Patents are legal rights that are granted to the inventors of novel technical processes and commodities, securing exclusive rights to their inventions for a period of up to 20 years. In the UK, patents are granted by the UK Intellectual Property Office and the European Patent Office.
Patent officers are responsible for:
- investigating every application to determine that the invention is clearly described and appropriate for use
- undertaking manual searches of previous publications to establish that inventions are novel
- considering technical issues related to inventions
- using online technical databases
- publishing the applications together with search results
- producing search reports and sending these to applicants/patent agents
- liaising with applicants/agents to resolve disputed matters
- following appeals through to their conclusion (possibly at court hearings)
Career progression is possible by changing employer, promotion into senior examiner positions or by moving into patent attorney work.
Patent examiners are employed by the patent offices. Opportunities are advertised online, in newspapers and in scientific or technical publications such as New Scientist and its respective website.
Speculative applications are essential, and patent offices generally keep records of those who express an interest in working for them and inform them when suitable vacancies become available.
You can only become a patent examiner if you have a relevant degree. This degree is normally in a scientific, technical or engineering subject. Pre-entry experience isn’t usually needed, although relevant patent or documentation experience is advantageous.
- Sound scientific and technical knowledge
- Good IT skills
- Research skills
- Analytical skills
- Communication skills
The ability to understand German and French is also beneficial: the European Patent Office requires candidates to be able to understand at least one of the two languages. Language training is usually available for successful candidates once in employment.