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Patent attorney: job description

Patent attorney: job description

Patent attorneys (also known as patent agents) secure and help to protect the granting of patents for their clients.
A postgraduate certificate in intellectual property law can reduce the length of time taken to qualify as a patent attorney, enabling exemptions from some qualification requirements.

What does a patent attorney do? Typical employers | Qualifications and training | Key skills

Patents are legal rights that are granted to the inventors of novel technical processes and commodities, securing exclusive rights to their inventions for up to 20 years. In the UK, patents are granted by the UK Intellectual Property Office or the European Patent Office.

They are responsible for:

  • reading descriptions and discussing details of inventions with clients
  • undertaking searches to establish that inventions are novel
  • producing detailed legal descriptions of inventions
  • submitting, defending and negotiating patent applications
  • supervising and training junior staff (technical assistants)
  • keeping up to date with intellectual property law
  • providing associated legal advice

Career progression within private practices tends to be structured towards partnership. It is also possible to become self-employed, move into a managerial position in industry or become a patent examiner.

Typical employers of patent attorneys

  • Private practices
  • Government departments
  • Legal firms
  • Major industrial organisations

Some work on a self-employed basis as sole practitioners. Vacancies and traineeships are advertised in national newspapers, Patents (the Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys' journal) and scientific publications such as New Scientist, Chemistry in Britain and their respective websites.

Speculative applications are advisable, as some positions are not advertised. The UK Directory of Patent Attorneys contains useful contact information for creative job seeking.

Qualifications and training required

To qualify as a registered patent attorney it is necessary to gain a good degree in a scientific, technical or engineering subject. It is also necessary to pass the Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys' (CIPA) qualifying examinations. This normally takes four to six years of part-time supervised and private study. Further examinations must be passed in order to practice with the European Patent Office (EPO).

Previous relevant work experience is an advantage but not normally required. Employers seek evidence of good verbal and written communication skills.

Key skills for patent attorneys

  • Meticulous attention to detail
  • Independence
  • Ability to explain complex information clearly and concisely
  • Good communication skills
  • Sound scientific and technical knowledge
  • Good IT skills
  • Analytical skills

Fluency in German and French can also be beneficial, since the European Patent Office requires candidates to have fluency in at least one of the two languages.

To find out lots more about patent attorneys, read what Peter Silcock, a partner at J A Kemp, has to say in our 'spotlight on patent attorneys' series:

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