I was introduced to the subject of patents at a science and engineering careers fair and was instantly attracted to the opportunity to work within a broad range of scientific areas. I also liked the idea of being involved in the latest scientific developments, without having to do the bench work myself.
I joined Beck Greener straight after graduating with a Masters in Chemistry and have now been working here for two years. Since my first day in the office I have been working on ‘real work’. Of course, when I started, I knew very little about patents and even less about patent law but I am gradually becoming familiar with the various aspects of patent prosecution.
I spend time with my supervising partner discussing the issues that are raised by each case and any letters that I draft are reviewed before they are signed out. We also have regular mentoring sessions for all of the trainees to discuss how everything is going and to make sure that we are being exposed to a diverse range of work.
Last September I attended the Queen Mary Certificate Course in Intellectual Property Law, which is an intensive 13-week lecture course designed specifically for trainee patent attorneys. The course provided me with an excellent introduction to intellectual property law and the perfect opportunity to form friendships with trainees from other firms. Although I spent most of my Christmas reading statutes and case law, it was definitely worth it to gain exemption from the CIPA foundation level examinations and become ‘part-qualified’.
I plan to sit one of the four UK final qualifying patent exams this November, and the recently introduced EQE pre-examination in February 2013. Although the amount of ‘out of office’ work can seem overwhelming at times there is lots of help and advice on offer. I have already been encouraged to attend external tutorials run by the Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys (CIPA) and I am currently enrolled on a year long lecture course run by the Centre for International Intellectual Property Studies (CEIPI).
Types of work
On a day to day basis, there is variety. One day you may be drafting a specification relating to the latest advances in lithium ion batteries. The next you may be preparing arguments to convince an examiner why a particular hairspray is novel and inventive.
My average day would be spent in the office, working through my ‘to do’ pile or dealing with instructions which come in during the day. Part of the job is learning how to prioritise the tasks you need to do. This is based in part on the official deadlines that have been set but also on how your actions will affect your relationship with your client.
The majority of my work involves preparing responses to Examination and Search Reports from the European Patent Office (EPO) and the UK Intellectual Property Office (IPO). With every new case there is a new invention to learn about, as I had hoped, I am constantly using my scientific training. One of my favourite aspects of the job is attempting to find ways to overcome the examiner’s objections, which often involves a great deal of creativity and persuasive writing. It is certainly a challenge, but it is very satisfying when you develop an argument which persuades the examiner to withdraw their objection.
Outside the office
The profession is not all about work and revising for exams. The CIPA Informals committee is very active in organising social events such as pub quizzes, summer balls and an annual boat party along the Thames.
As a firm we also have annual summer and Christmas parties and throughout the year we take part in inter-firm events such as softball games for which I am now a captain and the annual Informals five-a-side football competition.
Advice for anyone wanting to get into the industry
Unfortunately the industry has no standard ‘graduate recruitment programme’ as such. With the exception of a few large firms (which tend to recruit several graduates or postgraduates each year) most firms only recruit as and when the need arises. Therefore, unlike many other industries, there is no best time to apply.
I began to apply during the Christmas vacation of my final year at university and sent out further applications over Easter. I started by working my way through the Directory of Patent Attorneys on the CIPA website, and applied to every firm advertising a vacancy. I then sent around 20 speculative application letters to other firms – just in case! Since discussing this approach with other trainees I would advise sending even more speculative applications if possible.
Advice for the interview process
In addition to any ‘normal’ interview preparation (i.e. reading the firm’s website, re-reading your cover letter and CV, etc.), I would also advise spending some time reading a few real life patent specifications, in an attempt to familiarise yourself with typical ‘patent language’. It is inevitable that during an interview for this role you will be asked to give a technical description of a simple mechanical object, so it helps to have a few choice terms to mind.
It may also be helpful to familiarise yourself with the IPO website and the other types of intellectual property (i.e. trade marks, copyright and design) that exist.