Many graduates in this sector work in private practice as patent attorneys and some work for the UK Intellectual Property Office (IPO) as patent examiners. Note that these are two separate careers. Intellectual property (IP) includes patents, trade marks, designs and copyright. As defined by the Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys (CIPA); ‘A patent is a right granted by the government to inventors in return for disclosure of an invention...the state gives the patent owner the right to stop other people using that invention for a certain period of time (maximum 20 years)’. For more detailed definitions and explanations of these areas visit the websites mentioned below. Key attributes for those wishing to work in this area are a scientific or technical background, a passion for understanding how things work, excellent writing skills and attention to detail.
|Key attributes needed for the role||Where you could develop these skills or attributes|
|Excellent communication skills, including the ability to build productive and trustworthy relationships with clients.||
Mainly through working in a customer service environment but could include roles such as sponsorship officer for a society.
CAPOD offers courses on these kinds of skills regularly within its Professional Skills Curriculum.Taking on positions of responsibility in student-run societies will give you the chance to put these into practice
Language skills, particularly for employment in European patent offices.
|Through taking evening language courses.|
|A keen attention to detail.||
Through academic studies.
|A talent for investigation, research and critical analysis.|
Ability to keep up-to-date with the latest developments in technology.
Through networking and reading relevant publications in the general subject area eg Physics World/ Chemistry World. Membership of learned societies.
Ability to communicate complex technical information clearly.
This is most likely to be developed and evidenced through your academic studies.
Taking part in outreach programmes talking about science to secondary school children and other public engagement activities through your Department/ School.
Patent attorneys (previously called patent agents) act as the interface between the inventor, patent granting bodies and the law. Their role can include the following:
Patent attorneys mostly work for private firms that specialise in IP (around 80% of the 1,600 UK-registered attorneys are employed in this type of work. Vacancies for trainee patent attorneys in this area don't tend to exceed 50 a year). Patent departments in large companies tend to be quite small, and companies that have a patent department will likely have a major interest in research. Patent attorneys in these departments will deal only with internal patent work. It is worth bearing in mind that there will only be a small number of vacancies for such positions every year and they will usually be selective and look for a qualified patent attorney rather than a trainee. Solicitor firms, the civil service and governmental departments (particularly the Ministry of Defence) are also significant employers of those who work in IP.
The majority of private practice jobs, particularly trainee positions, are in London and the south-east, whilst in-house patent departments are often based outside London alongside research and development facilities, though Glasgow, Edinburgh, and the north of England also employ large numbers of people working in IP.
The entry requirements are usually a 2:1 degree or above in a science, maths, engineering or technology subject (a degree in one or more of these disciplines is required so you can understand your clients' inventions - how they have been made and how they work). A PhD can be an advantage, particularly for biological scientists. However, as the caseload of the patent attorney can vary widely between different subject areas, it is often unlikely that they are able to concentrate solely on applications in one particular field unless they work in-house. Regardless, a PhD will help you to stand out during the application process. The swift development of mobile and smart phone technology has created more opportunities for those with backgrounds in Physics, Engineering and Computer Science, compared with the chemical and life sciences. Some firms accept any of the above subjects whilst others specify particular subjects according to their client base.
The nature of the work can be international and many UK patent attorneys additionally take the European Patent Attorney (EPA) qualification. This also gives opportunities to work abroad. According to CIPA it is ‘desirable but not essential’ to have a reading knowledge of French and German as these, together with English, are the official languages used by the European Patent Office. However, languages are not usually stated as a requirement for graduate entry so don’t be put off by this, but do consider how you might acquire them. Qualifying as a European patent attorney (for which you have to pass a further examination) entitles you to work anywhere in Europe.
Further detailed information can be found on The Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys (CIPA) website. Inside Careers is also useful and their booklet on Patent Attorneys, available from the Careers Centre, provides a comprehensive guide to the profession.
