Few careers give you the chance to immerse yourself in such a diverse range of science and technology or to grapple with such fascinating legal challenges. Fewer still give you both at once. Being a patent attorney is one of those careers. The rewards are excellent too, and compare very favourably with other professions.
So it’s interesting, rewarding work. The exams can be tough but the good news is that if you’re part of the Kilburn & Strode team, we’ll do everything we can to help you succeed.
We’re known for the quality of our structured training programme, and it’s the support we offer that really sets our approach apart, starting with a partner who will mentor you throughout. Another key difference is the level of responsibility – expect to be in client meetings early on in your training and working on real cases. You’ll be supervised, of course, but we know that the best (and most enjoyable) way to learn is to let you roll up your sleeves and get stuck in alongside other members of the team.
Phase 1: New Starter
Timing: for up to 1 year after joining the firm
Key activities: induction; introduction to patent law; responses to patent office objections; drafting new patent applications; client meetings
After a formal induction, you’ll join us as a Trainee Patent Attorney. Working side by side with experienced colleagues, you’ll begin to master the fundamentals of international patent law – the concepts of novelty and inventive step – and apply these ideas to your clients’ real-world situations.
At this stage, you’ll spend most of your time preparing responses to objections against your client’s patent applications from patent offices. This will involve doing a lot of research – from understanding the application itself and the relevant technology to dissecting the patent office’s argument – before crafting a persuasive response that distinguishes your client’s invention from ‘prior art’.
Preparation – or ‘drafting’ as we call it – of patent applications is central to what we do so this is another key skill to learn. This will generally involve meeting the inventor (maybe an engineer or an academic) to gain a clear understanding of their invention, how ‘ownable’ it is and how commercially viable. You’ll then be in a position to start writing the technical description of the invention and the ‘claims’ – the series of statements that set out in very careful terms the scope of the monopoly that is being claimed. This vital area of our work relies on being able to strike a balance between clearly distinguishing an invention from what has gone before while being broad enough to cover your client’s intended commercial activity (and, ideally, those of their competitors so your client has a commercial advantage).
All this on-the-job training will be supplemented by lectures organised by students of the Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys (CIPA) – many of them given by Kilburn & Strode partners and attorneys. The lectures usually take place on a Monday night just down the road from our offices at CIPA Hall, and we encourage our trainees to attend them and the drinks that follow in the nearby pub.
Phase 2: Certificate in IP, Queen Mary, University of London
Timing: you would attend this course usually no later than one year after joining. It runs from October to January, ending with exams.
All our trainees attend the Certificate course, gaining exemption from the foundation exams of CIPA when they pass the exams. The course runs all day Monday to Wednesday leaving Thursday and Friday for work and study. We also expect you to keep in touch with the office and your case-load during this period.
The course is made up of the following modules: Basic Principles of English Law, Copyright and Designs, Law of Trade Marks and Unfair Competition, Patent Law, and Competition Law.
More details about the course can be found at the Queen Mary, University of London, website.
Phase 3: Part-Qualified Patent Attorney
Timing: after completing the Queen Mary course and for the next 2-3 years.
Key activities: more experience and variety of case-work; more responsibility with clients and colleagues; preparation for remaining exams.
Once you have successfully completed the Queen Mary course, you will have a break from exams (usually for at least a year) and will concentrate on doing quality work and keeping your clients happy. This is a chance to build your skills at the core aspects of the job – particularly drafting applications and responding to objections. It’s also a time when you will rely less and less on input from your supervisor, have more autonomy and take on more responsibility. You’ll also develop your understanding of their commercial interests and this will shape the way you handle their cases.
At the same time, your workload will diversify. There’s a good chance you’ll become involved in opinion work (for example, where we advise whether a client's product would be found by a court to infringe a competitor's patent) and opposition work (for example, where we defend one of our client's patents from a challenge by a competitor). Opposition work nearly always involves us representing our client at a hearing at the European Patent Office in Munich or The Hague.
Alongside your day-to-day work in the office, you’ll also be preparing for the remaining exams to become a Chartered Patent Attorney in the UK (the final exams of CIPA) and to become registered as a European Patent Attorney (the European Qualifying Examination (EQE) and its pre-exam).
The sequence for taking the exams is usually: EQE pre-exam, CIPA final exams and then EQE. It varies, though, as the difficulty of the exams means re-sits are not uncommon.
Along the way, we’ll give you all the support you need – including tutorials from colleagues (some of our partners have served as examiners for these qualifications) – and you’ll be encouraged to attend tutorials and lectures outside the firm run by CIPA and other bodies. Both the EPO and CIPA websites contain more information on the various exams.
With the exams passed, you’ll be a fully-qualified Chartered Patent Attorney and a European Patent Attorney. This means you are now eligible to be promoted to the level of Associate within the firm.
Phase 4: Associate
Timing: usually after 4 to 6 years after joining the firm
Key Activities: working largely autonomously; running and growing your own case-load; business development; playing part in smooth running of the firm
As an Associate, you’re a fully-fledged attorney. You have the experience and judgement to manage your own case-load autonomously, efficiently and to the delight of your clients. For unusual or particularly complicated cases you may – as do even very senior attorneys – seek advice from a colleague. This sort of informal discussion and sharing of experience between colleagues is another characteristic of Kilburn & Strode, and something that we see very much as a good thing. One of the interesting things about this job is that others will almost always be able to add to your own perspective or experience; it's a very short-sighted attorney who thinks they’ve seen it all.
With increased responsibility comes the opportunity to perform at a higher level. As a new Associate, you wouldn’t be expected to bring in significant work, but your thoughts should turn in this direction once you’re established at this level. Gaining repeat instructions from clients, as many of our Associates do, is an excellent sign that you are doing something right. You could also become involved in business development activities, such as new business pitches, foreign trips to build relationships with clients and other attorneys, giving industry talks, writing for patent publications and networking at conferences. And joining the various professional associations, both domestic and international, is another good way to raise your profile and that of the firm.
We also encourage our Associates to play a part in the running of the firm, and you’ll already be managing the way that you and your secretary work together. You can also contribute by organising and taking part in department or firm-wide seminars, and, for example, in working with colleagues to develop the firm's computer and work-flow systems.
If you have ambitions to be more involved in the overall running and well-being of the firm, you’ll probably have your sights set on becoming a partner.
It’s a big responsibility as you could be one of the people who ultimately owns the business. To get there you’ll need to combine an ability to look after your case-load successfully with excellent business development and management skills.
We recognise that not everyone wants to become a partner, of course. That’s why we are committed to helping every member of our team, wherever their skills and career preferences lie, to fulfil their potential and have an interesting and rewarding work life.