Christine is an IP director at S&P. She joined the firm after graduating from the University of Cambridge in 2003.
I came across the career of a patent attorney when I was in my final year at university. I had chosen to study physics because I enjoyed the subject and was looking for a way of using my physics degree and general interest in the subject in the “real world”. I found a section in the university careers department library about patent attorneys and thought it sounded interesting so I followed this up with some further research and applications to the vacancies advertised in the careers department.
Another reason for choosing the profession was that I felt it offered a settled career. Unlike many graduate jobs, there are generally no fixed term contracts or rotational placements. I also liked the fact that Swindell & Pearson were based in Derby. I come from a small town in Cumbria and didn’t want to be in a large city so it was a bonus for me not to have to move to London.
Typical day in the office
One of the good things about this career is that there is no “typical day”. Every case and every client is different and they each present their own individual challenges. I enjoy working in private practice as the range of different clients results in a variety of different technologies. I can switch from working on a microelectronics device to a design for bubble wrap to a new transmission system all in the space of a few hours.
A large part of my time in the office is spent doing substantive work. This is essentially quiet time where I’m at my desk with just a laptop for company, reading, writing or dictating. This time would usually be spent preparing patent applications, responses to examination reports or studying invention reports. As I’m more of an academic person than a practical person I enjoy this side of the career.
I also spend a significant part of each day supervising our trainees. This involves one on one supervision meetings with each of the trainees. During these meetings, a trainee brings a case to me and discusses the facts of the case so that I can help them prepare the necessary work products.
About once or twice a week I will have inventor meetings. These could be face to face, either in our offices or at the client premises, or over the telephone. We encourage client contact with our trainees as this helps to build up client relationships and helps you with your understanding of the client’s technology and business.
At Swindell & Pearson, we have put together a structured and comprehensive training program for our trainees. This includes weekly seminars run by one of the directors. These weekly seminars run in addition to the daily supervision that the trainees receive.
Our trainees have responsibility for their own case load. This means that they are responsible for families of cases and deal with them at each stage of the patent prosecution process rather than simply being given piecemeal items of work to do. Myself and the other supervising directors work very closely with the trainees whilst they learn to manage their case load and to teach them the necessary skills to produce high quality work products.
The process of training to be a patent attorney can be hard so we strive to provide a positive environment for the trainees. There is a huge volume of information to take in and a lot of new skills that need to be learned or developed which can seem like a mountain to climb at times. There is a big transition from being at university to being a patent attorney but we work hard with the trainees to try and make that transition as smooth as possible.
The exams are a necessary part of the job but, although many people are intimidated by the prospect, it is important to remember that they are just a small part of your entire career. At Swindell & Pearson we provide in-house training and also arrange attendance at external revision courses. It does take some hard work to pass the exams as there is a lot of material covered and specific techniques to be learned so this requires a considerable amount of self-motivation. However, the effort is all worth it once you have passed them and you have a valuable and well-respected qualification. As with any exams or tests they require you to have good knowledge of the laws but they don’t test many of the other important aspects of the career such as developing client relationships or managing a case load effectively. At Swindell & Pearson we also consider these and other aspects when we are looking at your career progression.
Requirements for the job
If you want to be a patent attorney then excellent communication skills are essential. A key part of the job is preparing patent applications and this requires very high-level English language skills and an ability to use exactly the right words in the right context. It is also necessary to be able to explain complicated situations or systems in a clear manner. This could be in written communications or verbally in a meeting or presentation. The ability to take in large amounts of information is also important. If you are conversing with an inventor, you might have one meeting in which to obtain all the information you need to prepare their patent application. This requires you to be able to quickly get to the heart of what they really mean when they describe their invention.
Having different types of cases to work on is interesting but it does mean that there are lots of competing demands on your time. Good organisation and time management skills are therefore necessary for a patent attorney. Being a fast learner is also useful as it helps you to take in and understand information quickly. As the day to day role often involves systematically reviewing large amounts of information and making strategic decisions based on that information, having good analytical skills is also an advantage.
It is also important for us that our trainees are reliable and dependable. When a client trusts us with their work it is essential for us to deliver on any promises and provide excellent client service. As a firm, we maintain high quality standards for every aspect of our work products and we require our trainees to work hard to attain those standards.