A notable difference between private and industry-centric patent work is that those employed on a private basis are more likely to work on their own for the majority of the time. Regardless, employees in both areas are often subject to a lot of pressure as deadlines are inflexible and can be short given that the patent must be completed before anyone can make a similar product. Furthermore, attorneys usually work on acquiring patents for more than one product and for more than one client at a time, making time management, flexibility, multitasking and the skill of prioritisation essential to the job. Prospects Patent Attorney Entry Requirements - the skills mentioned here will generally be required for jobs across the board in the sector. Some other desirable skills include:
Professional Training and Qualifications for Patent Attorneys
To qualify as a patent attorney, trade mark attorney or patent examiner, your time in training will include a blend of learning whilst working, centralised lectures and courses, and professional examinations. See the Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys (CIPA) for more information on the qualifications you will need to gain to work as a professional in the sector.
Generally, graduates are usually recruited as a Trainee Patent Attorney or Technical Assistant. Training is normally done in-house supplemented by courses and seminars. There are two sets of exams:
Certain postgraduate qualifications grant exemption from some or all Foundation exams. IP firms and departments may send new trainees on these courses (for more information, see the CIPA website).
The examinations set by the Patent Examination Board (PEB) are held annually, and so the minimum length of time to become a chartered patent attorney is two years. However, in reality it often takes longer to become a registered patent attorney, typically four to six years. The European Patent Office also set examinations annually, and these require candidates to have worked for two years under the supervision of a European patent attorney before sitting the pre-examination and a further year after passing the pre-examination before sitting the main examinations.
European Qualifying Examination
Most UK Patent Attorneys also take this qualification so they can practise before the European Patent Office. This can be taken once you have at least three years' training under the supervision of a qualified European Patent Attorney.
UK Intellectual Property Office (IPO)
In the UK patent examiners work for the UK Intellectual Property Office (IPO) which is part of the Civil Service. It is located in South Wales. Their role is to assess patent applications usually received from patent attorneys and decide whether to grant a patent. The IPO recruits science, engineering and maths graduates with a first or second class degree to become trainee patent examiners. Visit the IPO website for more information including Trade Mark Examiners.
As part of their verification process, patent examiners must review the technical information included in the patent application and compare it with any similar pre-existing products – this includes a comprehensive investigation into the exact technical contribution the product can teach the public. So the patent examiner must thoroughly search prior patents, scientific literature databases, the databases of patent offices, and other relevant collections of information to establish any prior art. The examiner must then review the patent application to conclude whether it complies with the legal requirements of the IPO or EPO to be granted a patent. To warrant a patent, the idea in question must meet targets of sufficiency of disclosure, must be new, must be non-obvious (i.e. they must make an ‘inventive step’) and must be useful.
European Patent Office
The European Patent Office (EPO) also recruits graduates to train as patent examiners. Their minimum requirements are usually a science degree, citizenship of one of the member states of the EPO and ability in two languages of French, English and German whilst being prepared to learn the one in which they are not fluent. See their website for more details.
Trade Mark Attorneys
A trade mark is a form of intellectual property which assures consumers of the authenticity of your product. Brand names, logos and advertising jingles are just the most common examples. Trade mark attorneys provide a similar interface to their Patent counterparts, between companies or other IP owners, registration bodies and the law. However, you do not need a scientific background. See Prospects’ Trade Mark Attorney webpage for more information.
Trademark attorneys advise clients on the registration, use and exploitation of new and existing trademarks and on their trade marks’ rights. Compared to graduate trainees for patent work, this profession is much smaller and as a result tends to have fewer vacancies per year.
Some patent law firms provide trade mark protection services as well, though dedicated firms do exist. You will be required to take postgraduate qualifications in Trade Mark Law during your traineeship. Details of the qualifications and other aspects of the profession can be found on the Institute of Trade Mark Attorneys website.
Networking is particularly important and can help you succeed with your applications. If you have been in contact with someone working for the organisation then you have extra information to back up your case for why they should employ you. Use social media sites such as LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook (many organisations have their own page) to connect with organisations. Recent St Andrews graduates have gone on to work for the European Patent Office (EPO), Marks & Clerk and Reddie & Grose LLP. Alumni can make extremely useful contacts, giving you an "edge" with your applications and interviews. There are several ways to make contact with alumni.
