• Name: Sarah-Jane Crawford
  • Job Title: Associate Patent Attorney
  • Location: London
  • University: Bath
  • Degree: MChem & DPhil Organic Chemistry
  • Areas of Specialism: Chemistry

Why did you choose a job in this sector/profession?

I realised quite early on during my DPhil that life as a bench chemist was not for me.  One of my main frustrations with academic research was that my chemistry knowledge was becoming too specialised and I often found it difficult to see the ‘real world’ application of the research I was doing.  The patent profession stood out as being a career that would enable me to apply the scientific knowledge and analytical skills I had developed during my academic career in a commercial setting.

Training and path to qualification

Qualifying as a Chartered UK Patent Attorney and European Patent Attorney typically takes around five years and involves sitting a number of exams over this period.  The majority of the training and preparation for these exams is on-the-job, although this is supplemented with lectures, courses and in-house tutorials. Beck Greener LLP offers a supportive and friendly working environment and everyone’s doors are always open.

What is a typical working day?

One of the things that attracted me to the patent profession was the opportunity to work in a wide variety of technological fields and it has certainly not disappointed. My clients vary from individual inventors to multinational companies and the nature of the profession means that you are learning about new technology on a daily basis. One day you can be reading about the latest advances in solar panel technology and the next about novel techniques for the site specific delivery of drugs. Every case presents its own particular issues, resulting in an intellectually stimulating and challenging working environment.

A typical day can involve drafting a new patent application or developing counter-arguments in response to a patent examiner’s argument that your client’s invention is not patentable. Beck Greener LLP encourages involvement in contentious work from an early stage in your career, and since qualifying as a European Patent attorney two years ago, I have had the opportunity to defend my clients’ patents at oral hearings at the European Patent Office before the Opposition Division and Board of Appeal.  Whilst incredibly nerve-wracking, this has certainly been a highlight of my career so far.

Over the past two years, I have been involved with the firm’s “STEM: Branching Out” project.  This has involved running “spot-the-invention” workshops at schools and providing pro bono assistance to help a student prepare and file a UK patent application for their invention.  The opportunity to work with young people and engage them with science and the patent profession has been extremely rewarding.

Outside of the office

The profession is not all about work and exams, and it is definitely possible to maintain a good work/life balance.  Beck Greener LLP is a very friendly and sociable firm and organises firm-wide annual summer and Christmas parties. There are also regular after work pub trips and we take part in the inter-firm softball games in the summer.

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

One of the key skills of a patent attorney is being able to describe the technical features of often complex inventions in a simple and logical way.  It is therefore inevitable that during an interview you will be asked to give a technical description of a simple mechanical object, either verbally or in writing.  A great way to practise is by looking at simple household objects and trying to describe both how they work and what is clever about them.

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