A career in IP (intellectual property) might not be the obvious choice for students planning their future. But, as Albright IP Director and Trade Mark attorney, Katie Oliver, points out in this wide-ranging interview, if you’ve got a degree and want a role that offers variety, challenges and daily job satisfaction, it could be the perfect fit …
Q: How did you get into IP?
It wasn’t my initial goal. I did a law degree but was really quite unsure as to what direction I wanted to go in. I thought that a law degree would give me diversity and options.
During my final year, I was also following my love of horses, teaching some children with their ponies and a parent asked me what I was going to do with my law degree. He told me that he ran a Patent and Trade Mark firm. I’d only heard about IP during my degree to a certain point, but he invited me to go and spend some time with him, which I gladly did.
As soon as I was there, I loved it immediately. I loved the diversity, working with so many different clients, different products, different brands. Every day was different. I thought: “This is what I want to do.” After finishing my degree, he invited me to join the firm as a trainee.
Q: What was your route to qualification?
The initial training was two years. Then I went to Queen Mary College in London on a residential part-time course for six months. That was the first part of the qualification, which was followed by a second period of training, again in London.
This focused on the more practical aspect of the law. In total, it took me three-and-a-half years.
Q: What advice would you give to anyone considering starting out in a career in IP?
I think it’s very important to get experience as soon as you can. Make contacts with people. Be persistent.
When work experience opportunities arise, grab them with both hands. Try different firms of different sizes and different locations, perhaps even solicitors with a smaller IP department rather than a pure IP firm, to just get as broad an experience as you can to see what works for you.
Q: How would you describe the day-to-to job and what it involves?
So, a large part of my role is education. We work with clients from start-ups through to multinationals, and many of them don’t have IP knowledge or experience.
That means we need to hold the client’s hand through the registration process and make sure that they are clear in their own mind as to what they’re doing, why they’re doing it, why it’s important, and understanding it in the wider context of their whole business.
It’s not just about Trade Marks, but also about Registered Designs, whether that’s applicable in their business, whether Patents are required, and particularly in such cases, any non-disclosure issues. It’s critical that the client understands what each right is and how it’s applicable to their business.
Q: If you think IP might be the career path for you, how do you choose an area of specialism or expertise?
This will depend on your technical background. If you have a technical or science degree, then that will drive you more down the Patent side of things because you need that scientific background to be a Patent attorney.
If you’re leaning towards a law degree, then the Trade Marks area will be the right path for you.
Q: What skills would you say anyone wanting to work in IP should possess?
You’ve got to have passion for what you’re doing. You’ve got to be self-motivated. You’ve got to be forward-thinking. You’ve got to have good communication skills. You’ve got to be prepared to work hard because the qualification route is demanding. The role is demanding. There’s often quite a lot of stress involved. So, you have to be prepared to work very hard and to meet the demands of the client.
Q: Is the best route to join an IP company straight after graduating – or are there alternatives?
Usually, the best route is to join after completing your degree. But everyone is different and it might be that you have some in-house experience in a technology company in a slightly different role and then decide to move into IP. What’s critical is getting on-the-job training, this is the key to unlocking your career.
Another route into IP is to start as a paralegal initially, either on the Patent or Trade Mark side. This way, you can get a very strong grounding in the procedural aspects and then, if you’ve got a degree, you can move on to attorney training.
Q: Is there a particular sort of person who is drawn to a career in IP?
There’s a huge diversity of people. But generally, Patent attorneys are very technical and academic, and look at things in minute detail.
These traits are less necessary as a Trade Mark attorney, because they don’t have to have that specialism – in a typical day they could be working in everything from clothing or a hi-tech product through to teaching or training. If you like, it’s the softer side of IP!
Q: What do you like best about your job?
Diversity. Every day is different, something different is happening. I really like seeing start-up clients, watching them grow here in the UK and then expand abroad, and being part of that journey. It could be for many years. You understand their business and you travel with them. So, you feel like it’s a real partnership with the client.
Q: What would you say to people considering joining Albright IP?
I think the huge advantage at Albright IP is the exposure you will get to a very wide breadth of tasks.
In many companies, you’ll likely be in a role where you’re doing the same repetitive task again and again. Here, in most cases, everybody gets a crack at everything, under the guidance of their partner or director. It means you get exposure to so many different types of work and client. For somebody who’s coming into the profession, that experience and opportunity is second to none.
In many cases, the senior managers are working in the same room as trainees or paralegals. So, they’re hearing what’s going on, they’re absorbing all the time. We have an open-door policy and encourage people to come and talk to us, and it’s a very interactive experience.
It all adds up to a brilliant learning curve for new starters and those on their qualification journeys alike.
Katie Oliver is Trade Marks Director and a Chartered British Trade Mark Attorney at Albright IP.
The Albright IP vacancies page for careers with us is here.