Simon Foster studied Materials Science at UMIST and Management of Intellectual Property at Queen Mary University of London. He launched his own firm, Patent Boutique, in 2004 and has worked in both industry and private practice since qualifying as a patent attorney in 2009.
It all started while on an industrial placement during the third year of my degree. The research project I had been working on was selected for patent protection. I was put in contact with an external patent attorney whose job was to protect my invention and within minutes it became abundantly clear that their job was infinitely more interesting than mine (particularly the endless pipetting). So, I took stock and set about investigating the profession and how I was going to break into it.
I scoured websites, met with patent attorneys, attended open days, arranged work experience and did everything I could to place myself in the best position for entering the profession, including signing up for the master’s at QMUL.
After finishing my masters, my first role in the profession was with a global FMCG business supporting their fabric and homecare business. As is common for in-house trainees, I was thrown straight in at the deep end with a portfolio of European patent applications and oppositions that were my responsibility. The in-house training programme and mentorship were second-to-none and being part of a Europe-wide network of trainees within the same organisation meant there was always a friendly face to discuss training with.
Whilst still a trainee, I moved to London for an in-house role with a global leader in the generic pharmaceutical sector. Again, I worked on a portfolio of patent applications; however, now with responsibility for their global, rather than purely European, prosecution. Then, as my experience developed, I provided clearance opinions, supported litigations across Europe, and attended opposition and appeal hearings at the European Patent Office.
Moving to Private Practice
A couple of years after qualification, I took the opportunity to transition to private practice, joining the London office of a regional firm of patent and trade mark attorneys. I enjoyed the challenges of working in a firm and it gave me the understanding of the business of providing patent advice. In the aftermath of the financial crisis, and with the tools afforded by state-of-the-art technology, it seemed that my prospects might be better capitalised outside of a ‘traditional’ partnership.
Going It Alone
In 2014 I set out on my own and launched Patent Boutique. Within a year I was joined by two further partners, and we have since recruited experienced patent attorneys, trainees, and an excellent professional support team.
As a partner of the firm my time is split between professional work, business development, and business management. Professional work is a mixture of drafting patent applications, responding to communications from patent offices, providing legal opinions, and meeting with clients. Managing the business may include anything from updating the website to choosing new office furniture or strategic decisions on recruitment and business direction. Whereas business development includes attending conferences and traveling abroad to meet with current or potential clients. And last, but by no means least, my role includes providing guidance and training to the firm’s trainees.
The firm has expanded rapidly, and I am proud of the fantastic colleagues and clients we have acquired in such a short window of time. We have forged a contemporary and open-minded culture which allows our employees to flourish while enjoying themselves and their work: long may it continue.
• Proofread your applications to firms, then proofread them again, and then ask family and friends to proofread them: any silly mistakes, e.g. typos, an email directed to the wrong firm (it happens), or the like, and your application will be destined for one place: the shredder!
• If you get a few rejections while applying, don’t get downhearted.
• It sounds obvious but aim to pass your exams in as few attempts as possible, preferably first time – it gets harder to pass with each resit because there is only one set of past papers. The exams are not hard to pass, but they are easy to fail.