“Our profession is somewhat special in that each day provides a new and unique challenge to the one before.” Lucy Johnson is a Partner and Head of the Engineering Group at HGF. She also leads the Newcastle team. Here, she tells us about how her career has developed since qualifying in 2006.
Why I started a career in Intellectual Property:
Having studied Pharmacology at Dundee University I went on to post graduate study in the Life Sciences in Aberdeen. During my postgraduate studies, I began to appreciate that learning about the advancements in science and writing about those changes was a more fulfilling aspect of my career than was the laboratory work itself. Having been gently encouraged to review a prospectus for Queen Mary and Westfield College in London by a university friend, I took the plunge and spent a year in London doing a MSc degree in the Management of Intellectual Property. As part of that degree I obtained an exemption from my Foundation Chartered Institute exams. So, my journey into Intellectual Property began rather more through serendipity than by design.
As my career has developed through times in-house with a large multi-national corporate business and also in private practice, I have developed expertise in how patents and other intellectual property rights can be used to underpin the plans of businesses to grow and develop. There is a great satisfaction to be gained from developing and implementing an intellectual property strategy and preparing patent, design and trade mark applications that underpin the growth and value of companies of all shapes and sizes.
Key skills as a patent attorney:
Our profession is somewhat special in that each day provides a new and unique challenge to the one before. Our role is to talk to a wide range of people, from inventors to business personnel, and to understand not only the innovation at the cutting edge of technology but also how that fits into a business and its commercial aspirations. I have found that as my career has developed as a patent attorney, my toolkit has expanded to include technical and legal expertise together with written and oral advocacy skills. I have also gained skills in listening to and understanding a wide range of people with an incredibly broad technical expertise.
I’ve also benefitted from mentors and coaches with both legal and commercial expertise. It is through the nurturing of these coaches and mentors that I have developed a much greater understanding of how my skills as a Patent Attorney can be utilised to the commercial advantage of the businesses and inventors I work with.
There is no getting away from the fact that the profession requires us to take a great number of exams. Once I had earned my bachelor’s degree in Pharmacology, I went on to study for an MSc in Intellectual Property Law followed by my advanced papers for both the UK exams and also the European qualifying exams. Since I entered the profession, the European exams now involve an additional pre-qualifying exam so the finals exams are no less onerous than they were when I sat them some time ago. There is no shortcut for the effort required to pass those exams. A large amount of individual motivation and study to learn the details of substantive and procedural law in the key jurisdictions is an essential step along this
The benefit is that in studying for these exams the information that you learn and the practices that you develop in discipline and self-study are those required for a long and successful career in the patent profession. Each day we are tested in our knowledge of procedural and substantive law, therefore, spending time developing those skills in passing the exams is time well invested in your career.
In addition to being a patent attorney, I have many other responsibilities within my practice. I lead teams both in Newcastle and across a number of jurisdictions as Head of Engineering. As well as my Intellectual Property skills I have been fortunate to develop my management and people skills along the way.
As with many careers the first step into the patent profession is often the hardest step. Obtaining a degree in a science or equivalent subject is crucial for the UK and European profession and that degree is the first step along a road that involves many examinations that will require you to stay motivated and put in hours of self-study to achieve your goal.
If you are fortunate enough to be able to do some work experience with someone within the patent profession you will take a good step forward in understanding the job, the skills and the personal skills you are going to need as well as the challenges that you will face along the way. Many firms now will offer work experience or internship posts to allow you to experience the day to day life of a patent attorney whilst you are still at university and I would encourage those keen on the profession to take up one of these posts.
The interview and application process can be somewhat gruelling and you will need to be persistent if you want to find the right role for you. Employers will be looking for analytical and linguistic ability as well as a natural enthusiasm towards innovation and an attention to detail that you will need for many years to come. Being able to understand technical innovation that is far from your own technical background is particularly useful when you think you are going to encounter any number of technological advances as you enter the profession and they won’t always be in the subject matter that you have already spent years studying. You need to be able to demonstrate that you can communicate well in both written and verbal forms and that you can communicate complex ideas clearly and concisely when called upon.
Having said all of that, for those who want to set foot into the Intellectual Property profession, this is the most rewarding of careers offering daily challenges in a wide range of technological areas. I would thoroughly commend this profession to you all!