Student Advice - Career Search - Patent Agent - Patent Attorney
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Patent Attorney/Agent

Patent Attorney/Agent

Tell me about it
Patent attorneys, also known as patent agents, have a particular expertise in intellectual property rights, encompassing patents, industrial designs, design rights and related copyright areas. They usually work in the patent department of a large industrial organisation, in a private firm of patent agents or in a government department.

A patent is a right granted to inventors or companies, in return for disclosure of an invention, to stop other people using that invention for a certain period of time (maximum 20 years). In order to secure a patent, a full description of the invention needs to be filed with the Intellectual Property Office (formerly the Patent Office) and patent agents develop special skills in the long and complex process of securing, maintaining and enforcing patent rights.

Patent agency is becoming an increasingly Europe-wide profession and agents normally have considerable contact with the European Patent Office in Munich.

Entry level
You would usually need a science, technology or engineering degree, together with advanced writing skills, the ability to acquire legal skills and a reading knowledge of French and German.

In private practice, a broad scientific interest is desirable, with physics and chemistry probably the most common and useful degree subjects. If you are interested in corporate practice, a subject relevant to your employer, such as aeronautical engineering, genetics or biotechnology, may be an advantage.

There is no requirement to have a postgraduate qualification, but many entrants are educated to PhD level.

Making the grade
While it is possible to represent clients without being registered, you would normally obtain a post as a technical assistant to a patent agent, either in a firm of agents or in an industrial patent department, and study for the examinations leading to entry on the Register of Patent Agents. It usually takes four or five years to become fully qualified.

Certificate and Master’s courses are offered at Bournemouth, Brunel, Queen Mary London and Manchester Universities, giving exemption from some of the examinations.

Most patent agents also become European patent attorneys, taking an examination similar to the advanced patent paper. You must be on the list of qualified practitioners if you wish to act before the European Patent Office. It is also possible to qualify as a patent attorney while working as a solicitor in a legal practice with an intellectual property department.

Personal qualities
Coming from a technical/scientific academic background, you would need to demonstrate not only the depth of your scientific and technical understanding but also your capacity to learn about the law. You must be capable of analytical and logical thought, and of writing clear, concise English. Overall, you need to be something of a mix of scientist, lawyer and linguist.

Success would depend to a considerable extent on your ability to listen carefully to clients, to question information which is unclear, to argue cases and to be persuasive when dealing with the Intellectual Property Office.

Looking ahead
Career development opportunities are generally good, although the market is small and very specialised. There are two main groups of employers: private practice partnerships and large industrial employers. This second group covers manufacturers of every kind of product, from food to heavy industrial processing equipment, biotechnology to the automotive industry - any organisation, in fact, where significant time and money is put into research and development to try to get ahead of the market. Most private partnerships have websites where you can find out more about the size of the firm and whether they cover any areas of special interest.

There are some opportunities to work overseas in other English-speaking countries and many UK-based private practices also have offices on the European mainland.

Alternative suggestions
Other possibilities might include barrister/advocate, biochemist, biotechnologist, patent examiner, pharmacologist, physicist, solicitor or trade mark attorney.

Take-home pay
For industry and private practice, the starting salary for a science graduate would be around £23,000 to £33,000, rising over the next 10 to 15 years to between £90,000 and £150,000. Senior and partnership level salaries are comparable with others in the legal profession. At entry level, the highest salaries are to be found in corporate practice but, at senior levels, private practice pays more. In private practice, many firms offer performance-related bonuses based on how much income you have brought in.

Officially, hours are nine to five, but it is usual to work late if there are deadlines to be met. You would always be working to meet specific deadlines and the work itself can be very mentally and intellectually demanding. You could be involved in considerable travel, especially within Europe.

Sources of information

Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys:
UK Intellectual Property Office:
European Patent Office:  
Intellectual Property Institute:  




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