Case study

Patent examiner — Helen

Following a short spell working for a pharmaceutical company after graduation, Helen decided that a lab based career wasn't for her

Why choose patent examining?

I hadn't originally considered a career in patents but it seemed a perfect opportunity to apply the knowledge and skills obtained in my MChem in chemistry with medicinal sciences in a different environment. An online form and a short interview later, I was offered the job.

If you have a real interest in your subject matter then this is a great way of seeing how new technologies are developing before anyone else

Was your degree relevant in getting your job?

All patent examiners come from a science, mathematics or technology based background so that they understand the subject matter of the applications that they're working on. I currently work on a range of chemical and medical based applications, directly applying the knowledge from my degree.

What do you do day-to-day?

My day would typically be spent scrutinizing both the technical and legal aspects of a patent application. I'd start by gaining an understanding of the inventive concept, searching databases to compare the new invention to the prior art, then making a report of my findings for the applicant.

I would also consider the overall clarity of the application alongside any other legal issues, and in the latter stages of the process, consider whether or not to grant the patent.

How has your role developed and what are your ambitions?

All work is closely supervised during the first couple of years of the job by a revising officer, and I found that I was given a lot of guidance and support on all aspects of work during this time. As I have gained more experience in casework, I've become more independently proficient and I achieved promotion after two years in the office.

On top of this, there are plenty of opportunities to get involved in other projects around the office, and I'm currently involved in the recruitment team, which provides variety to my day-to-day work.

In future, I aim to gain promotion to senior patent examiner and have a greater involvement in other projects around the office.

What do you enjoy about your job?

I enjoy the fact that the applications I work on are at the forefront of technology and can be varied, but the flexible working environment is what I really like about the job. There are no core hours, which make it easy to maintain a healthy work-life balance, and the flexi-time means it's easy to work up more days off to add to the already generous annual leave allowance, handy for longer travelling holidays.

There's also the opportunity for home working, something I took advantage of when I broke my leg.

What are the most challenging parts of your job?

Applications can often be unusual and many are based on the latest advances in technology which haven't been publicly disclosed before. The challenge lies in understanding these inventions and recognising the relevant parts of law to apply; however the office regularly provides seminars to help maintain your legal skills, and revising officers are always on hand to help.

What are the best things about working in this sector?

The career progression is non-competitive, meaning you're promoted when your performance reaches the required level, and not when a vacancy occurs. It is highly motivational to have such a clear and structured career path.

What advice would you give to an aspiring patent examiner?

Any applicant with a high level of technical knowledge and analytical skills would be well suited for the role. If you have a real interest in your subject matter then this is a great way of seeing how new technologies are developing before anyone else.

Find out more

See what jobs are available at the Intellectual Property Office.