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Patent Examiner

Patent Examiner

Tell me about it
Patent examiners are employed by the UK Intellectual Property Office to examine new patent claims before accepting them as valid for official registration. The patent system provides a stimulus to invention by granting innovators a monopoly (extendible up to 20 years in the UK) for the manufacture and sale of patented inventions. In exchange, the innovator discloses the nature of the invention, which allows others to build upon the discovery and avoids duplication of research effort.

Patent examiners investigate each patent application to ascertain that the invention is clearly described, and conduct a search through UK and foreign patent specifications to ascertain that the invention is truly novel. They write a report of their initial search results and use this to determine with the applicant or their agent whether to proceed to the second stage of substantive examination and detailed investigation of the claims made for the invention. Finally, the application either proceeds to grant of a patent or is refused.

Entry level
You would need a good honours degree in a mathematical, engineering or scientific subject. Suitable disciplines would include electrical/electronic, telecommunications, mechanical, civil or chemical engineering, physics, organic chemistry, chemistry, biotechnology, computer science and mathematics.

Relevant industrial experience is advantageous, but need not necessarily relate to patents and documentation.

Making the grade
With the UK Intellectual Property Office, you would be assigned to an experienced examiner for a period of training, usually 12 months, during which you would gain experience in all aspects of patent law and the various skills required of an examiner. To enable you to keep abreast of the latest developments, you would be encouraged to visit laboratories, factories and exhibitions and to participate in seminars.

Initial training at the European Patent Office lasts two years and covers all aspects of patent examination, with the assignment of a personal tutor in the first year. Language training in French and German is provided because experienced patent examiners are expected to have an effective command of all three official languages.

Personal qualities
You would need to show evidence that you have the ability, the analytical and critical skills, to apply scientific and technical knowledge to the concepts of patent law.

You must also understand how to put forward convincing arguments, both verbally and in writing, justifying the granting or refusal of a patent. Excellent IT skills would be essential for searching databases and checking the novelty of each patent application.

Looking ahead
The Patent office normally recruits between 20 and 40 engineers/scientists from university or industry, although there are currently restrictions imposed by public spending cuts. The programme is typically advertised from late autumn with the closing date for applications in early February. Interviews are held during March and April with successful candidates starting in September. Restricted discipline recruitment schemes may also be held at different times of the year. You may register your interest with the Patent Office in order to receive an application form for the next recruitment scheme.

You can also apply speculatively to the European Patent Office, who will keep your name on file and send details of vacancies as they arise. Opportunities are available in Munich, Berlin and The Hague, in a variety of engineering and science-based fields. For these posts, you must have a good grasp of at least two of the three official languages (English, French and German) and preferably a basic knowledge of the third.

Alternative suggestions
Other possibilities might include barrister/advocate, patent attorney or solicitor. You could also choose to make your career in the world of science or engineering. Experience of patent examining work is regarded as qualifying for corporate membership of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers or the Institution of Electrical Engineers.

Take-home pay
Patent examiners currently start on a scale running from £22,808 to £25,920 per year. Promotion to senior examiner (typically after seven years) should lead to a salary of more than £50,000. More senior posts are paid at Senior Civil Service rates.
European Patent Office salaries are very competitive, depending on the level of your relevant work experience, and include an allowance for expatriates who do not live in their home country and a household allowance for those who are married and/or have children.

You would usually work a five-day week from Monday to Friday and you would enjoy the normal benefits of the civil service, with a progressive salary scale, promotion prospects and excellent pension fund. The work itself can be very mentally and intellectually demanding. There would be deadlines to meet and you would have to be sure that your decisions on the validity of a patent could not later prove to be incorrect.

Sources of information
UK Intellectual Property Office:
European Patent Office: 

World Intellectual Property Organisation:




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