Case study

Associate patent examiner — Jody

The recession hit shortly after Jody graduated, making opportunities in fields he would have liked to work in hard to find...

How did you get your current job?

I saw the listing for associate patent examiner at the IPO on a graduate job website. I hadn’t considered the possibility of working with patents before but, after reading the job description and doing my own research into intellectual property, I found myself liking the idea of being an examiner more and more.

I applied, was invited for interview and was happily accepted.

This job is ideal for people who are fascinated by how things work and like to keep their mind active

How relevant is your degree to your job?

The IPO requires a science or mathematics based degree of all patent examiners to help them understand complex inventions, so my MPhys in Physics and an MSc in Sustainable Energy & Environment were essential.

The skills I gained in university are a great asset to me in my job, not only for understanding what an invention is about, but also in being able to independently learn about technologies or concepts that I might not be familiar with.

What's working as a patent examiner like?

A typical day is spent processing pending applications by reading and understanding the technical documents describing the invention and then conducting a search or an examination in accordance with patent law.

A search or examination can take anything from a few hours to a few days so there's plenty of time to become familiar with an invention. There's a tremendous variety of inventions that come in and it's always interesting to encounter a technology I never knew existed.

Examiners tend to work in specific areas of technology so they build up a kind of expertise in those areas, which helps them to identify more quickly what the characterising features of a particular invention might be. Examiners are, of course, required to become familiar with patent law, which itself is very interesting and intricate. Working in the IPO is a desk-based job but the variety of casework and the scope for learning new things make it very interesting and engaging.

How has your role developed since you started?

I'm currently almost one year into my role and still in the training stage, which lasts a minimum of two years; that alone should give an indication as to how much there is to learn. All of the focus in the training stage is on improving skills relating to patent examining. Through the casework I've done and the discussions I've had with my revising officers, I have steadily improved as an examiner since I started, both in quality and speed.

The experience is the biggest asset to improvement by far because every case is different, coming with its own nuances and peculiarities that sometimes require a lot of careful consideration.

In terms of my career ambitions I definitely want to stay in this role and progress as an examiner, eventually becoming a senior examiner.

What do you enjoy about your job?

The variety of the casework is nice and I get a feeling that I'm being a part of progress by processing the new inventions coming in. I also really enjoy the scope for independent learning if I come across something I'm not familiar with.

The work environment is very pleasant and supportive, both socially and materially, and having the freedom to work any daytime hours that suit me is a big positive, giving me the opportunity to best balance my working life and private life.

There is a very high level of support for staff, in terms of development opportunities as well. These take the form of side projects that examiners can work on in place of examining for a period of time. It’s a very mentally stimulating and satisfying job, which is ideal for people who are fascinated by how things work and like to keep their mind active.

What are the most challenging parts of your job?

The job can be mentally tricky sometimes with trying to understand a complicated invention or in deciding how best to apply the law when processing an application. No two cases are exactly alike so each one has to be carefully considered.

Sustaining a high level of concentration can also be challenging but all staff are encouraged to take routine measures to refresh themselves.

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