Patent attorneys have a collaborative, social and informative role in the law industry. If you have a passion for learning about intellectual property law and creating new ideas, patent attorney jobs are an exciting prospect.
As a patent attorney, you will work with individuals and organisations, depending on the case. It’s a significant role in helping others to protect their intellectual property and copyright.
What is a patent attorney?
A patent attorney is a legal professional, who works with various clients, either individuals or organisations and assesses whether their inventions are eligible to be patented. Acquiring a patent for your client’s invention, whether it’s designs or processes, means the owner has a legal right to exclude anyone else from making, using or selling it.
It’s a significant step in giving your owner intellectual property rights and creating innovation.The role of a patent attorney is to lead both the companies and individual inventors through the process of obtaining a patent, as well as enforcing the inventors’ new rights if the patent is infringed by others.
You will usually require at least a 2:1 to acquire a job as a trainee patent attorney.
The process involves writing up descriptions of clients’ inventions and applying them to register using national and international protection systems. The government grants patents and usually gives inventors the right to stop other parties or organisations from copying their inventions for up to 20 years.
The job of a patent is significant in moving forward with innovative thinking and ensuring many inventors' patents aren’t infringed. Your role can differ, whether working for a private firm or in a large organisation. These are the day-to-day responsibilities you can generally expect:
- Brainstorming within a group to create new and inventive ideas.
- Collaborating with inventors or manufacturers, sharing your insight on whether they’re likely to succeed in obtaining patents.
- Writing detailed technical descriptions of inventions using legal terms (known as a patent draft) and ensuring they’re in line with legal standards.
- Researching existing patents and assessing whether a new invention is innovative.
- Being able to suggest modifications to help with the invention’s definition and purpose.
- Collaborating with clients and advice them on how much patent could be worth.
- Applying for patents to the UK Intellectual Property Office or European Patent Office, depending on the client.
- Ensuring you meet application and renewal deadlines.
- Collaborating with other legal professionals including solicitors and barristers.
- Advising clients if their patent rights were infringed.
- Representing clients in court during patent disputes.
- Advising businesses whether their activities can infringe someone else’s patent rights.
- Creating reports from the patent examiners.
- Working with overseas attorneys on applications for foreign patent applications.
- Keeping updated on developments in intellectual property law.
- Mentoring and tutoring patent attorneys.
- Advising on issues such as trademarks.
The average patent attorney's salary in the UK is around £58,000. London salaries are higher, on average around the £63,000 mark. The trainee patent attorney's salary is on average £37,000. When you gain experience within the role and move up the career ladder, your salary will increase.
The salary of a patent attorney varies on the person you work for, whether it’s a private practice or in-house. Working in-house as a patent attorney, you are more likely to earn a higher salary. However, for senior patent attorneys at a partner level, working in private practice can benefit you in reaching a higher salary. Private practices also have additional benefits.
You will usually require at least a 2:1 to acquire a job as a trainee patent attorney. This degree could be in engineering degrees, science degrees, technical degrees or mathematics degrees. Once a degree is acquired, you need to be accepted onto the UK Register of Patent Attorneys held by the Intellectual Property Regulation Board (IPReg) and qualify as a patent attorney. To qualify, you will need to work as a trainee patent attorney for two years, which involves on-the-job training and studying.
A postgraduate degree, either a master’s or PhD isn’t necessary, however, many patent attorneys opt to study postgraduate to practise in an area of patent law. This qualification can help speed up your process of qualifying as a patent attorney as you will gain a stronger understanding of this profession.
If you have achieved your undergraduate and don’t go down the postgraduate route, you can qualify for the job as a patent attorney trainee. The first step is taking a range of examinations at the foundation level including the IPReg-accredited Foundation Certificate examinations provided by the Patent Examination Board (PEB) or an IPReg-accredited Postgraduate Intellectual Property Certificate course. It depends on your employer which course you take.
Once completed, you will take your Final Diploma examination, testing your knowledge of intellectual property law and your skills in working as a patent attorney. Alongside these qualifications, you will need to work two years supervised within a full-time practice.
Acquiring work experience in the patent attorney sector can be incredibly challenging, due to the privacy in this line of work and opportunities are rare.
There’s also the option to start your role as a patent attorney by finding work as a trainee patent attorney or technical assistant, which can be in a company’s patent department or attorney firm. This is possible without a degree if you have gained a high level of technical experience within the industry. When you have got a job, you can qualify there, and it’ll take four to six years. There’s also the option to secure a job in this line of work if you are already qualified as a solicitor.
Training and development
Training is a significant part of the role of a patent attorney and usually takes place on the job. This includes in-house support, self-directed study and external training courses.
As a qualified patent attorney, you are required to complete a certain level of continuing professional development (CPD) per year. This can involve attending webinars and seminars in specific areas of patent work run by the Chartered Insitute of Patent Attorneys (CIPA) and other organisations. It can also include business development seminars and teaching.
Ensuring you are up to date with patent law UK developments is crucial and why home-study reading on specialist press and journals can be beneficial such as the CIPA Journal.
As a patent attorney, you will work with various people and play a crucial role in law. These are the relevant skills to have:
- The ability to communicate and write well, to persuade the IPO to grant a patent.
- Analytical thinker and great with problem-solving.
- Great at paying attention to detail.
- The ability to deal with a range of clients, individually and in organisations.
- Strong understanding of scientific and technological principles to get a better understanding of new inventions.
- Self-motivated with the ability to work on your own accord.
- Great with time management and organising.
- The ability to explain technical ideas to others.
- Excellent at executing a coherent argument.
- Great at working within a team and collaborating with others.
- Confident in your line of work.
- Logical thinker which can be applied to arguments.
- Effective computer skills.
- Excellent legal knowledge.
- Useful to know other languages.
Acquiring work experience in the patent attorney sector can be incredibly challenging, due to the privacy in this line of work and opportunities are rare. Despite this, patent attorney internships are available, typically during university holidays such as Easter and the summer holidays. These internships last at least two weeks and offer an insight into the role and the day-to-day tasks it entails. Speak with your university or contact local firms to see if they offer internships or work placements.
Some organisations offer undergraduate insight days or weeks to help them experience a sense of the job role. These sessions typically focus on the specific company you are visiting, however, is a benefit for you to learn and show your commitment to the profession.
Work experience which helps you develop your analytical skills, communication and attention to detail can also be useful as these are the skills patent firms seek out.
There is a natural progression once qualified as a patent attorney for in-house roles, but for private practice, there’s more flexibility. The typical route is to gain experience within a private practice before moving to an associate or partner of that specific firm, which is the next step up.
A patent attorney is a legal professional, who works with various clients, either individuals or organisations and assesses whether their inventions are eligible to be patented.
Alternatively, choosing to specialise in a specific area of patents can help develop your skills further. You could also play a part in the business development of the firm and work on that side of the patent industry.
For the in-house patent attorney roles, you will usually go from patent attorney trainee to qualified and then move up to head of the department. You could also move into management or research roles, or become a patent examiner with the IPO. An examiner examines patent applications from the other side.
There’s also the option to head down the self-employed route, creating your agency or taking on freelance work.