When did you become a patent agent/attorney?
I’ve been a patent attorney since 1994. Two years corporate, the rest in private practice.
I love it. It’s a really great career. I don’t really sweat the economic ups and downs. I know what I am doing, I like what I do and my skill set is valuable to companies and in demand. I do work hard, but that suits me.
I did not know much about this while I was an engineer. That said, by the time I started attending law school at night it was for the sole purpose of entering this field.
Why did you think this would be a good career transition for you?
While working as an engineer I became familiar (a little bit) with the patent field. It struck me as critical to the success of a company and, therefore, a critical function within a company.
My view of engineering was becoming a bit jaded as we went into a paperwork intensive iso-9000 regime. I also knew I needed to get further education; namely, an MBA, MS EE or law degree. I chose the latter because I wanted to be part of what appeared to me to be an upcoming corporate emphasis on intellectual property, particularly the creation and use of patents to protect technical innovations.
What is one thing you like about working as a patent agent/attorney?
I like learning something new every day. I like taking a complex innovation and finding way to express its essence in a clear and concise manner to further my clients’ interests.
What is one thing you dislike about the work?
Very little. I really like what I do pretty much every day. I am very busy at times and often need to focus on immediate client needs to make sure that the many time constraints associated with my practice are managed properly. Scheduling control is critical, and sometimes I just need to handle what’s next rather than what I wish to work on.
Do you feel like there are advancement opportunities?
Absolutely. This is a challenging job requiring technical, communication and legal skills. If you know what you are doing then you can move into different areas within the broad patent or intellectual property fields. There are opportunities in private practice as well as in corporations and government. There are opportunities on the technical side as well as legal/business/venture sides.
Do you have any tips for people who are looking for their first job in the field?
Learn to communicate well. Learn to speak and to write effectively and logically. Find some way to demonstrate this ability to a potential employer. Find some way to demonstrate an ability to learn quickly. Develop the critical ability to distill a complex topic or concept to its essence, along with an ability to communicate this essence within the context of whatever narrative is appropriate (a patent application, a letter to a client or opposing party, a letter to the CEO or board of directors etc.).
I like to see some evidence of discipline; an ability or determination to stick with something until it’s done. Things such as military experience, night school, work experience and the like are very interesting to me as a hiring partner. Volunteer to write something for a prospective employer. Challenge them to test your ability, to give you the opportunity to show that you really know what is necessary for this job.
One of the problems for a patent firm or company is the fact that the time investment in training a new patent attorney or patent agent is high. The claims of a patent application (the most important part), will likely be poorly written by the new hire for six months to a year. That’s just the way it is. The trick for both the new hire and the company or firm is to find a way to quickly ramp up and become somewhat self sufficient.
New hires should learn the technology of the company or client as well as they possibly can. They should do this quickly, and not just on business time. A primary skill of a patent attorney or patent agent is very quickly digging down to the specific technical minutia necessary to express the invention/innovation, how the invention should be practiced and so on.
We don’t have the time or budget to write a treatise on the invention. We need to focus on what is before us and why it is novel/nonobvious. Muddled thinking leads to muddled writing/speaking, poorly drafted patent applications and the like. This is to be avoided.