• Role: Trainee Patent Attorney
  • Career Sectors: Patents
  • University: Sheffield
  • Degree: Mhys & PhD in Physics & Biophysics
  • Organisation: Secerna LLP

Thomas Kennelly

Why did you choose a job in this sector?

During the final year of my PhD I began to seriously look at what I wanted to do as a career. Whilst I knew that I didn’t want to continue in academia, I did want a career where the skills that I had developed throughout my Masters and PhD weren’t wasted.

As I carried out more research, attended careers fairs and talked to people already working in IP, I knew it was the industry in which I wanted to work. One thing that really stood out to me was the more business-oriented environment. It’s different from academia, but it really suits me.

How did you get your job at Secerna?

Funnily enough, through IP Careers. Once I knew that I wanted to work in IP, the hunt for a trainee position began. I looked for firms that had a good reputation in the industry, spotted the position at Secerna on the IP Careers website and submitted my application. That was followed by two interviews with the partners before being offered the position.

What was the application process like – any advice?

It was a case of submitting my CV and cover letter to the partners and then attending interviews where I met the partners, answered their questions and got to know the company a little better.

As far as advice, I would say that it is essential to gain as much knowledge in your chosen field as possible. Pursuing a Masters and a PhD will certainly help you gain experience, as will taking another job in a similar field following the completion of your studies. Personally, I worked at the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), where I learnt a lot about working away from a strictly academic environment.

Also, have your CV scrutinised by someone else. It’s amazing what another pair of eyes will pick up and it can be invaluable to spot areas that can be improved upon. When you get to the interview stage, you need to be honest when answering questions. Don’t give the answer that you think a potential employer wants to hear, give an answer that you believe in.

What are your main duties/roles?

I work with an array of different companies and inventors. A lot of my time is spent getting to know how their inventions work and drafting specifications alongside claims relating to these new ideas and inventions. I also review documents for the fully qualified attorneys including so-called prior art documents cited against our clients’ patent applications by a respective patent office, and prepare arguments for the grant of a patent to be submitted to the patent office in question.

I have been lucky enough to work on three oppositions whilst at Secerna. If I’m working on an opposition then I will often be carrying out research in the technical field of the invention to try to find published documents that may help us kill the patent in question. I have also had the opportunity to prepare argumentation as to why a patent may be invalid.

Like all trainees, I spend a substantial amount of time revising and attending training courses. Whilst a lot of this studying is outside of work, the practical knowledge picked up from working on cases day to day is invaluable. Secerna is very understanding in respect of my personal development and will allow me to attend training courses in the working week if necessary.

Is it a 9-5 job?

Overall, yes, it is. However, there are times, for example when a deadline needs to be met for a filing, that it can involve working outside those hours. Add in revision and exams and it can be more than 9-5.

What skills are useful in this sector/profession?

Problem solving skills are essential, as are both written and verbal language skills as you work with such a large variety of clients who all need different things. The ability to stretch language allows you to form arguments in prosecution, draft broad claims or put together oppositions.

Being precise and meticulous over details is another skill that this profession requires. Small details matter and you need to make your drafts as comprehensive as possible.

Being able to spot errors and areas that could potentially be exploited is another needed skill.

What would you like to achieve in the future?

Currently, aside from my work commitments, I’m focused on passing my exams and becoming fully qualified. After that, progressing through the ranks and hopefully becoming a well-respected attorney are my aims.

Do you have any advice for anyone wanting to get into the industry?

Your CV needs to be well written to really demonstrate your knowledge and experience whilst having no glaring errors, which goes back to having exceptional language skills. Integrity is highly important in the IP world. Don’t include anything that you cannot back up.

Also, don’t be scared to approach people, ask questions and take on board their advice. You never know who may provide you with an invaluable insight. Research potential employers to ensure a good fit with your professional and life goals. That’s what attracted me to Secerna.

Get as much interview practice as possible and work on your technique. This counts for so much. Your CV will get you the interview, but it is then that you can demonstrate your knowledge, experience and ambition to secure a job in the industry.

Finally, don’t be put off by being outside your comfort zone. If you have been in academia for a long period of time, it can be easy to stay within that area as moving away can feel scary. Take the leap and I’m sure you will enjoy it.

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