A patent examiner does pretty much exactly what the job title suggests. In fact, some might say it’s ‘patently obvious’ what these guys do (sorry for that awful pun!).
Essentially, a patent examiner is someone who examines patent applications and assesses them based on the specifications of the particular inventions, their functionality, their safety and their originality. They receive applications from inventors and check them to make sure that they are legitimate and unique before the patent can be approved.
These guys conduct detailed research into existing patents using a variety of sources, including technical documents and computer databases. Furthermore, they conduct technical analysis of the application and write reports based on their assessments.
A typical workflow would look something like this:
- Receiving a patent application
- Checking it over to make sure it is actually feasible
- Cross-referencing it against other database entries in order to ensure that it is original
- Communicating with the inventor and overseeing the remainder of the process, once everything checks out.
Patent examiners work for the UK Intellectual Property Office or the European Patent Office and tend to specialise in certain types of inventions, such as mechanically engineered products or electrical goods.
Salary & benefits
Entry-level patent examiners can earn between £22,000 and £26,000 a year.
However, a fully-qualified patent examiner, who has chosen to specialise in a certain area of the industry and has gained significant experience, can earn up to £55,000 per annum.
Working as a patent examiner will have you pulling long days, going over documents, sifting through databases, perusing specifications and assessing the legitimacy of inventions.
Your professional life will be dominated by office work, which requires you to be researching at a desk for the majority of your time. If working on your own and conducting research floats your boat, then this is definitely the career for you.
To break into this industry, an undergraduate degree is essential. This should ideally be in a technical subject relating to mathematics, science, engineering or computer science, as it’s incredibly important to have a firm understanding of how inventions actually work in order to assess them properly.
You would be surprised what kind of applications come through the system. Indeed, the invention may be genius, but you can’t always count on the inventors themselves, as the specs could take some figuring out.
The limited number of available jobs in this area means that this career path is incredibly competitive and tough to get into. You’ll need to stand out from the crowd. Consequently, gaining some relevant work experience will boost your chances.
You’ll need to be analytical, have excellent communication skills and awesome attention to detail in order to sort through documents, organise them to make sense of it all and assess whether the invention is actually deserving of a patent.
Training & progression
Understandably, entry-level patent examiners need to undergo extensive training to become self-sufficient in the assessment of patent applications. The Intellectual Property Office puts all its new recruits through a one-year training programme, which involves shadowing a veteran examiner for a year.
Under your mentor’s guidance you will learn the tricks of the trade and everything there is to know about patent law. You will also be required to attend other training exercises as part of a structured programme, including lectures, tutorials and language training in French and German.
The European Patent Office training programme follows a similar dynamic, but lasts two years.
Once you become a qualified patent examiner, the only way is up (or across). You can choose to explore the different areas of the industry before choosing to specialise in a specific area, or you can choose your area of focus early on and strive to become a senior patent examiner.