In graduate school I realised that research/academia was not the career for me. I wanted to have a career that used my scientific background in a business setting. After finishing an MSc in Immunology I worked as a project manager at a biotech company in Canada.
At the biotech company I worked closely with the in-house patent attorney and I saw how vital intellectual property can be to a business. Unlike in bench top research where you generally focus on one scientific area in great detail, I liked how as a patent attorney you have a more varied workload.
Changing careers can be daunting but having already been exposed to the type of work involved in being a patent attorney, I was confident I would enjoy working in the area. I would recommend to anyone thinking of a career in intellectual property to do some work experience either working in industry or at a patent firm before applying.
I completed an MSc in Management of Intellectual Property at Queen Mary University before applying for a technical assistant position. I worked as a technical assistant at General Electric Healthcare in Amersham and now work at Kilburn and Strode LLP.
What are your main duties?
The work at General Electric Healthcare involved prosecuting patent applications and working closely with scientists on site to draft new patent applications. An interesting element to working in-house is your workload can include a heavy business component. A typical day can involve working with both scientists and the business development team in licensing deals, freedom to operate reviews and monitoring competitor’s intellectual property.
At Kilburn & Strode I work for a variety of clients in a variety of technical fields. One morning I can be working on stem cells and the next pet food. I’ve also had the opportunity to work on secondment at Merck & Co., Inc. The area where I spend most of my day is patent prosecution, which involves formulating arguments to convince the patent examiner that an invention is patentable. The work is very deadline focused and a big responsibility that comes with this job is managing and meeting strict time lines.
The great thing about a career as a patent attorney is you are constantly challenged and there is always something more to learn from both the legal and scientific side. The down side is there are periods you have to combine studying with a full workload. In order to prepare for the patent qualifying exams the firm often offers in-house tutorials at lunch time. Although a lot of the learning comes from your day to day work and discussions with the senior attorney you work with.
What skills are useful in this profession?
Project management and time management skills are required for being a patent attorney. The job is very deadline focused and you most likely will be responsible for several different cases for different clients and being able to manage your workload is very important.
The ability to be clear and concise when communicating is a good skill to have as a patent attorney. You need to be able to explain complex issues to people who may not be legally or scientifically savvy.
Being able to work independently is also key as most of the day you will be working alone. While there are tutorials to help you prepare for the patent qualifying exams, much of the studying is self-directed.
Advice for anyone wanting to get into the industry
I’d suggest to anyone who is considering being a patent attorney to try and get some work experience in the area. It will give you an idea if the work suits you and is a great chance to network.
Attend as many patent related networking events, such as those offered by the Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys (CIPA) and chat to as many attorneys as possible.
During the interview process ask who you’ll be working for. As a trainee you can often end up working very closely with one senior attorney so it’s important that you get along.
If you’re able to obtain any commercial experience this is also highly valued in the application process.
Write directly to specific partners you may be interested in working for and whose technical field is similar to your own. If they don’t have a job available at that moment, they may be able to direct you to someone who does or hold on to your application for a later time.
Many firms hire based on a particular need at that moment in a particular technical field; therefore it’s a good idea to send speculative applications so they have it on file when needed or you might just get lucky with your timing.
Be persistent; don’t be put off if you find your background is not identical to the majority of attorneys in a firm or company.