Did you know that a STEM degree is a prerequisite for becoming a patent attorney, or that it takes the same amount of time as getting a second degree to become fully qualified? We found out this and more when we talked to newly qualified patent attorney Andrew Sunderland.
What’s your name?
I am 28 years old.
Where do you work?
I work in the London office of Haseltine Lake, an international firm of patent and trademark attorneys.
What's your job title?
UK and European Patent Attorney.
How long have you been doing that?
I have been a patent attorney for about five months.
How did you get there?
I started out studying engineering. I didn’t know at the time, but a STEM degree is a prerequisite for becoming a patent attorney. After graduating from university in July 2010 I started an internship here, which eventually led to me being offered a training contract in early 2011.
The training to become a qualified UK and European patent attorney takes a minimum of three years (three years of experience is required to sit the European qualifying examinations) and I passed both my UK and European final exams earlier this year. Generally, training and revision for these exams is done alongside full-time employment, as was the case for me.
What's the work like?
The day-to-day work involves reading about and understanding inventions and then communicating between the inventor and the relevant patent office.
For example, today I spent the morning learning about a new type of printer and then preparing a letter to the European Patent Office arguing why that printer is new and inventive over existing printers. Then in the afternoon I did something similar for a patent application relating to a computer processor.
The job also includes every step from working with inventors and drafting patent applications through to grant of registered IP rights (such as a patent) and post-grant matters such as litigation.
What did you expect when you started working at Haseltine Lake?
I think it’s generally what I expected. There haven’t been any major surprises. Perhaps the realisation that qualifying takes as long as doing a second university degree was a bit daunting, but it is in effect another degree, because you start out as a scientist or engineer and are then taught the law relating to intellectual property.
What's the best thing about the job?
The best thing about the job is that there is rarely a dull moment. Every new application relates to state of the art technology and it’s part of a patent attorney’s job to learn how the technology works in a relatively short space of time.
So, although the job is in the field of law, patent attorneys get a lot of exposure to a wide variety of technology.
And the worst?
The worst thing about the job is probably that you’re occasionally required to work long hours. It’s still considerably better than the hours solicitors work, but every now and then your workload can require more than the usual nine to five. On the flipside, if you’re working with particularly complicated technology, it can be a very satisfying moment when you have worked through the complexities and finished the job.
What have been your career highlights to date?
As a student I was involved with helping my university’s Formula Student racing team test elements of our race car’s braking systems, which was a lot of fun and helped the team to perform well at the competition. My career highlight to date is definitely the day I became a qualified patent attorney. It’s nice to achieve the recognition after many years of study.
Do you still consider yourself an engineer?
I do still consider myself an engineer, but I am obviously not a practicing engineer.
Is there any advice you’d like to pass on to those currently studying engineering?
My advice to soon-to-be engineers is that an engineering degree is a great qualification to have and can obviously lead to many diverse career paths.
What do you think you'll do next?
My career plan is to develop in my current role, no doubt take on more responsibility and eventually I hope to become an associate of the firm.
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