A patent attorney is responsible for deciding whether new designs or inventions should be patented and then advising clients through this process. This is a role that requires a lot of technical knowledge in both intellectual property law and technical design.
As a patent attorney you will be responsible for guiding clients through the patenting process and then acting on any infringements that might occur. This will involve a great deal of research and analysis of technical documents to determine whether the new design is innovative. Patents are granted by the Intellectual Property Office in the UK and can protect new inventions from being used or copied by other parties.
If you have an interest in new inventions, a strong grasp of technical principles and an eye for detail, you could consider a career as a patent attorney.
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General duties and responsibilities might include:
- Meeting with inventors and their manufacturers to discuss new designs.
- Researching previous and existing patents to check that designs are original.
- Composing patent drafts which will include a detailed description of a new invention or process.
- Advise clients on the likelihood that their application will be successful.
- Applying for patents from both the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) and the European Patent Office (EPO).
- Answering any questions that patent examiners might have about your application.
- Ensuring that patent rights are upheld and taking appropriate action when these rights may have been broken. This might involve representing clients in court.
- Keeping up-to-date on any deadlines for patent renewal.
- Advise on the transfer or sale of patents.
You will need to hold a degree in a mathematical, technical, scientific or engineering subject. Although it is not essential, many patent attorneys also hold a Master’s degree or even a PhD. This technical knowledge is important as you will have to understand the details of your client’s ideas.
The next stage is to be accepted on the Register of Patent Attorneys. In order to do this you will have to pass a number of exams while completing a period of training. This is usually done by securing a post with an attorney firm or legal department who will help the candidate fund the training. The exams you take will therefore depend on the firm you are working for. The Intellectual Property Regulation Board determines which exams will enable you to qualify. This process will usually take between five and six years.
Technical knowledge: You will need to be able to fully understand new inventions and processes quickly, so scientific and technical knowledge is essential.
Communication skills: You will need to be able to explain complex information to a range of people with varying levels of technical knowledge.
Written communication skills: You will need to be able to write detailed and clear descriptions of new inventions so a good level of written English is crucial.
An eye for detail: This will help with your research into previously granted patents and will help you understand the intricacies of new inventions.
Motivation: You will need to be dedicated to your career path as you will need to complete a further period of training after university and pass a series of exams in order to qualify. You will also need an interest in both new technology and the legal industry.
Negotiation skills: Highly important in cases where patent rights appear to have been infringed.
Starting salary: £28,000 to £34,000 (while a trainee)
Junior: £45,000 to £65,000 (when fully qualified)
Senior: £75,000 to £100,000+
Figures are intended only as a guide. Partners in private practice will sometimes earn well in excess of £100,000.
Career progression as a patent attorney usually depends on whether you work in private practice or in industry. In private practice, the route for progression is usually through a series of promotions until you become a partner. In industry, it is more common for patent attorneys to progress into managerial positions where you will be responsible for advising and guiding colleagues.
Another route is to become a patent examiner with the UK Intellectual Property Office. If you want to work internationally there are further opportunities for patent examiners with the European Patent Office or you could become a European patent attorney.
For more inspiration, see our patent attorney vacancies on Simply Law Jobs.