• Name: Alexander Garrett
  • Job Title: Patent Advisor
  • Location: Derby
  • University: -Other UK-
  • Degree: University of Manchester, PhD (Materials) and University of Glasgow, MSci (Theoretical Physics)
  • Career Sectors: Patents
  • Areas Of Specialism: Physics
Swindell & Pearson Alexander Garrett

Why did you choose a job in this sector/profession?

By the time I’d reached the end of my research project the prospect of staying in an academic environment was no longer very appealing. Whilst I’d enjoyed conducting the research, I didn’t really have a strong desire to spend the rest of my career studying increasingly niche scientific fields.

I chose a job in patents because it seemed to provide an opportunity to not only continue learning about interesting areas of technology and science but also to learn about the elements of the law.

Another attractive element of the patent profession is the well-defined career paths. In the academic world it seemed that senior research roles were rare and it was easy for researchers to get stuck in post-doc positions with limited scope for progression.

In contrast, as trainee patent attorneys pass the various exams and become more experienced promotions are very common.

What was the application process like – any advice?

The application process for Swindell & Pearson was very straightforward. After submitting a CV and cover letter I was soon contacted by email to set up a brief telephone interview. A few days after the telephone interview I was invited to an in-person interview with two of the directors at our Derby offices.

Whilst the interview wasn’t easy, my interviewers (and eventual supervisors) were approachable and the tasks they set were challenging but, in some ways, quite fun. A few days after the in-person interview I was offered the job.

In terms of advice, I think it’s important to demonstrate that you’re genuinely interested in the profession and that you understand the challenges associated with the training/examination process.

What are your main duties/roles?

I’m still very new to the profession and so my main role at the moment is prosecuting patents with the guidance of the directors. This involves reading the documents referenced by the relevant patent office and comparing them to our client’s application.

Once we’ve found a point of difference, we can amend our application and write a letter to the patent office making arguments to support these amendments.

Prosecuting patent applications is a bit like playing “spot the difference” but with complex 30+ page documents where everyone is using different terminology for the same features.

Whilst this process can be very challenging (especially when dealing with a new technology area) it can also be very rewarding. Particularly when you manage to find a really strong argument to distinguish between your client’s invention and the documents cited by the patent office.

As I gain a bit more experience, I’m looking forward to becoming more involved in the process of drafting patent applications which involves trying to translate an inventor’s ideas into a legal definition of their invention.

Do you have any advice for anyone wanting to enter the profession?

One of the hardest things I found about joining this profession is that when you start, you’re just not very good at the job. I think I found this particularly difficult because I hate not being good at things and I’d just finished my PhD research where I’d started to feel somewhat competent.

My supervisors at Swindell & Pearson were really good at letting me know that I wasn’t expected to be perfect from my first day. However, it can still be difficult to build up your skill level from almost nothing in a new field.
I think particularly for people coming from a PhD or industry background, my main advice would be to manage your expectations of how good you’ll be at the job when you start.

Whilst that sounds quite negative, having so much to learn is also one of the things that makes the job so interesting. There are so many facets to the patent profession. Whilst the legal and technical sides are the core of what we do, many other areas are also extremely important. These include things like developing a good commercial awareness and being able to form strong working relationships.

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