I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do after finishing my physics degree. After learning about the role of a patent attorney, I thought that the job could offer me a mix of problem solving and exposure to new technology in a wide variety of technical fields. Now, two years in, I’ve worked on everything from LIDAR and neural networks to toothbrushes and textiles.
As a trainee at E+F, you work primarily for one partner/attorney. This dictates whether you mainly prosecute existing applications or draft new ones. I mainly do prosecution work, with a small amount of drafting mixed in. As I’ve become more experienced, I’ve also had the opportunity to contribute to oppositions and appeals.
A standard day for me is spent prosecuting patent applications. I read an application and consider the examiner’s objections to it. Next, I form a strategy for addressing the objections and then write a response to the examiner. Every application is different and each objection must be addressed in a unique way, so each case brings a new challenge to overcome. Common objections are that the invention is not new (it is identical to some earlier device), or that it isn’t inventive (normally meaning that it would be obvious to modify the earlier device to create the invention). Overcoming these objections is where I get to be creative, either having to find some difference that the examiner has overlooked, or arguing that the differences have an unexpected effect or solve a problem that the examiner has not considered.
If, instead of prosecution, you mainly do drafting work, your day will look more like this: It starts with a document from an inventor describing their new invention – what it does, how it works and how it is built. From there, you compare the invention to existing devices, looking for important differences. Next, you write a description of the invention (in standard English), a set of claims listing the essential elements of the invention that the patent will actually protect (written in patent-English, which takes a while to get used to), and draw diagrams depicting the invention. Combined, these make up the majority of a patent application.
As a new trainee, you will start working, under supervision, on real cases from the first day. It can feel very daunting and takes a long time to really get to grips with it, but you will get plenty of guidance and patience along the way. As you become more experienced, you will gain confidence and be able to work on cases with less guidance.
The qualification process
It takes around four years for a trainee to qualify as a patent attorney, and the process involves sitting multiple exams. In part you learn on the job, becoming more familiar with the law and better at drafting and prosecution work over time. Training also involves educational courses, and for one of the sets of exams, a term at Queen Mary University. However, you should expect to commit part of your time outside of work to studying if you want to succeed. Ultimately, this is a legal job, and to pass the exams you will need to be able to remember the relevant laws and rules, and apply them to real world scenarios. It is very different from studying a STEM subject, and in my opinion requires a lot more time and effort. If, having finished university, you never want to study or see an exam paper again, then this may not be the job for you.
The atmosphere at E+F is excellent. Everyone is friendly and willing to have a chat or offer advice/assistance. Trainees are usually grouped two or three to an office, meaning that you will always have a friendly face nearby willing to give you a second opinion. Before Covid, we (the trainees) would meet for lunch most days of the week, and often do other activities together after work. Roughly once a month, the London and Sevenoaks offices would meet up for drinks. While this has been paused due to Covid, I have no doubt that we will all pick back up where we left off once we return to the office.