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Patent attorneys really enjoy their work! It’s mentally stimulating, constantly varying and well paid. And it’s a friendly profession. You can even take it abroad if you want to.

To enter the profession you will need a university degree in an appropriate subject, and ‘appropriate’ here means a pure or applied science degree in reality. You can qualify eventually in the profession with other sorts of degree, but you are not likely to be taken on as an initial trainee given the competition for places. Many employers want a first or upper second, and for chemistry (especially bio-chemistry) graduates, a PhD is virtually essential.

It helps to have put yourself through the three-month post-graduate Certificate in Intellectual Property course offered by, for example, London’s Queen Mary University.

This will make you more attractive to a potential employer. QMU offers you the chance to extend this by one more term into an MSc and many people take this option. But most employers wouldn’t rate it as advantageous over the basic short course – which exempts you from the first level of professional exams if you pass the examination with which that short course ends.

There are many skills that will help you to both start and further your career in the patent profession. Below are some of the basic qualities it is helpful to possess for the job.

Comfortable working alone for large parts of the time

You won’t always have second opinions around in the way of colleagues to help you. I have always valued those second opinions but in essence, we work independently.

Steady, focused and concentrated thought

A learned skill if you start with the ability that got you your academic results to date. An inherent refusal to be distracted by interruptions helps enormously.

An ability to reach clearly reasoned conclusions

This is the core of our work. I found it was a skill I could develop and improve on with practice. You need only to understand and to be able to question the technological terms your clients are using. You don’t have to compete with them to be a better scientist or engineer than they are.

The flair to put those conclusions into persuasive written advice

When I came into this profession, I found myself having to learn just what clear, balanced, persuasive drafting really means. The good news is it’s another skill that can be learned and polished as you progress.

Confidence working in small units

Relationships with colleagues really do matter. I found my work being accepted, and processed, willingly by those I relied to turn it out, when I started to shed the arrogance that sometimes accompanies academic achievement.

The ability to handle criticism well

I’m not speaking of criticism of one’s own efforts internally. That’s the truth of being trained in a field in which you don’t start with the fully developed skill set. I mean that the advice we give is quite often contradicted or rejected. If you’ve been used to being at or near the top of the class so far, it can be daunting to encounter.

Confidence in handling one to one meetings

I like talking to small groups of people or to individuals under controlled conditions. As an engineer/science graduate I didn’t have these interpersonal skills initially. We need them to get the information we need from our clients at each stage of the work we do for them.

One final piece of advice

It helps to believe in yourself and the services you’re selling. Gaining true satisfaction from your work is rare nowadays. The patent profession provides this. I found my biggest motivation after the initial qualifying period was the increasing belief that what we are doing underpins the whole basis of a developing democratic ordered society; that is why I still enjoy working.

About the Author

  • Name: Bill Jones

Bill Jones is a registered UK and European patent and trade mark attorney. ip21 is his second venture which he founded in 2000. ip21 offers full service IP advice to clients both in the UK and overseas. He has lectured in Intellectual Property Law and is chairman of the CIPA textbook and publications committee.

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