Spotlight on patent attorneys: training and progression
A career as a patent attorney involves a lot of training and studying for qualifications. However, it also offers a good salary and attractive progression routes. A patent attorney at a private practice will most likely set their sights on partnership, while a patent attorney at a large organisation might work towards a managerial position. You could also decide to become self-employed and set up your own firm or even become a patent examiner.
What training will I go through to become a patent attorney?
There is a lot of studying and training involved before you can call yourself a European patent attorney or a chartered (UK) patent attorney. These are protected titles that you cannot use until you’ve got the qualifications needed.
As a trainee, you will need to be willing to spend time in the evenings and at weekends revising for exams. It will usually take around five years to complete your training. This might vary depending on your employer and if you need to retake any exams. The exams are difficult so this isn’t uncommon.
The training you receive will depend on a) whether you work for a private firm or in a patent department for a large organisation and b) which private firm you join. Different firms may offer slightly different training programmes. You can usually find details of the training on offer on the firms’ websites.
A trainee patent attorney’s first five years might go something like this:
- The first qualification you’ll work towards is the Certificate in Intellectual Property. Trainees usually study for this after a year in the job and it gives you a general grounding in intellectual property. It covers patents, trade marks, copyright, designs and competition law. The course begins in September and the exams are in January. It’s usually done at the Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) and this exempts you from the GB Foundation Certificate examinations. Once you’ve passed this, you can call yourself part qualified.
- You’ll then focus on becoming a UK patent attorney and a European patent attorney. In your third year, you’ll study for the European Qualifying Examination (EQE) Pre-Examination. This involves multiple choice legal questions and claim analysis questions.
- In year four you’ll study for your EQE finals. This includes four papers covering patent drafting, patent amendment, opposition drafting and legal matters. Once you’ve passed those, you can call yourself a European patent attorney and can represent your clients before the European Patent Office.
- In year five, you’ll study for and take your UK finals – called the Patent Examination Board (PEB) Final Diploma Examinations. You can take these earlier than the European finals but if you do pass your European exams first you only need to take two UK finals rather than four.
You can then call yourself a chartered patent attorney and a registered patent attorney.
The training doesn’t end here though. A qualified patent attorney must complete the Intellectual Property Regulation Board (IPReg) litigation certificate within three years of qualifying and will also need to commit to continuing professional development throughout their career.
What is progression like as a patent attorney?
Once you’ve qualified, you’ll usually spend a year or two as a qualified attorney before becoming an associate. After a few years as an associate, if you show promise, you’ll then be considered for partnership.
What salary does a patent attorney typically earn?
The starting salary for a trainee patent attorney will usually be in the range of £28,000 to £33,000.
By the time you have qualified your salary is likely to be around £55,000 to £65,000.
As you progress, it goes up from there. You will earn more than this as an associate and you can be earning a six-figure salary as a partner.
Thanks to Peter Silcock for his help with this article. Peter is a partner in the chemistry and pharmaceuticals group at J A Kemp. He started his career as a patent attorney in 2002 and joined J A Kemp in 2005.