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Case Study: Andrew Rudhall

Personal details
Degree:PhD, Physics Profile picture
School(s): School of Physics and Astronomy
Year of Graduation:Jun-2013
National of: United Kingdom
Employment details
Organisation: Marks & Clerk LLP
Job title: Patent Attorney
Occupational Sector: Patent Law
What has been your route to getting your current position?
I very much enjoyed my PhD topic (ultrashort laser pulse shaping) but laboratory work was particularly frustrating, often didn’t work, and I spent a lot of my time in a darkened room carrying out the same experiment again and again. Towards the end of my PhD I realised that scientific research wasn’t really right for me (which is usually the case for PhD entrants to the patent profession). I started to look into alternative career routes and while browsing the careers section in the physics department I happened upon the ‘Inside Careers Guide’ to the patent attorney profession. I thought that I would be well suited to a career in the profession and I did more research, including making contact with a trainee patent attorney to find out more. I also attended an open day held by a patent attorney firm to find out more about the career and I decided that it was definitely the career that I wanted to pursue. I sent off CVs and covering letters to more than twenty patent attorney firms. Marks & Clerk was the first to offer me an interview. My first interview went well and I was offered a second interview, after which I was offered a trainee position. Marks & Clerk were hoping that I could start in June 2012, however my wife and I were expecting our first baby a month before that and therefore it was not ideal timing. I also needed more time to complete my PhD thesis. I was a little apprehensive about the impact of having a baby, completing my PhD and starting a trainee position, however Marks & Clerk were very supportive and agreed to a start date in August 2012, which allowed me enough time to finish my PhD thesis and get used to looking after an additional family member. I was made to feel very welcome on my first day, which mostly involved talking to my new colleagues, some training on using the IT systems and working on a client case. For several months the workload was relatively light and my colleagues were always more than happy to help me out with any problems that I encountered. I shared an office with a qualified patent attorney, which was very helpful as I was able to ask questions on an ad hoc basis.
What does your job involve ?
In short, patent attorneys help their clients obtain patent protection for their inventions. The job mostly involves drafting patent applications for new inventions and prosecuting patent applications, which involves ensuring the patent application complies with the requirements of the law and most importantly, relates to novel and inventive subject matter. This usually involves responding to examination reports issued by a patent office, but sometimes can involve attending oral hearings at either the UK or European patent offices. Most patent attorneys working in the UK are qualified under UK and European law, which means that they can advise on UK and European matters only. Many clients want to obtain protection in other desired countries and therefore the patent attorney will instruct a qualified patent attorney in each of those desired countries to obtain patent protection on behalf of their client. Conversely, a patent attorney based in another country may ask a UK/EP-based patent attorney to prosecute a patent in UK or Europe on behalf of their client. However, there is more to the job than just obtaining patents. Every client is different and it is necessary to tailor our service to the client depending on their individual needs. Some clients will be very familiar with the patent process, while others will have no idea about the process. Therefore, it is very important to tailor legal advice according to needs of clients. All of the above pretty much describes what my job is like on a day-to-day basis. As I am not yet a qualified patent attorney all of my work is checked by a qualified patent attorney. This way I receive feedback on the work I have done and provides an opportunity to discuss my work. Much of the training is ‘on-the-job’, which provides invaluable experience for my future in the profession.
What are the best bits of your job ?
The best bits of my job include learning about new technology, solving problems, learning about law, applying the law and meeting new people. I really like using my technical expertise to understand how different inventions work. However, the legal aspect adds another dimension to the challenge in that I have to constantly think about the legal constraints when solving any particular problem. I really enjoy learning about intellectual property law, which is rapidly evolving in many parts of the world. Meeting clients is also one of highlights of my job and I have met a wide and interesting range of people, from individual inventors to chief executives.
Why were you successful?
I did my research into the career so I had an idea what a patent attorney actually does and what the training process entails. Although the working hours are ‘9 to 5’, in reality you have to be willing to give up your own personal time to study and revise for the exams. As I did my research I understood how much studying is required in order to qualify as a patent attorney. A real appreciation of what is required to qualify will help a lot during the interview process. Simply being enthused by the potential salary on offer will not be enough to convince any prospective employer! There is also a significant technical element to the job. Employers are looking for the right person from a technical point of view. It is important that you can relate your own technical experience to the employer. In my case, I was able to explain how my specific area of study, optics and lasers, could be related to a broader technical base, including mechanical engineering, electronics and software.
What skills/ knowledge from your degree have you found particularly helpful in this role?
On any one case I am often required to read and analyse a number of lengthy documents in a relatively short time frame. During my PhD I often had to locate the most relevant information from a large number of scientific publications. Regularly searching for and analysing scientific publications during my PhD honed my ability to locate the most relevant information in a document. Another significant part of the PhD is about finding out for yourself how things work or how to solve a problem. I have found that my ability to independently find information and solve problems helps me when I am working on a case. This means that when I encounter a certain legal or technical problem I have confidence in my ability to search for the answer I need from the patent laws and other important sources of information. I also spent a lot of time teaching during my PhD, both in the form of leading tutorials and laboratory demonstrating. During the teaching sessions I was often put on the spot and asked to explain how something works. I also regularly discussed technical matters with colleagues (for example, other PhDs, Post-Docs or my supervisor). I very much relished the challenge of communicating both simple and complex ideas to other people and my significant experience in this has helped me considerably in this job. For example, once I have analysed a patent document I am expected to have a good understanding of the technical content of the document. When discussing the case with a colleague I will be expected to explain in detail how the invention works, the differences between that document and the client’s invention, and how to solve any problems.
What advice would you give to students wishing to follow the same path?
The most important advice I can give is to do your research. I strongly recommend reading the “Inside Careers Guide” – which is available online as well as in printed form from the Careers Centre. Several firms offer open days which give you a better idea of what the job involves and gives you the opportunity to speak to a number of different people in the profession. Again, I strongly recommend attending one of these open days if you are serious about entering the profession. Also, find and speak to a person already in the profession, but bear in mind most people are stretched for time so try to be as prepared as possible before approaching such a person and be specific with your questions. Be prepared to introduce yourself to someone and engage in a conversation with them – this job requires good networking skills so this is an excellent opportunity to network! Don’t focus your search just on one geographical area such as Scotland. Most UK-based jobs are in London so be prepared to move there. Start applying for jobs as soon as possible – ideally before December, although positions do occasionally crop up at other times during the year. The patent attorney profession is becoming an increasingly popular career destination and it is therefore highly competitive. Do not lose hope when receiving rejections, but it is advisable to have back-up career options in case you are not successful in obtaining a trainee position.