Case study

Technical assistant — Rizuan Azhar

Rizuan enjoys the challenge of getting a patent application granted. Discover his top tips for getting into this niche profession

How did you get your job?

After completing a degree in electronic engineering, I came across the patent profession through Dawn Ellmore Employment, an independent recruitment agency specialising in the patent, trade mark and legal professions, who were looking to fill a number of graduate positions at different firms across the country.

One of the interviews they arranged for me was at D Young & Co LLP. Everything about the firm appealed as much of the work related to industries which interested me and, more importantly, I got on well with the partners.

I was subsequently offered a position and I haven't looked back since.

What's a typical day as a patent attorney like?

The bulk of the work consists of responding to letters from patent examiners. These letters indicate whether the examiner believes an invention to be patentable or not. It's my job to identify any errors in the examiner's analysis of the invention and explain why the invention is patentable or, failing that, to amend the patent application and convince the examiner that the invention is patentable.

Other less common tasks include meeting with clients or potential clients to discuss inventions, drafting new patent applications and visiting the European Patent Office to attend hearings.

What do you enjoy most about being a patent attorney?

Prosecuting a patent is somewhat like a game of chess with words. Solving the puzzle is a balance between satisfying the examiner while also ensuring that the scope of the patent application will be of use to your client. This is engaging and challenging, which makes the job interesting.

In addition, getting a valuable patent to grant is always a nice accomplishment. Not only does this represent a minor personal victory, but you also feel satisfied having provided a good service to your client.

What are the challenges?

In some cases an examiner might be correct, and an invention may not be patentable. While this may not be the attorney's fault, it can still be frustrating.

How useful is your electronic engineering degree?

It varies on a case-by-case basis. Some patent applications are directly related to subjects I studied at university, while others are completely new to me. Although it's helpful when I'm familiar with the subject matter of an application, it's not essential.

Most patent attorneys have to work in fields which don't match their academic backgrounds. Having the right set of skills and characteristics will make you stand out more than the particular STEM degree you studied.

How has your role developed?

The learning curve is very steep and comes with increased responsibility. As I've become more experienced I've been handed more important tasks.

Ultimately, my goal is to become a partner, but for now the focus is on becoming a qualified patent attorney.

What advice can you give to others?

Research the profession. While being a patent attorney can be very rewarding, it's not for everyone. Think carefully about whether it's a career that is going to fulfil you. If it's something you feel passionate about, make sure you demonstrate this during interviews.

Be open minded. No matter how experienced you are in your field, you will be entering a very niche industry. There will be many things you don't know and you will have to turn to your colleagues for help.

Don't be discouraged. As a niche industry, many of the required skills fall outside of what graduates have been taught at university. This can put candidates from different academic backgrounds on a fairly level playing field.

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