There’s no patent for the perfect patent attorney (yes, it would never be approved), but there are certain qualities that most patent attorneys have:
1. An undergraduate degree in a hard science or engineering subject
If you want to become a patent attorney, you’ll need at least a 2:1 in a degree. Due to the technical and scientific knowledge required, the majority of patent attorneys have a scientific or engineering background.
It’s probably safe to hedge your bets on doing a degree such as chemistry, physics, engineering, electrical engineering or similar, although talk to a careers adviser if you have any doubts.
2. A postgraduate qualification
You don’t have to be a genius, but academic qualifications are valued. You may have to get your head round some extremely complex and technical patents in your working life. Around 60% of patent attorney trainees have a postgraduate qualification and around half of these have a PhD.
This is not to say that a postgraduate qualification is essential (the remaining 40% without a postgrad degree will testify to that). If you’re dying to work for a particular patent firm, you might want to check their entry requirements to see if they stipulate a preference.
The majority of prospective patent attorneys will pursue a postgrad qualification to further their technical knowledge, although a few opt to study a postgraduate certificate or LLM in Intellectual Property Law.
3. Passion for law
It’s not all about the science and technical stuff; patent attorneys are part of the legal industry and are specialists in intellectual property law. Thus, a passion and aptitude for law is pretty crucial.
You won’t be expected to have a law background, but you should be able to structure an argument, be persuasive and possess an eye for detail. If you aren’t interested in law, then you might want to rethink your career choice.
4. Commercial awareness
You’ll need to understand and support the commercial objectives of your clients, who may be huge businesses or commercial enterprises.
Patent attorneys also need commercial skills like business development and client care. The majority of patent attorneys work in private practices.
Being commercially astute will help your practice to thrive and will come in handy if you decide to become a sole practitioner.
5. Aptitude for language
A significant part of the job is the ability to communicate complex matters clearly. Drafting comprehensive legal documents, following and developing complex legal arguments all requires a superb command of both oral and written language.
Parlez-vous français? Sprechen Sie Deutsch? Fluency in another European language isn’t essential, but it really helps to be able to read French and German.
Why? Well, patents aren’t just national anymore. Most patent attorneys qualify as a European patent attorney. And don't worry about brexit affecting the status of patent attorneys - the Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys have confirmed that this will not be the case.
So there you have it: five things you might want to consider before deciding to embark on the patent attorney career path.