• Name: Matthew Spencer
  • Job Title: Partner
  • Location: Cambridge
  • University: Cambridge
  • Degree: BA and MSci Natural Sciences
  • Areas of Specialism: Life Sciences

Matthew Spencer joined Boult Wade Tennant in 2001. After qualifying as a Chartered Patent Attorney he set up a Biotechnology and Life Science practice in Cambridge for Boult Wade Tennant. In 2008 he became a Partner at the firm.

Choosing a career in patents

My introduction to the world of patent law was fairly typical; certainly I hear many a similar story when interviewing potential new recruits for our group. Following completion of a laboratory based project in the final year of my undergraduate degree, I was not convinced that a life at the bench would suit me. A visit to the university careers service suggested the role of a patent attorney could fit the bill; a heady mix of new science and innovation but none of the tedious pipetting!

I investigated my options and was offered a Herschel Smith scholarship to complete an MSc in Intellectual Property Law at Queen Mary, University of London. After speaking to various people in the industry and my university tutors, I decided that strengthening my scientific credentials would be more valuable in terms of gaining entry into the patent profession. Another year in the lab was enough to convince me that a PhD was not for me and during that period I applied for a position as a trainee patent attorney.

Typical and not so typical tasks

I am not sure there is such a thing in this job. Today, for example, I am visiting our London office to interview a potential new recruit. Once I have reviewed all of the emails received overnight, I have two deadlines to deal with and also need to call a European Patent Office examiner to discuss a hearing I am due to attend next week in Munich.

The consistent aspects are that I am always busy and have multiple tasks to complete each and every day. Generally, my role involves everything from writing and prosecuting patents, to representing clients at hearings, to creating marketing strategies with colleagues and building our team. As a partner I am also active in business development and this involves establishing relationships with prospective clients, often necessitating business trips abroad.

Why I enjoy being a patent attorney

The office has a relaxed atmosphere but we are committed to offering a first rate service to clients. I also value being part of a partnership with a collegiate atmosphere. Everyone is very supportive of one another.

Of course, I relish the day to day work. Understanding a client’s business and being able to give them the advice they need is both challenging and hugely rewarding. Recently, one of my clients was about to launch a product and we had not yet secured grant of their European patent covering the product. We were summoned to a hearing at the European Patent Office in Munich shortly before the launch date; the Patent Office examiner was inclined to refuse our application.

Together with the client, we reviewed the product in detail and determined exactly what we had to define in order to ensure the product would be covered by the patent. This allowed me in turn to develop a strategy for the hearing. The hearing went to plan and I was able to persuade the examiner to allow the patent application so as to protect the product in time for launch. The opportunity to make a positive difference is a daily one and I think this is perhaps the key to my enjoyment of the job.

Objectives and goals for the future

One central aim is to continue to grow the Biotechnology and Life Sciences group throughout the firm and its four office locations. I think it’s very important that we continue to recruit the highest quality candidates in order to ensure our clients continue to receive a superb level of service.

On a personal level, I look forward to developing my role within the partnership at Boult Wade Tennant. I have recently become a father for the first time so I would also like to make sure I can achieve the most elusive of goals – a healthy work/life balance – being home for bath time is a key goal!

Advice if you’re considering patents

I won’t lie; the industry is fiercely competitive. The volume and quality of applications we receive on a regular basis is phenomenal. I often wonder quite how I managed to land a job in the first place. Having said that, we look for people with a well rounded CV. Of course academic performance is central to any successful application. We expect to see excellent A levels and a first or 2.1 at least, in a relevant technical subject. More and more frequently candidates have postgraduate experience, often to PhD level (especially in my technical field).

However, it is also important that the candidate has other interests. A key skill in our job is time management and being able to handle multiple live matters. If a candidate can achieve a good degree whilst also running a club or competing in their sport of choice, this bodes well in terms of the skill set needed in our profession. Persistence is also a key asset. Whilst some of the larger firms recruit on a regular timetable, many firms recruit on an ‘as and when’ basis. This means that your CV may arrive at a time when a firm is not recruiting. However, I would recommend sending your CV again in six months time. Things may have changed by then.

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