October 24, 2012 by IPAlchemist
My current job.
I am a patent attorney, partner in the intellectual property law firm EIP, and head of its chemistry practice group, EIP Elements. This covers pharmaceuticals, food science, process chemistry, polymers, agrochemicals, batteries, inks, and all sorts of other fascinating things.
What I do in a standard “work day.”
A lot of reading of patent documents and other “prior art” (which can be journal articles, abstracts…). A lot of writing as well: huge volume of emails; drafting patent documents; writing letters to the patent office, or other patent attorneys in other countries; and of course writing to my clients giving opinions, advice, and reports.
Although the work runs the danger of being solitary, I make it collaborative by talking to my colleagues – getting second opinions, arguing over obscure rules of grammar or punctuation, or discussing knotty legal problems.
There is quite a lot of travelling – I get to go to Japan and the USA quite regularly, and Munich (the seat of the European Patent Office) often. My favourite place to visit has been Jurong Island in Singapore, which is a vast agglomeration of chemical plants and an amazing sight.
What kind of schooling / training / experience helped me get there?
The chemistry degree was essential – you cannot even train as a patent attorney in Europe without a science or engineering degree, and you can only practise in a technical field that you understand. It was probably also important that I was interested in topics outside science – English language and literature and other languages especially, as literacy is a key aspect of being an effective patent attorney.
I did a DPhil and a post-doc – these were not perhaps so essential, although I do think that it helps me as a patent attorney that I understand a little of what it is like to do actual research. In the long term, the most important thing about the post-doc was probably that it was in Japan, so I learned Japanese. Many people enter the patent attorney profession after an undergraduate degree.
How does chemistry inform my work?
It is there all the way through – in particular the nomenclature aspects – you cannot claim a class of compounds if you don’t know how to name them correctly. It was probably teaching 1st year organic chemistry to biochemistry undergraduates that really hammered nomenclature into my head. I rely on the inventors most of the time for the detailed technical input, but I have to have the general background knowledge to understand this.
Being in private practice (rather than working in-house in a particular company) I get a lot of variety in the technical fields that I work in, and I really love that. My main reason for moving away from the research path was the monotony.
Finally an anecdote
My entry into the patent world was by a series of accidents. I heard about it when I was a teenager when my mother had an idea (a heater for the windscreen wiper reservoir to prevent freezing) and consulted a patent attorney about it. I mentioned that I was interested in the patent attorney career to a student doing a DPhil in the same lab as me when he was planning to enter the profession, and when he left his job to emigrate, he contacted me to ask whether I would be interested in the vacancy. A partner was visiting Japan where I was doing my post-doc at the time, and the job was then mine! People nowadays are a bit more methodical about it all, I think.