Why did you choose a career in the industry?
Mid-way through my PhD I started to seriously contemplate my career options. I had always thought I would end up working for a pharmaceutical company, indeed my PhD was sponsored by one such company, but having enjoyed running my own PhD project and effectively choosing what I would like to do each day, I soon realised that I needed a job where I could be the master of my own destiny and manage my own workload.
I explored the possibility of taking a post-doctoral position in the States, and went for several interviews, but decided that, although I loved my research area, I wanted to try my hand at something new, without wasting all the knowledge I had gathered during my 7 years at university.
A colleague in my lab put me in touch with a good friend who was a patent attorney. I didn’t know much at all about patents at that point and I certainly wasn’t familiar with this career. We ended up having a long discussion about the profession and after some additional research (on the CIPA, UKIPO and EPO websites, as well as this publication) I felt certain this was the career for me. The combination of writing and science in a commercially focussed role was right up my street.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
For me, the key to a happy work life is variety. Not only in the types of clients I serve, from start-ups through to corporates in a wide range of life science and chemical technology areas, but also in the types of work I undertake for those clients. The patent process involves many different tasks, including drafting the patent application, prosecuting the patent application before various patent offices, and sometimes even defending a granted patent should its validity be challenged. All are enjoyable and challenging for different reasons. I particularly enjoy patent prosecution, as you get to be creative with argumentation and in the life sciences field the laws on what types of claims are allowable can vary from country to country.
The life of a patent attorney is typically ruled by deadlines, so some days I inevitably have to knuckle down on a particular case to meet an urgent deadline, but I find that if I’m organised I can often choose what I would like to work on day to day.
A big part of my job is to work with my fellow partners (who are also good friends) in managing the firm and also to bring in new work. This is hugely enjoyable. Overseas trips to conferences and to meet with foreign associates are a regular occurrence, as are local events, pitches and speculative meetings with potential clients. Every day is busy and fulfilling, and I very much enjoy the career I have chosen.
Do you have any advice for anyone wanting to get into the industry?
The patent profession is a small one and competition for trainee positions can be intense. The calibre of candidates is typically of a high standard and employers are often looking for candidates with education and skills in particular technical areas. My advice would be to apply for numerous positions and not to be disheartened if you don’t get invited to interview at your initially preferred firm. You might just find that one of the other firms actually suits you better.
Spend time getting your CV in great shape and think about how you can make yourself stand out from other candidates. For example, aside from setting out details of your degree(s), list any industrial experience/placements you may have undertaken or languages you may speak, and try to demonstrate attention to detail and clear and concise communication skills. Learn as much about the profession as possible to make sure it is the right career for you.