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?
Working at the Intellectual Property Office, a patent examiner decides whether applications for patents can be granted. To do this they need to hunt through the databases to check for ‘prior art’ (evidence that somebody else came up with the idea first) and work out whether the application really describes a genuinely new and inventive concept. If so, they must check it meets the legal requirements to be awarded a patent.
Experienced examiners also manage and train their more junior colleagues and sometimes you might get involved in project works with companies or even conducting hearings if decisions are challenged.
See also Intellectual Property Office examiner.
The Intellectual Property Office is the government department that officially recognises patents and other intellectual property.
A good technical understanding is essential in order to be able to analyse patents and applications quickly, but you’ll also need strong communication skills, so you can present arguments – both technical and legal – to different audiences who may well not have the same technical understanding as you.
To apply, you’ll have to have a degree in a science, technology, or engineering subject or in maths – and you’ll have to get a good grade too. Your degree subject can be quite specialised (so long as it’s a field where lots of people want patents).
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.
When you start the job, you spend the first couple of months doing a classroom-based training programme. After that, the training is on the job, with one-to-one supervision from an experienced examiner. For the first two years, the ongoing programme of training continues and even after that you need to keep improving your skills and staying up to date. The career path to becoming a senior patent examiner is clearly structured and involves regular legal, technical and skills training.
Helping people get their ideas protected is quite a buzz and it involves being at the cutting edge of developments in your field.
When a new patent application lands on your desk, you need to get your head around it fast, understanding it well enough to judge its innovation and reviewing the scientific literature. That would be challenge enough, but the technology and law are constantly changing, so even when you’re trained, you can’t stop learning and adapting.