Engineering a career in Intellectual Property

Article Date: 31 July, 2017

Katie Howe, double award-winning trainee patent attorney at Barker Brettell, developed a love for physics from an early age. She went on to explore this passion in her first degree, before being awarded a PhD in Engineering. A career that involved wearing a white lab coat or a hard hat beckoned. So what attracted Katie (pictured) to the world of Intellectual Property (IP) instead?

As a small child, my cousin nicknamed me ‘The Why Bird’. I’ve always wanted to know how and why things happen.

From sub-atomic particles and quantum effects, to cutting-edge materials and galaxies: physics is our way of understanding how the universe works.

I assumed you needed a law degree, not a science degree, to become a patent attorney. I always imagined I would end up in a research position in academia.

Then I met a patent attorney and was involved in filing a patent application in the course of my PhD. That got me thinking.

If pushed to define a patent attorney, my two-word summary would be ‘science lawyer’ or sometimes ‘professional pedant’!

A big part of the job is identifying the core of an invention and putting that into words as clearly as possible. You need a solid scientific background so that you can pick up new scientific ideas quickly.

Although I’ve been honoured by winning two prestigious national patent examination awards I’m never complacent.

The type of person entering the IP profession generally has sailed through not all, but certainly the majority, of exams.

Many have doctorates. But as a trainee it is highly unusual for candidates to pass every exam first time.

Time management and preparation are key. If you’re workshy, being a patent attorney is not the career for you.

I feel privileged to be involved in inventor meetings, seeing the excitement of someone talking about their ‘baby’ and getting to grips with new ideas.

The firm has also encouraged me to go and present to school children about the role of science and engineering, talking about the range of different jobs under that very wide umbrella, and highlighting that women can indeed be scientists and engineers!

In the next five years I’m looking forward to working on clean energy and self-driving car technologies and in turn helping to transform such innovation into patents.


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