Case study

Associate patent examiner — Anna Rice

After hearing from a friend about the role of patent examiner, Anna applied for a job at the Intellectual Property Office (IPO). Find out what the job involves and how she's progressed through the training

How did you get your job?

I applied for a job as an associate patent examiner at the IPO through the Civil Service Jobs website, which involved a simple application form, then an interview here in Newport.

What's a typical working day like?

The majority of my job is spent searching and examining patent applications to decide whether they're new and inventive (among other things). I search through patent databases, scientific journals and the Internet to find similar inventions and use these results to write reports, which are sent out to the agent or applicant. I also deal with their responses to my reports, which may involve further reports or telephone conversations with the agent. We do this to make sure we're granting valid, high-quality patents.

I'm also involved in other activities within the office, so I'll often spend some of my time working for the Patent Examiner Recruitment team or attending committee meetings for iPride, the IPO's LGBT+ network, where I'm a committee member.

What do you enjoy most about the job?

I love working on new and exciting subject matter. There's something really thrilling about seeing the forefront of new technology before the general public. For a while I worked on patent applications for kitchen appliances, so I often got excited seeing new products being launched, that I'd seen months before as a patent spec.

I'm also thankful that we have such flexible working hours, which has allowed me to attend mental health courses and hospital appointments. We have in-house counsellors, which is fantastic.

What are the challenges?

We're often required to work on technology which we have no prior experience with - for example, I now work on process control systems and automated systems. For the first two years, you're expected to change subject area every six months so you definitely need to be willing to learn quickly and adapt.

Another challenge is writing reports to agents who may have much more experience than you. Holding your own when talking to an established agent on the phone can be daunting at first, but it's something that everyone picks up eventually.

How is your degree relevant?

My undergraduate Masters degree in astrophysics taught me general analytical skills which are key to understanding patent applications.

Occasionally I'll encounter subject matter that I recognise (such as computer programs), but mainly I make use of being familiar with abstract concepts and being able to understand them or put them into context.

How has your role developed?

After an eight-week training course, I joined an examining group and started working on live cases. At my current grade, all my work goes through my revising officer (a senior patent examiner) who may ask me to correct things or highlight things that I've missed. Having just completed two years in the office, I'm now given much more responsibility and my revising officer hardly ever asks me to change my reports.

In the near future I’m hoping to be promoted to patent examiner, which means that I'll no longer be considered a trainee.

What's your advice to aspiring patent examiners?

  • Don't neglect your written English skills when completing your STEM degree. Good communication skills are essential for this job.
  • Don't worry about becoming a legal expert overnight. The training you receive at the IPO more than covers the legal aspects you’re required to know.
  • Keep checking the Civil Service Jobs website for details of vacancies or recruitment drives.

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