Alistair Hindle entered the patent profession in 1998 after studying Natural Sciences (Physics) and obtaining a PhD, both at the University of Cambridge. He worked in Glasgow and Cambridge before setting up a new practice in Edinburgh in 2005.
After completing my undergraduate degree, the natural progression for me was to become a research scientist. However, when I attended a talk by a patent attorney, I thought that his job sounded much more interesting than mine! It was at this point that I started to think about a career change, although it was not until the later stages of my PhD, several years later, that I applied for jobs in the profession.
After working as a trainee patent attorney at a firm in Glasgow and then qualifying at a firm in Cambridge, I set up in business in Edinburgh in 2005 aiming to create a firm which excelled in terms of both the legal and commercial quality of the advice which it provides. I wanted every client who comes into our office to leave feeling that we understand them, we understand their business and we are the right people to help them. We have a positive working environment and a commitment to excellence and strive to protect that ethos.
What is a typical day like?
In my role as a Director, my time is predominantly split between client work and managing the company. Client work is a mixture of concentrated work tasks (drafting patent applications, responding to examination reports from patent offices, providing opinions, conducting due diligence and so forth) and providing guidance to and meeting with clients. My role also involves discussing cases with colleagues as well as providing guidance and training to trainees.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
Like other patent attorneys, I enjoy working with a wide range of technologies. Probably the thing that I like most about the work of a patent attorney is the constant intellectual challenge. I have always been interested in business and I enjoy the commercial aspects of the work.
Given the nature of my business, I spend a lot of time working with entrepreneurial clients, giving practical advice to help them make business decisions. It is inspiring to be part of a fledging business’s journey and to support them as they grow. I have enjoyed helping start-up clients develop, obtain investment and become larger companies and, in some cases, be acquired by global corporations.
Unusually, I qualified as both a patent attorney and a trade mark attorney. This has become harder to do in recent years, but I enjoy being able to answer client’s initial questions on a range of intellectual property topics.
Do you have any advice for anyone wanting to get into the industry?
Training as a patent attorney requires a lot of hard work and you need to have a genuine commitment to it. When I made the decision to become a patent attorney, I spoke to various patent attorneys and attended undergraduate and LLM lecture courses in Intellectual Property. This helped me to confirm my interest in the profession to myself, and to demonstrate to recruiters that I had some knowledge as to what I was getting myself into!
One of the difficulties with starting in the patent profession is ‘red ink syndrome’. You will have been successful in your studies and used to being an expert, particularly if you come from academia, and it can be difficult to deal with finding that, to start with at least, pretty much all of the work you do will come back from your supervisor with corrections. If you relish positive feedback, you’ll go far, but if you take criticism personally, or favour speed over quality, you won’t pick up the skills you need. You can learn some of the work of a patent attorney from books and courses, but many of the key skills can only really be learned by spending time working for experienced attorneys who are interested in and competent at training.
I would advise anyone entering the profession to develop a broad base of experience and knowledge. If you have a choice of traineeship, there is a lot to be said for favouring a position which gives you a range of experience. You can specialise later.