Andrew wanted something to stretch his communication and people skills after an enjoyable spell as an engineer in the space and automotive industries. ‘Patent Attorney’ ticked all the boxes. After 20 years as a partner, he describes his journey and current experiences.
A pattern what?
A ‘patent attorney’ I used to patiently explain but now quickly resort to my elevator pitch of ‘a lawyer that helps stop copying’. And this is perhaps the only major hazard of the job that I have experienced over my nearly 30 years in the profession – hardly anybody knows what you do!
I studied engineering at the University of Southampton and was sponsored by Racal Decca Advanced Developments (a part of Racal Defence that carried out civilian space research projects for the European Space Agency). My sponsorship included a year working in engineering before starting my university studies and good quality paid work, mostly writing firmware, during the holidays. Most of that cash was sunk into the usual student social activities and a money-pit example of ancient British Automotive engineering which would now firmly be considered in the ‘Classic’ category.
With that developing background of oily hands, after university I jumped ship from Racal and followed my passion for cars, by landing a graduate training position, as an engineer, at Jaguar Cars. I had a great time, an exciting team, a ‘proper’ job in a big company, prodding and measuring competitor vehicles from BMW and Mercedes, wangling loans of a V12 convertible for the weekend…yes that cruise control really did need checking outside an automated test cycle…
I quickly learnt though that manufacturing, and therefore engineering, in late 80s Britain was not a very promising long-term career. Jaguar had little money and ancient products, Austin Rover was little more than a joke, and Thatcher era decisions were decimating UK manufacturing. So I eventually had to grow up and look for a safer future – yes a girlfriend (now my wife) was involved!
So why the switch to IP?
Big manufacturing is fun (a minority enthusiasm perhaps?!). I still get a buzz from entering a mass production hall with heavy engineering. One of the fantastic privileges of this job is that you get frequent access to bright people and early-stage research and can indulge your passion for technology; being paid to get into the finest detail of cutting edge things. You can get all that from a good engineering job, but, if like me that isn’t quite enough, and you need to exercise your communication and people skills as well, a career as a patent attorney in private practice should probably be on your list.
IP careers had an even lower profile in the 90s than now, but when deciding what to do after Jaguar, I was lucky enough to know the daughter of a patent attorney and had been interested in what she occasionally mentioned about his work. I spent a long time talking to her father one evening and liked everything I heard – his parting words being ‘as long as you like exams you’ll get on fine’ – how true! I arranged a couple of interviews, got offered both jobs, and moved back to London. For me, that was absolutely the best career choice I have ever made.
What’s the day like?
You’ll read elsewhere about interviewing inventors, meeting and talking to senior business managers and foreign attorneys, arguing orally at Patent Offices and delivering seminars and webinars. I do all these frequently, and still thoroughly enjoy it practically all the time. For me, the variety is key here – I am easily bored if left without a challenge. I still haven’t got this job completely worked out – take with a pinch of salt anyone that says they have, as almost daily it throws up new questions that need working out from first principles, and often with an enjoyable quick discussion with colleagues. There really is rarely a dull moment.
I’ve been a partner since 1997 and worked in three different firms ranging from the largest in the UK to a 20 person, four-partner firm, half owned by me. These days, I’m operating somewhere between those extremes at Cleveland Scott York as one of 12 partners in a top tier, four office, international firm which is headquartered in London. For the last 15 years I’ve been Managing Partner in my local office.
That experience has allowed me over the years to get involved in strategy for the firm, business management and all the things that go along with that – managing cash, tax, exchange rates, investment and profits, decisions on recruitment, marketing and acquisitions, raising finance, banking and premises. That experience directly helps with my day job – many of our clients have all of this on their plate too; or have a board breathing down their neck with IP being a cost centre, a potential revenue stream and an important asset. An understanding of business management and strategy is deeply reassuring for our clients. If you can couple that with top quality IP legal advice and talk authoritatively about the commercial side of IP as well the complex legal side, your clients will love you!
Being a Partner at Cleveland Scott York
I am very lucky to be surrounded by people working at the top of their game and who share a similar outlook on how we should be delivering services to clients. When you get partnership right and have the support (and occasional gently constructive criticism!) of your partners, you will know you have found the right place to be.
We have meetings in London approximately every six weeks and an annual recess away from the offices, to consider things at a higher level. We are supported by an administration team including an experienced Practice Director who skillfully adds professional management capability to the firm and makes sure we harness our individual strengths to best effect.