GlaxoSmithKline plc (GSK) are currently recruiting trainee patent attorneys with a chemistry or life sciences background. To help explain what the job is like, one of their existing trainees Victoria Suen has written this blog post about how to get into a career as a patent attorney and what to expect when you get there, particularly in an “in-house” environment. She hopes to inspire other science graduates to consider making a similar move.
My journey into the patent profession was fairly clichéd in that I had done an undergraduate degree in Biomedical Sciences followed by a PhD in Immunology, but couldn’t see myself staying in academia for the long run. However, the perhaps not so clichéd aspect of my journey is that I didn’t really know what a patent attorney was until a couple of months before submitting my first application!
After finishing my PhD, I was on the hunt for jobs that would allow me to put all those long years of scientific training to good use but from the comfort of an office desk. I ended up working at a scientific publishing company for a few months, which although it helped me develop an eye for detail, good analytical skills and written skills (which unknowingly put me in good stead for my current role), I began craving something a bit more challenging. A friend who is not a patent attorney suggested I should look into becoming one, and that very day I typed “What is a patent attorney?” into Google search and the rest is history.
IP Careers was a great resource for me to learn more about the qualifications and skills required to become a patent attorney, and the patent attorney profiles on their website gave a good idea of what the day-to-day responsibilities may look like. I felt like the job description ticked a lot of boxes for me and I had some of the skills that employers were looking for. From my online research I knew that the profession was small and getting in could be challenging, so I applied to as many firms as I could. I recommend setting up an alert to get notified of vacancies (which is how I stumbled across my current role) because although a lot of the firms hire for an autumn start, this isn’t always the case.
The application process itself involved me submitting my CV and covering letter and then attending two face-to-face interviews. I didn’t have any prior patent work experience to boost my CV and looking back I knew so little about patents, but don’t let that hold you back from submitting your application. More often than not employers don’t expect you to have any existing patent knowledge; instead I think it’s more important to focus on showcasing your passion for science, ability to grasp complex topics quickly and think creatively. During the interviews there were some formal questions to get to know you as a candidate as well as written assessments to test technical aspects. My advice would be to stay calm and more importantly just be yourself, and remember that there’s not necessarily a right or wrong answer so make sure the interviewers get to know your thought process.
I was delighted when I was offered a job as a trainee patent attorney in GSK’s Pharma organisation. From day one I have been involved in a wide variety of work and have had the opportunity to work with many different patent attorneys, which has been invaluable for my training. Everyone in the department is super approachable and happy to help with any questions (which there are many of when you first start!).
As a so-called “large molecule” person my work involves drafting and prosecuting [see note below] patent applications typically relating to antibodies, compositions, methods of manufacture etc. I’ve also been involved in opposing and defending patents and have even had the opportunity to attend some oral proceedings [see note below] (which because of Covid have been held on Zoom these days!).
A key thing that sets being an in-house patent attorney apart from being a private practice patent attorney is the ability to work closely with your clients, the scientists, and becoming embedded in their team. This allows you to see the bigger picture and understand how intellectual property fits in and contributes to the overall business. I truly feel that this gives the work I do so much purpose – it is what makes the job fulfilling and rewarding.
Working towards qualification is also a big part of being a trainee patent attorney in general. The department has been supportive throughout my training, from allowing me to attend external training courses to attorneys providing tutorials and helping with marking my past papers. Being around colleagues that care and believe in you makes going through the exams a lot less daunting!
So, if you want to do something that is intellectually stimulating, challenging (in all the best ways) and always varied, I highly recommend applying to become a patent attorney!