There are around 1,500 patent attorneys in the UK. These guys are whizzes in intellectual property (IP) law. They deal in patents, trademarks, design rights and copyright law.
Patent attorneys help inventors and companies navigate the tricky path to obtaining a patent, and advise clients on patent infringement and other areas surrounding intellectual property rights.
A patent attorney might work in a firm of patent attorneys or in-house for a large company. They advise clients on the likelihood of obtaining a patent, partly through studying scientific and technical documents and utilising their specialist knowledge.
They’ll apply for patents, putting together patent drafts and compiling tricky technical arguments to support the case. It’s not just about obtaining patents, but also renewing, defending and enforcing patents, trademarks or copyright. Patent attorneys handle the legal legwork required when a patent is transferred or sold, and they might also advise their clients on other intellectual property areas.
Patent attorneys work with a wide range of people – from scientists and inventors to solicitors and barristers – and as such they need top communication skills and, importantly, a good technical and scientific knowledge.
Salary & benefits
Trainees can expect to earn somewhere in the region of £24,000 to £33,000 a year.
Newly qualified patent attorneys are looking at salaries between £50,000 and £60,000, rising to between £70,000 and £85,000 with experience.
Further up the career ladder and you’ll find heads of IP departments (e.g. in industry) earning around £100,000 to £250,000+, whilst partners might be taking home around £80,000 to £300,000+.
Generally, patent attorneys will work traditional working hours. However, they might work longer hours to meet deadlines or finish projects.
This is a profession that combines a knowledge of both science and law. It’s a tough area of law to get into, with high academic standards. Most patent attorneys will have a good degree in science or engineering, and a healthy percentage will have completed further postgraduate education, such as a masters or PhD, although postgraduate education isn’t mandatory.
Some candidates might choose to do a Postgraduate Certificate or LLM in Intellectual Property. Knowledge of another language isn’t strictly essential, but competency in French and German will significantly help patent attorneys.
The key thing is that many candidates won’t be coming from a law background, but they will need to show an interest and capability in law. They should be able to structure an argument, be persuasive, and have an eye for detail, as well as solid commercial awareness.
Confidence and good communication skills are important, as, of course, is scientific and technical knowledge
Training & progression
Most trainee patent attorneys will undergo ‘on-the-job’ training, coupled with independent study and perhaps external training courses. Wannabe patent attorneys will need to pass various examinations from the Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys and complete two years of supervised training. Indeed, only after that will they be able to qualify as patent attorneys.
Patent attorneys might look to specialise in certain areas, progress to become a partner of a firm or lead an industrial IP department. This will usually involve taking on an increasingly managerial role.
Some patent attorneys train for further qualifications so they can practice as a trademark attorney. Otherwise, they might go on to become self-employed, working on a freelance basis or setting up their own firm.