Peter Silcock has been with patent attorney firm J A Kemp for over ten years. He joined as a qualified patent attorney in 2005. Peter explains how and why he entered the profession and what drives his passion for it today. He explains what makes his role as a partner varied, interesting and challenging.
Why did you choose a career as a patent attorney?
As I completed my doctorate in chemistry, I was looking for a career where my scientific training would be directly relevant. At first a research and development role in industry seemed the logical choice. Through the university milk round I gained a place as an R&D chemist in the management training scheme of a large company. I enjoyed analysing and reporting our scientific results and meeting customers, but the lab work was less stimulating than my doctoral research had been. There was also no clear route and timetable for career progression. I did however learn about the patent profession and was attracted by:
- The unique blend of science, intellectual property law and business skills involved in the patent attorney role.
- The value of the professional qualifications, fast career progression, high employability and access to a myriad of new opportunities.
- The continual exposure to cutting-edge science.
- The intellectually stimulating and rewarding work that I would be tackling on a daily basis.
Since I became a trainee patent attorney in 2002, I have enjoyed my career immensely and never looked back. After three years of training and exams, I became fully qualified in 2005. At that point I joined the Chemistry and Pharmaceuticals Group at J A Kemp, where I could focus my new skills in my particular area of scientific interest. At J A Kemp I advise a wide range of clients in the chemical and medical fields, ranging from university tech transfer organisations to small businesses, large corporations and overseas attorney clients. I became a partner of the firm in 2012.
What is a typical day like for you?
I am based in J A Kemp’s Oxford office. A large proportion of my work is focused on university clients, spinout companies and local tech businesses at the frontiers of science. I spend quite a lot of a typical day at my desk, but I am also often out meeting my clients to discuss how to protect their latest technologies. When I am at my desk, I frequently telephone clients, this often being the most efficient – and friendliest! – way to communicate.
As a partner, I am also responsible for winning new business for the firm. I regularly attend networking events to meet new contacts. I also get involved in running seminars and events for the firm.
Patent law around the world is continually evolving. I am responsible for keeping track of a particular area of the law and developing the firm’s practice and policy in relation to that area. As a qualified attorney I attend regular ‘Continuing Professional Development’ (CPD) sessions where new developments are discussed with colleagues. I also organise a tutorial programme for our UK finals exam candidates.
So a typical day will involve at least one meeting in addition to desk work. This could be a client meeting, a partners’ meeting, or a different kind of internal meeting about, say, our business development activities, changes in patent law, or a patent exam tutorial. I may also fit in some networking that day, for example at a business breakfast or evening seminar.
The client work itself is hugely varied, not just the technologies I see and the clients I work with, but also the different kinds of work a patent attorney must cover. On a given day I could be drafting a new patent application, responding to a patent examiner’s report or advising a client on freedom to operate in view of third party patents. I could be preparing an opposition against a client’s competitor’s European patent, or indeed helping to defend one of my client’s patents against someone else’s opposition. Oppositions culminate in hearings at the European Patent Office, which is based in Munich, so on a given day I might find myself speaking at such a hearing on behalf of my client.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
Satisfying the firm’s clients and helping them to achieve their business aims! Our work provides a variety of challenges. We manage many cases for our clients and often have a limited amount of time to unravel issues relating to patent law, complex technology and our clients’ commercial needs. It’s immensely satisfying to complete difficult jobs under time pressure and achieve great results for clients. This might for example involve getting to grips with a client’s new technology and drafting and filing a patent application to cover it by a particular deadline. Or the particular challenge may be overcoming difficult patent office objections to obtain a valuable patent for the client, or defending a client’s key patent against a third party opposition. An example of the latter in my case involved a US client’s patent that protected their multi-million dollar medical device product. The opposition process lasted over two years and culminated in a day-long hearing at the European Patent Office. I put forward our defence to the panel of opposition examiners in front of the client and fielded various attacks advanced by the other side on the day. You never quite know what the other side will do at an opposition hearing, or what stance the European Patent Office will take. Happily, however, this one resulted in the patent being maintained and a very pleased client!
What would you like to achieve in the future?
I would like to continue to help my existing clients, bring in new work for the firm and handle interesting patent cases. I would like to continue to progress within the firm and help drive our future development.
Do you have any advice for anyone wanting to get into the profession?
As soon as I learned about the profession I was sold on it and determined to get my foot in the door. Personally I didn’t have any doubts about having to study for professional exams in order to become qualified and looked forward to gaining the necessary expertise. If you feel that way too, and if you think that you have the necessary skills to become a patent attorney, that’s a great sign. My advice would be to obtain a list of private practice firms (and companies in industry) offering trainee positions and apply to them all! Many organisations only have one or two openings annually for new trainees. So if you are serious about becoming a patent attorney you will need to focus on getting yourself in somewhere and getting qualified. You will then be in a position to take stock and decide in which direction to take your career as a patent attorney.