Chris Pratt

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Why Osborne Clarke?

Before joining Osborne Clarke, I was aware that the firm has an excellent reputation for providing an inclusive and welcoming culture and that it takes a genuine interest in looking after its employees. Since joining, I am pleased to say that the firm really does take these commitments seriously and there is strong desire to make the firm a truly excellent place to work.

Importantly for me, Osborne Clarke also demonstrated a real ambition for growth in my in area of specialism (patent disputes), which is supported by sustained growth of the firm generally over the last 30 or so years.

Finally, Osborne Clarke is a forward-looking firm which is quick to react to and embrace disruptive changes in the market and in technology. Osborne Clarke is a firm that really seeks to understand the industries in which its clients operate. The firm was an early pioneer of the sector-focussed approach and is currently considering how a number of major transformative shifts (for example, digitalisation and decarbonisation) are likely to impact our clients' businesses across a huge range of industry sectors and how those businesses can adapt to and embrace those changes.

What drew you to qualify into intellectual property (IP) and patent law?

I have a STEM background, having studied chemistry and law at university (as a Joint Honours degree) and have always enjoyed learning about how things work. After carrying out some research, attending vacation schemes, and speaking to people, it became apparent that patent law offers a really good balance of science and law, allowing me to continue to apply my knowledge and skills as a scientist on an ongoing basis.

How has studying STEM been beneficial to your career?

My STEM background has been hugely beneficial to my career. When doing patent litigation, it is critically important for the lawyers to understand the subject-matter of the case. This doesn’t necessary mean you need a STEM background (and, in fact, some of the most highly regarded Patents Court judges and other patent practitioners do not have STEM backgrounds) but it has certainly helped me.

What it really requires is a curious mind and a willingness to really engage with the technical detail of how things work. For example, many of the cases I have worked on have required an understanding of cell biology and immunology, which are not subjects I was necessarily so familiar with as a chemist but they are subjects that I am interested in and have a desire to better understand. Indeed, it would be quite rare for the subject matter of a case to align so perfectly with something you have already studied (e.g. during an undergraduate degree or Ph.D).

The advantages of having a STEM background are more a function of the disciplines you learn as a STEM graduate and possessing certain qualities that are applicable to the skills needed to be a successful patent litigator. For example, having an analytical mind and taking a logical and structured approach to solving problems. These skills are helpful in many areas of law (not just patents). It also helps to not be afraid to get into the detail of a case by reading, and committing to really understanding, the relevant scientific literature. Many points in patent cases are often won or lost based on the quality of the data presented in the scientific literature so it's really important to have a willingness to understand and analyse that sort of information.

What has been the personal highlight of your career so far?

One of the highlights for me as a patent litigator is being able to learn about and really understand new areas of science and technology. A lot of this learning is done by discussing the science and technology behind an invention with leading experts in their fields. As patent litigators, we are really in a very privileged position to be able to have one-on-one discussions with these leading (and often world-renowned) scientists and, for me, it is one of the best parts of the job.

You really do develop a strong rapport with your expert after going through the process of having discussions and preparing detailed expert reports with them over 12 months or so, all of which culminates in an intense period of cross-examination at trial. This is very much an experience you share and live through side-by-side with your experts and, as a testament to the bond you form, I am still in contact with some of the experts that I have worked with over the years.

What is the one piece of advice you'd give someone considering a career in law?

I am going to be cheeky and offer three pieces of advice! First, there is absolutely no need to study law at university. It is far better to study something you are truly interested in and passionate about.

Secondly, there is no harm – and actually there is a real benefit – in exploring other career options or pursuing further academic research before applying for a career in law. If anything, this kind of real world experience and exposure to other commercial settings, is seen very favourably. Particularly for applicants coming from STEM considering a career in patents, having a Ph.D and potentially a number of years doing post-doctorate research can be tremendously valuable as many of the skills and disciplines you will learn are directly applicable to successfully conducting patent cases.

Finally, if you think IP or patents may be of interest to you, get as much experience and exposure to this area as possible and make your interest in IP/patents known early on in your training.

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