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There has been a significant push in recent years by the government and media for students to study STEM subjects.  With the promise of excellent courses, high salaries and less competition for jobs it is not surprising that many have followed this advice. But what happens after you’ve completed your degree; what are your career options?

Those coming from a Mathematics background are likely to pursue a numerical career path, with jobs in the finance sector being a favourite. A mass of information on finance career options as well as the latest jobs can be found on the Inside Careers website; but what about the often overlooked STE students? In this blog we explore just one of the many options for science, technology and engineering graduates and delve into the relatively unknown profession of the patent attorney.

Many of you reading this blog will be studying for or will have just completed your undergraduate, PhD or master’s degree and will be asking yourself the question, what next? You may have decided that academia is no longer the career for you but are unsure of where to move onto next. Perhaps the uncertainty of a career as a postdoc researcher does not appeal to you and you are looking for something more stable, or are finding your work is becoming more and more abstract and endeavour to practise in an area that is more applicable to the real world. The patent profession is a unique one, which will allow you to use your scientific background in a business setting. Not only will you be able to maintain your link with science whilst enjoying a more varied workload, but you will also get the chance to work with cutting edge technology and stake a place at the forefront of science. If this sounds appealing, the patent profession could be for you. Read on to find out what it will entail.

What is a patent attorney?

Patent attorneys assist clients and employers in securing protection for their designs and inventions. A career as a patent attorney is highly respected and extremely varied. Patent attorneys can specialise in many different areas, including IT, electronics, life sciences, physics and engineering. An understanding of highly technical information is a must if you want to become a patent attorney; consequently many science and engineering graduates choose this path.

The skills

The technical ability that goes hand in hand with a science or engineering background enables graduates to understand how a client’s invention works – the most basic prerequisite for becoming a patent attorney.  For this reason alone it is very difficult to enter the profession without a degree in a STEM subject; however there are many other skills developed by science/engineering subjects that translate readily into the intellectual property profession.

  • Technical ability: you will need to be comfortable with technical information, possibly beyond your specific area of expertise. You will not initially understand all of the inventions you come across but must be able to ask the right questions and learn quickly. You should also have an understanding of engineering drawings, circuit drawings, flow charts and other graphs.
  • Analytical skills: patent attorneys have to analyse large amounts of information and reach well-reasoned, logical conclusions. The scientific analysis and reasoning skills developed through your degree means that the jump from science into law isn’t as big as it may first appear.
  • Attention to detail: a patent could be granted or denied on the basis of a single sentence in the application; accuracy is essential.
  • Time management: patent work is deadline driven and you will often have several tasks from different clients on the go at once, so it’s important to be able to manage your time efficiently.
  • Ability to work alone: particularly in private practice, much of a patent attorney’s work is completed alone. You need to be able to motivate yourself, manage your own workload and be self-critical enough to maintain a high quality work output.
  • Communication skills: patent attorneys have to communicate with people at various levels, from scientists and engineers to business people and patent courts. You will need to explain complex issues to people who may not be legally or scientifically savvy and as such strong verbal and written communication skills are imperative. This is a skill that may not come naturally to all science/engineering students, but if you are confident in this area, the patent profession could be for you.

Writing effective patents requires a unique combination of science, law and language. Though you won’t be expected to be an expert in all these areas, having the technical ability as well as the potential and motivation to acquire and develop the above skills makes STEM students the perfect candidates for this well-respected profession.



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