I want to know
where they work
What do they do?
Where do they work?
What do they earn?
How many are there?
What do I need to be one?
What’s the training?
How do I apply?
A patent attorney is someone who’s qualified to give advice to people about patents and to act on their behalf by getting a patent registered in the first place or by enforcing the patent if anyone else tries to use the idea.
Patent attorneys usually know about other areas of IP law – such as copyright, trade marks, design rights and so on – and are often qualified to practise in those areas too.
The daily work varies from drawing up the technical description of an invention so that it meets the right legal standards to advising a client about what their patent might be worth. Patent attorneys also handle the sometimes long and involved legal process of applying for patents, facing down objections and challenges, and they take legal action against people who try to steal their clients’ intellectual property.
A patent attorney is the person who is technical enough to understand the science of inventions, legal enough to do the law bit, and human enough to interact with clients and make all this complex stuff simple.
There are three main places patent attorneys work: in law firms, in the law department of big companies, or in government departments.
The role is basically the same, except that in private practice, you’re working for a law firm representing your clients – who may have a wide set of needs. Meanwhile, in private industry or government, you’ve just got one client: your employer.
It’s not difficult to move between the three during your career.
Starting salaries as a trainee start at around £25,000. You can expect at least £39,000 once you’re fully qualified, rising by another £20,000 over the next couple of years. By the time you reach a senior level within your firm, you may easily be earning six figures.
There are over 2,000 chartered patent attorneys in the UK alone. Most UK attorneys are also qualified to work throughout Europe and, with some retraining to account for different laws, it’s a job you can do in almost any developed country.
Even though patent attorneys are qualified lawyers, they need to have the scientific knowledge for the job to start with. You’ve got to have a degree in science or engineering – usually one with a good grade. Even that may not be enough. Many applicants will have a doctorate (a PhD) or some scientific research under their belts. A basic IP qualification (see ‘What’s the training?’ below) or foreign languages (especially French or German) can also help.
Beyond that, employers will also expect you to have great English language skills, an aptitude for the Law (which you
usually develop through training), a close eye for detail and time management skills.
A word of warning: some ‘science with law’ courses just don’t cut it from a scientific point of view. Your technical understanding needs to be top notch to be eligible to do the UK and European exams that qualify you to be a patent attorney.
Did you know?
The song ‘White Christmas’ was written by Irving Berlin in 1942. It is thought to be the world’s most valuable music copyright.
Usually you get a job first and then get trained by the company your work for – either in a patent agent’s office or in a company patent department, alongside some other studies.
The training involves two levels of exams, which you must pass to be qualified as both a UK and European registered patent attorney. You also need to complete your training period and get a good knowledge of the law. This generally takes a minimum of three years.
You don’t have to be in a company to begin your training. There are Certificate and Master’s courses in intellectual property run by Queen Mary, University of London, Bournemouth University and Brunel University. These qualifications mean you don’t need to sit some of the UK qualifications exams. You can take these courses before applying for trainee patent attorney positions (but it is not mandatory to do so).
This is cutting edge stuff, dealing with the latest developments in science and technology and often protecting the magic ingredients that make businesses, large and small, successful. It requires brainpower and it keeps you stimulated, developing and learning throughout your career.
The exams are tough and so is the intellectual challenge of understanding new technologies. You also have to be wired for attention to detail.
Watch out for graduate recruitment adverts at your university , check out our jobs page for vacancies and work experience opportunities, and check out the job vacancies on The Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys’ (CIPA) website. You can also just write to law firms with a patent practice and ask about vacancies.
The CIPA website also provides more information about how to become a patent attorney – see here.