A Graduate’s Route to a Career in Intellectual Property
Originally published July 2, 2015
I can’t say I’ve always wanted to work in intellectual property. It’s not the sort of profession you grow up glamorising and fantasising about, but now that I’ve been an IP Analyst for a year, I can honestly say it is exactly the type of career I hoped for. It is both challenging and fulfilling and I think a lot of graduates would be interested in the type of work I get to do. This is the sort of career that requires both technical and analytical skills as well as excellent communication and customer relationship skills. It’s not your every day job, and every day is a little different and while I never thought IP Analyst would be my job title, I couldn’t be happier and feel it’s worth sharing how I got here.
How does a graduate become involved in intellectual property? Unlike more traditional professions, there’s no guided path into the IP industry. Look at banking for example, the majority of present day graduates have read economics and completed some form of work experience at their present employer or in a related firm. They have not “fallen into” their profession, there has been a structured path from A-Levels until the day they walk into the office.
I first became interested in Intellectual Property after a lecture by Ron Hymers, a Patent Attorney with BP, as part of an Industrial Skills course at University. What initially drew me to it was the chance to work in a discipline that combined my skills in engineering with my love of cutting edge technology. My natural curiosity often leads me to investigate how everyday objects operate and working within the IP sector allows me to scratch that itch on a daily basis. I initially assumed that this career path would require some sort of legal conversion, law school and a lengthy training contract. It wasn’t until I dug a little deeper that I found there was a much broader range of opportunities at my disposal and that my technical background prepared me well for dealing with IP matters.
Overall, there is a lack of knowledge around the extent of careers within IP. When I explain what I actually do to friends, family and people I meet, I am often greeted with a blank, glazed over expression that screams, “I have absolutely no idea what you are talking about.” A personal favourite of mine still has to be, “Yes, I know that sector, you work with intelligent houses.”
In general, most people don’t know the full extent of the work involved in Intellectual Property. They may be aware of the legal process for both filing patents and protecting IP, but there is more to it. What most people don’t know is that before that step there is a lot of research and strategy that goes into creating, writing, analysing and applying for patents and there are people like me who analyse existing patents and find competing technologies to help clients make better strategic decisions. It’s not as simple as creating something, protecting it with a patent and making money off your product. As an IP analyst, I help clients pinpoint areas within their R&D that they should invest in and what they should patent, what they should licence and what patents they should buy or sell. The skills learnt in technical subjects like physics, engineering and computer science, are crucial tools used frequently when dealing with IP matters.
Some of the key skills needed to be successful within this sector are listed here:
Particularly in smaller firms, an IP Analyst performs a lot of the research and analytical work alone rather than as part of a team. You will therefore need to be able to manage your own workload, motivate yourself to complete tasks on time and be sufficiently self-critical to quality assess your output. Right from day one, you will have to conduct private research and study, whether for your day-to-day work or to get you through the external courses you may be taking to help boost your career.
You will need to be comfortable with technical information, possibly over a wider range of technologies than you are used to. Even if you are a biochemist, for example, you might still have to get to grips with the chemistry behind a client’s new drug preparation process, or the mechanical or electrical aspects of their new drug delivery device. You will almost certainly need to understand basic engineering drawings, circuit diagrams and flow charts and of course graphs, spreadsheets and other common data presentation formats.
To be good at the job, you should have an enquiring mind. You will not initially understand every invention you come across, but you must be able to ask the right questions and learn quickly, becoming just enough of an expert to provide the assistance your client needs. It will also help if your curiosity extends to the commercial aspects of your work: an IP Analyst should be as interested in the business context of a client’s technology as in the science behind it.
IP Analysts have to analyse large amounts of information and reach logical, well-reasoned conclusions. You will need to be clear-thinking and rigorous in your analyses, critical of data and evidence, comprehensive in your approach. Often you will need to get to grips with both the details of a situation and its ‘big picture’ implications. And you will need to process legal and commercial information as well as scientific.
You will have several pieces of work on the go at once, possibly for different clients and in different technical fields. Some will be urgent, some not; some large, some small; some complex and others relatively easy. New instructions or queries could arrive at any time. And all of this work will carry deadlines driven by your clients’ business needs.
As an IP Analyst, you will need to be organised. You will have to work quickly, but without loss of accuracy. You must learn to prioritise your case load, to delegate where appropriate and to manage your time efficiently so that all of your tasks get due attention and within the right time-frame.
The ability to maintain discretion is a crucial skill. You will be involved in super confidential projects and privy to top secret information from the moment you begin. Keep your mouth shut or the consequences could be severe!
Many IP consultancy firms have their consultants work alone and unsupported, they are constantly faced with new technology and new scenarios or must convey important but possibly unwelcome advice to clients, because of all these things, you will need a good dose of self-confidence. But start with a little, and build it up gradually. With greater confidence in your abilities, there comes a greater need to recognise and admit your limitations, and humility will be a valuable trait throughout your career. An IP Analyst is a service provider, after all: there will always be plenty to learn from both colleagues and clients.
Many large corporations have in-house departments with talent that is devoted to the businesses’ IP. Others outsource their IP to consulting firms like ClearViewIP where I work. The benefit of working for a firm that is devoted to IP is that everyone is on the same page. You are not a subset of the larger business, IP is our business. At ClearViewIP you are not alone, support is provided from the moment you walk through the door easing your apprehensions as you start your career. New employees are given a recognised experienced mentor. The entire team kicks around ideas, supports one another and shares experience to pull threads together in an interconnected world. Formal training is offered and actively encouraged – many of our consultants have gained postgraduate certificates in intellectual property law having attended these courses part time with allowed study leave.
If you are thinking of becoming an IP Analyst, ask yourself whether you possess the skills mentioned earlier. Challenging though the role may be, there are great rewards. IP analysts often work on highly significant projects for our clients which can be incredibly exciting (e.g. IP strategy before a company’s IPO or helping clients to acquire patents to defend law suits). From early on in your career there will also be times when you get the opportunity to communicate directly with clients to present your work and understand the value it gives them.
Most graduates begin their careers with ClearViewIP at the analyst and senior analyst level (descriptions below) and are provided with a clear path for success within the company. Work hard, ask lots of questions, listen to advice and I assure you, you’ll go a long way.
Curious to learn more? Visit our careers page. We’re always looking for talented professionals to join the ClearViewIP team. Currently, we’re looking to hire an IP Analyst. Don’t hesitate to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more about starting a career in IP.