The ability to work at the forefront of science without having to wear a white coat and safety goggles is one of the reasons why I decided to pursue a career as a patent attorney. The profession allows you to work at the cutting edge of modern technology without having to focus on one narrow field. I first became aware of the profession when I studied intellectual property (IP) as part of my undergraduate degree.
The course covered IP in general, but it was patents that were of most interest to me. I am also very interested in mechanics and have built kit cars in the past, therefore the chance to work with mechanical inventions in my day job was an added bonus.
I decided to take the postgraduate diploma course in IP Law at the University of Manchester as I believed that this would provide me with a good base on which to start my career and would also demonstrate my commitment to the job to potential employers. I was fortunate enough to receive a scholarship from the Intellectual Property Education Trust.
Wilson Gunn was my first choice as they offered the opportunity to work in all fields of IP. I was also impressed by the training they offered and their strong reputation. From day one, I was given real cases to work on for some of our larger clients, providing a real taste of the job.
One particular project I was involved with was working as part of a team carrying out an extensive licensing and assignment project, this entailed working with foreign associates in more than 170 separate jurisdictions.
This provided me with an insight into the IP systems across the world and allowed me to build relationships with foreign attorneys. IP really is a global industry.
At Wilson Gunn, each technical assistant works with a partner who provides ongoing support and supervision.
My current workload reflects the work carried out by my supervising partner and is balanced between large and small clients. I can be working with a multinational company filing patent applications all over the world one minute and a lone inventor looking to gain protection only in the UK the next.
My work typically includes drafting new patent applications, prosecuting patent applications before the UKIPO and the EPO and carrying out searches for prior art. With greater experience, I have naturally taken on a more demanding case load. This is exciting but can be intimidating at times. However, everyone is very approachable and I can seek advice on difficult matters when necessary.
Now I deal with new enquiries from people, sometimes with no background in IP, who are looking to obtain protection for their invention. More often than not, new enquiries cover a wide range of matters so the broad experience I have gained whilst at Wilson Gunn has proven to be very useful.
Training positions in the profession are highly sought after and the interview process is competitive. Prior to being offered an interview, I was asked to write a description of a simple mechanical object and explain how it worked. During the interview itself, I discussed my academic background and interest in the profession with two of the partners. I was also presented with a piece of technology which was new to me and asked to describe its features and how it worked. This is more difficult than it sounds, especially when under pressure.
In order to become a patent attorney, it is necessary to have a degree in science or engineering. You must also have a thorough understanding of the law. However, most trainees have no background in the law and a lot of time is spent learning the ins and outs of the relevant legislation. Training is typically done on the job, but there are also opportunities to attend external training courses.
In fact, a number of Wilson Gunn partners are tutors on these external courses. The courses not only provide an invaluable understanding of the law, they are also a great way to get to know other trainees. The profession itself is relatively small so you will probably spend your career working alongside the same people.
No two days are the same in the profession but prioritising your workload is something that is done every day. Patent attorneys live and die by deadlines.
The most stressful part of the job is therefore centred on deadlines. It is possible to plan deadlines in advance but late instructions from clients or foreign attorneys can lead to shorter than ideal deadlines! The work can also be mentally demanding and requires a great degree of attention to detail.
I really enjoy the variety in my work and the satisfaction I get when I successfully help someone obtain good protection for their invention.
My future plans are quite simple – to pass my exams and qualify. The exams are quite lengthy and difficult but I think everyone would agree that it is worth it in the end. My advice for someone looking to get into the industry would be that they need to have strong attention to detail and to be persistent.