Getting into…a career as a Patent Attorney


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If you’re interested in using your scientific or technical background in a different way and have an interest in legal issues, a career as a Patent Attorney could be for you.  This post is a summary of some of the key points covered by Simon Belcher of Urquhart-Dykes & Lord LLP in a very informative presentation he delivered at the Careers Centre recently.  You can find a more detailed copy of his notes on our Pearltrees account (link at the end of this post).

What does a patent attorney do?

Patent Attorneys work on behalf of individuals or organisations to help protect inventions and other intellectual property so that the owner of the property can control how it is used.  In the UK ‘Patent Attorney’ is a protected title, meaning only those who have passed qualifying training and examinations may use the tile.  The profession is a regulated in the UK by IPreg.

Patent Attorneys might only do patent work, or work across a wider range of intellectual property matters.  This could be in a very specialised field, or across a wider range of disciplines.

Patent Attorneys will either work in private practice at a firm of patent attorneys, or in-house at companies, with the split in the UK currently being about 3:1 in favour of private practice.

What does it entail?

Work can be varied. A typical week might include

  • Discussing an invention with an inventor – establishing how it works, essential and/or unique features, how it differs from existing products
  • Attending a client company’s R&D review meeting to advise on strategy
  • Reviewing commercial strategy of an invention to identify aspects to be protected and in which countries protection is required
  • Preparing instructions to a barrister to assess whether a competitor product infringes a client’s patent
  • Reviewing documents; e.g. those cited by a Patent Office Examiner against a client’s patent application
  • Preparing papers; e.g. for an opposition hearing or to update on recent developments in case law

What skills and attributes do I need?

  • Degree in a relevant technical or scientific discipline
  • Ability and willingness to work on projects involving a wide range of technical subject matter, from mundane to highly complex
  • Ability to assimilate complicated technical documents quickly, and to distinguish between essential and non-essential features
  • Ability to express oneself clearly, both orally and especially in writing with the highest standards of accuracy
  • Commercial awareness
  • Excellent organisational skills to be able to handle a wide range of tasks in parallel
  • Ability to think like a scientist, lawyer and business person
  • Scrupulous attention to detail
  • Languages – particularly French and German – can be a distinct advantage

How to qualify

The process of qualification requires both practical training (through a Trainee Patent Attorney post) and examinations.  The process is likely to take a few years and there are full details on the CIPA website

A patent attorney working in the UK will generally be qualified as both a (UK) Chartered Patent Attorney and as a European Patent Attorney. This requires further examinations and candidates are eligible to sit these after three years practice as a trainee patent attorney.

You will generally need a good degree (2:1 or above, although some firms do accept graduates with a 2:2) in a scientific or technical subject to apply for trainee positions.  Some firms may also be looking for postgraduate qualifications in a relevant area.

What could I earn?

New starters are likely to earn in the region of £26,000-£30,000 p.a.  This will increase as you progress through your training and examinations.

Once qualified, earnings are likely to be in the region of £50,000-£60,000 p.a., with potential earnings at senior level in the region of £100,000 – 400,000 p.a. (Partner in Private Practice, incl. profit share) or £100,000-£250,000 p.a. (In-house Head of Department, incl. benefits).

Further information

We are here to help you with all careers-related enquiries; whether that is help deciding what to do, developing your employability, finding jobs or work experience, or anything else! Talk to us to find out how we can help you

1 Comment

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One response to “Getting into…a career as a Patent Attorney

  1. Pingback: How I got my job: Trainee Patent Attorney | University of Leeds Careers Centre Blog

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