greener LLP (“Beck Greener”).
Why did you choose a career in the industry?
My mother said while I was still at school that I should become a patent attorney. I didn’t listen: I had a future in scientific research in mind. However, in my masters year at university, and with a little practical experience of the highs and lows of lab work, I heard a patent attorney speak at the careers service. I realised Mum had been right all along.
I liked the idea of seeing the results of successful research, without working through the less successful bits. I was also interested in writing, languages and solving puzzles. Suddenly I was very enthusiastic about a career which combined these areas.
Even better, I was told that the patent attorney culture was friendly and did not involve long hours compared with other branches of the law. I liked the idea of being paid while I studied for post-graduate qualifications (and that was before tuition fees – of course it is even more important for people entering the profession now). I hoped that the profession would fit well with having children in due course. That has been the case: I now have three children and work part-time.
I am very happy that I chose to become a patent attorney. Other patent attorneys generally seem to feel the same way.
What is a ‘typical’ day like for you?
A typical day at the office for me would be dull to watch. I move green and orange files from one heap to another, while reading, typing, speaking on the telephone and talking to colleagues.
From the inside, however, it is varied and exciting. First I might be reporting that we have successfully revoked a competitor’s patent so that the client can launch its new food carton design. Next perhaps I might turn to drafting a patent application for a fish feed. Then I could be arguing with a Patent Office somewhere round the world that my client’s blood glucose sensor will offer a better alternative for people with diabetes.
Since joining the partnership in 2011, my job also involves management responsibilities. There are often formal or informal lunchtime meetings with other partners. If there are no meetings, I have lunch with colleagues (which usually also involves crossword solving) or take part in a firm-wide knitting group that meets every fortnight.
Other tasks to do in the office or at home in the evenings are reviewing court decisions on patent cases to write case reports for the Chartered Institute journal, and writing for the Chartered Institute textbook.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
I love the fact that by definition our job always involves dealing with something new – if it’s not a new idea, you can’t patent it.
I also enjoy the job’s international nature, and the chance to interact with clients, attorneys and Patent Office staff from a wide variety of countries.
Joining the partnership has kept the job interesting. I see it as a bonus that some years in, just as I was getting the hang of the day job, I needed to start learning how to run a law firm.
On a day-to-day basis I most enjoy the red-letter days, with trips to visit clients or to the European Patent Office. It is a real thrill to see a product you have worked on being made on a factory scale. EPO hearings involve a day of argument with a lot of thinking on one’s feet, and very clear feedback in the form of an immediate decision on who has won.
What would you like to achieve in the future?
I would like to continue to get better at the job. 19 years in, I still feel that there is a lot more to learn. I enjoy discussing interesting or tricky points of law with more senior colleagues and look forward to more of this in the future. I would also like to continue increasing my role in training trainees.
Do you have any advice for anyone wanting to get into the industry?
You have made a good start by consulting the IP Careers guide! It can be difficult to get a trainee position and it is worth applying to lots of firms. If possible, visit a firm before you start applying.
Think carefully about your covering letter. Our work involves clear communication and we are looking to see whether this is a strength of yours. A short, well-written letter is usually better than a long one.
Interviews will typically involve a discussion of how a mechanical object works. This comes more naturally to some candidates than others, and can be difficult for chemists and biochemists. If phrases like “rack and pinion” are outside your comfort zone, it is worth reading a basic mechanical textbook such as “The New Way Things Work” by David Macaulay. If you find such a book hard to put down, that is a good sign.