Patent attorney: job description

Patent attorneys (also known as patent agents) secure and help to protect the granting of patents for their clients.

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You can only become a registered patent attorney if you have a good degree in a scientific, technical, mathematical or engineering subject.

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 currently 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 and its 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

You can only become a registered patent attorney if you have a good degree in a scientific, technical, mathematical or engineering subject. If you do not have a relevant degree you will not be able to take the Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys' (CIPA) qualifying examinations, which you have to pass to become a registered patent attorney. This normally requires three years' experience within the profession. Further examinations must be passed in order to practise with the European Patent Office (EPO).

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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