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Murray Edwards College
University of Cambridge

Career Path: Patent Attorney – What it is and how to be one

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    01 Nov

    Having graduated from New Hall (now Murray Edwards) college in 2006, I now work as a Patent Attorney covering technologies in the fields of Physics, Engineering and ICT.  Alongside working, I am studying for the qualifying exams.  Having a science degree is a requirement for entry to the profession; there is plenty of law to learn but it is learnt “on the job”.  Patent attorneys are therefore scientists with training in intellectual property law (rather than intellectual property lawyers).  The work is challenging; we must quickly understand new technologies, distil them to their core concepts, and re-formulate them in patent applications.  An education in a relevant scientific field is crucial for understanding new inventions from first principles, and very much valued by clients.

    For me, the work provides an opportunity to combine my interests in science, business and English language.  I am able to keep track of technological advances in a number of different areas.  The work is necessarily cutting edge, and covers a wide variety of subject matter.  I also enjoy the customer liaison side of the role, providing tailored services to clients ranging from independent inventors to CEOs of large companies.

    Patents directly contribute to the global body of scientific knowledge.  They provide a twenty year monopoly (an exclusive right) over an invention in a particular jurisdiction in exchange for a full public disclosure of how the invention works.  The public should be free to work the invention once the patent expires.  Patents provide an incentive for research and development, enhancing productivity and innovation.

    Whilst there are many exciting challenges for the profession ahead, personally, I am aiming to qualify as a UK and European Patent Attorney.  Qualifying fully as a UK and European patent attorney requires passing professional exams and typically takes around five years.

    Being a Patent Attorney can provide a rewarding career.  The progression and salary prospects are good, and the work is varied and interesting.  Women continue to be under-represented particularly within physics and engineering disciplines within the profession.  I am committed to working to address that disparity, and actively encourage women in STEM to consider the Patent Attorney profession.

    Sarah Phillips
    Part-qualified Patent Attorney at Abel & Imray