Have a look at the Network with Alumni section of our website for more advice and information.
Finding practical work experience in patent departments and firms is rare given the variety of work and the issues surrounding client/invention confidentiality protocols, but there are a limited number of opportunities out there. Come into the Careers Centre and take away the Inside Careers guide which lists companies who may be willing to offer work experience. Talking to patent attorneys or examiners and visiting firms of patent attorneys before applying for jobs will greatly increase your chances. The CIPA has an online directory where you can search for firms of patent attorneys by location. Use this facility to try and arrange visits or if possible work-shadowing with firms. Given the issues associated with providing work experience in the patent offices, employers in the sector look for breadth of scientific ability over prior experience within the world of patents.
Also, see the websites of those listed in CIPA’s directory of companies to find out when companies will be hosting open events or when they will visit universities or fairs.
Boult Wade Tennant, EIP, Dehns, World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), The Office for Harmonization in the Internal Market, the European Patent Office and Haseltine Lake offer internship schemes. Graduate placements can also be had from Marks & Clerk, Murgitroyd & Co, the World Intellectual Property Office and the European Patent Office. Opportunities can sometimes be found through networking and speculative approaches and you can also check LinkedIn for possible contacts.
One of the first things to think about when starting your job search is to consider whether you would prefer to work in an industrial patents office, in a private firm of patent attorneys, or whether you would like to work as a trade mark attorney. For help making this decision, see Inside Careers’ ‘Areas of Work: private and corporate practice’, an informative and slightly tongue-in-cheek look at the different departments. Once you have decided you can begin to send speculative applications to prospective employers – see CIPA’s directory of employers listed below for companies to potentially apply to. It's also worth remembering that, based on the subjects you studied at university, there might be particular companies to which you would be especially suited to work for.
Patent firms tend to recruit on a largely ad hoc basis, and so it is best to register your interest and to look for vacancies as soon as you decide to follow it as a career path.
Recruitment in the sector can be unpredictable, with patent offices recruiting across a range of subjects and disciplines, with the type of graduate they look for varying year by year. Many firms (particularly the smaller ones) will recruit only when they lose staff or can afford to broaden their employee base. Many of the larger firms advertise vacancies on their own websites, but patent firms will normally advertise trainee positions through Inside Careers, whilst also utilising graduate directories or websites such as New Scientist.
As the annual number of vacancies in the sector can be small compared to other industries, those interested in a career in patents should apply speculatively – show an interest to employers by sending them your CV which clearly shows your interest and ability in the sector as well as a personal interest in their company and an explanation of why you are interested. A demonstrable interest in science and in law will be advantageous.
Many firms include a written exercise as part of their selection process and so good writing skills and skills in communication are required.
The structure, content and style of the interview can vary hugely between firms. Some will focus on technical questions whilst others will be more interested in learning what you know about the profession, or about their company in particular, and why you want to be part of it as well as what you feel you can offer the company. Many graduates who have had interviews for patent positions recall that they have been asked to explain how a piece of machinery functions to show they could correctly assess and understand new inventions that might be brought to them.
If you are offered a position at more than one firm, there are many factors you should bear in mind when deciding between them. These include consideration of how the companies provide for your training in the lead up to your exams.
When writing your CV and attending an interview or assessment centre, remember Inside Careers’ ‘Ten essential skills for patent attorneys’.
As has been stated above, a postgraduate qualification might help you stand out during application processes, but it is very rare for employers in the sector to request a postgraduate degree. If you would like to complete a postgraduate course with the intention of going into patent work afterwards, ensure that your degree is science or engineering-based, as the selection pool for the industry is almost exclusive to these disciplines.
A postgraduate qualification can be an advantage when it comes to searching for a job, but remember that the caseload of the patent attorney can vary widely between different subject areas, and so it is often unlikely that they are able to concentrate solely on applications in one particular field unless they work in-house. Regardless, having a PhD can help you stand out during the application stages.
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