Spotlight Series – Patent Law, October 12th 2016

Our speakers were:

Nicholas Noble

Title:      Patent Attorney at Kilburn Strode

PhD:      Medical Image Analysis at King’s College London

Following the completion of his PhD studies, Nick initially pursued an academic research career at both King’s and UCL. In 2006, he made the transition into becoming a trainee patent attorney and has remained in the industry since this date. He continues to involve himself in academic life, regularly lecturing at universities including Queen Mary’s and Imperial College London.

Anna Leathley

Title:      Associate at Carpmaels & Ransford LLP

PhD:      Cell Biology and Cell Signalling at King’s College London

Anna began her pursuit to become a Patent Attorney immediately after her studies at King’s, and spent over ten years at Dehns law firm. More recently, she has been working at Carpmaels & Ransford, where she specialises in helping clients to develop and execute their IP strategies.

Nick’s route into patent law began with choosing not to pursue an academic career as he wanted more variety and scope. He did take one post-doc role before (after some advice from a careers consultant) applying to many companies before securing his first position.

Anna’s route was more direct, via Biochemistry. She liked lab research but thought she wanted more intellectual stimulation, building on her research skills. She looked outside because of appeal of using scientific knowledge without having to be in a lab. Anna made use of her professional networks to get advice and applied.

How does patent law work?

Nick and Anna are patent attorneys. They help to draft patents, file them at the patent office and help refine the application. They can sometimes appear in court. They’re trained to help people get patents and both specialise in acquisition of rights. An education in science is an essential requirement and you must have a degree that European courts recognise. Patent lawyers help with assertion of rights in court and IP solicitors deal much more widely.

What is your company is like and how does it fit into the sector?

Anna – Cartmels is quite large and one of the oldest firms in the sector, all on one site. There are about 200 staff and 8 to 10 new trainees each year. They also have solicitors and trademark attorneys litigating. It’s different to other firms because of size and scope of activity. Anna advised applicants to look at the client base, the strengths of particular firms and to think about your own ambitions.

Nick – noted big contrasts between his first and second firms, although standards are high everywhere. In his first firm, things were very income and time focussed. His current firm is single site, with 150 staff. The ethos and attitude distinguish them with short, business like communication, very client focussed. There’s lots of fun and social life.

Nick recommends applying to as many firms as possible as it’s a small profession, but to tailor applications. He advises – do your research, be ready to answer why you want to work there. Be honest on applications but positive. Applications should be perfect on attention to detail, which is an essential skill. Interviews often include reading tests for this. Having a PhD and post doc experience is very valuable and helps build confidence.

He also say to research market, for example at the moment there is a shortage of electronics specialists but markets change. Adaptability and willingness to are learn important and your science background can matter. You need an eye for detail, pedantry, and your ability to write is very important. PhDs have better writing skills.

Non-native English speakers are welcome as their languages are useful but good confidence in English matters. The application season is usually one year ahead for an Autumn start like most graduate schemes.  Interviews by Skype and then there are selection days. There are vacation schemes for penultimate year PhDs. Work experience is good as always as a way of making you stand out.

What do you do day to day?

Drafting, searching, reading documents, moving application through stages. Lots of communication. Advising clients on patents and other people’s intellectual property. Lodging appeals against grants of patents on behalf of clients. Very desk based, thinking, reading, and writing. You need to enjoy problem solving and meeting client’s needs and there’s lots of variety and challenge.

There are some opportunities to work at home and flexible working is possible. You need a real interest in helping a business develop and must learn to see the difference between academic and commercial interests. Orientation into the business can be steep learning curve and the training is demanding and quite long.