Each Friday we post a new v i s t a profile, a career beyond the academy story (use the tags at the bottom of the post to find the entire list). These posts accompany our curated events to support post-PhD career transitions, v i s t a mentoring, and also #sheffvista on Twitter.
Job title and company: Patent Attorney, Teva Pharmaceuticals
Detailed salary information for the UK market can be found here.
I enjoyed my time at Sheffield University whilst studying for my Biochemistry undergraduate degree and planning and performing experiments as part of my PhD. Towards the end of my PhD project I decided that I wanted to find a career that allowed me not only to keep up with the cutting edge of science, but also to broaden my business horizons. I found such a career as a patent attorney.
I stumbled across the profession after reading the Inside Careers Guide to being a Patent Attorney (which I thoroughly recommend to you if you are considering this career). Through a friend of a friend I met with a Patent Attorney who helpfully answered my many questions about the profession. I sent speculative applications to numerous patent law firms and was eventually offered a position at a private practice in Leeds.
I discovered that patents include a healthy mix of science and law. Training in private practice exposed me to a variety of biotech inventions from numerous clients ranging from pharmaceutical companies and SMEs to universities and spin-outs. My training period last for 3 years and required me to pass eight exams. The exams are very challenging and nearly all of the studying must be done outside of working hours.
During my time in private practice my average day would be spent working on two or three files, looking at patent application documents, and trying to convince a patent examiner that an invention is patentable. Generally this involves explaining the important differences between the application and any known existing technologies and as well as discussing the strategy with the client.
One great aspect of being qualified under European patent law is the opportunity to work anywhere in Europe. The business and working language of most international companies is English and often this is the only language requirement for a Patent Attorney vacancy. After I qualified, I applied for an in-house position in Switzerland to work for a pharmaceutical company on biosimilar projects. Biosimilars are copies of branded biopharmaceuticals. In this position I am responsible for helping scientists to work around patents of branded pharma companies so that we can launch our biosimilars as soon as possible. Pharmaceuticals are typically protected by layers of patents covering, not only the product, but also aspects such as the dosing regimen, formulation, manufacturing method, patient subset, to name but a few. If we find that there is a patent that we cannot work around then I have the job to attack the patent by filing an opposition at the patent office. Oppositions are such large projects that we often work with patent attorneys from private practice. We look for evidence that the invention lacked novelty or was obvious at the time that the patent application was filed. We attempt to show the patent office that they erred in granting the patent and that the patent should be revoked.
An enjoyable part about my role is working within an in-house cross functional team with individuals who specialise in different areas of the pharmaceutical project. We align and brainstorm strategies with the common goal of getting the best quality molecule on the market as soon as possible. Examples of the colleagues that I work with are:
- colleagues from technical development, where I help to guide the development of manufacturing processes and formulations that have freedom to operate;
- colleagues from marketing and commercial, where I support in the selection of which biosimilars to develop by providing key patent expiry dates and predictions of which aspects of the project may be blocked by patents going forwards;
- colleagues from global supply chain, where I assist in the selection of which country to manufacture the product based on where the patents expire first;
- colleagues from business development, where I work on due diligences and assess the freedom to operate of biosimilars being in-licensed from third party companies; and
- colleagues from regulatory affairs, where I help to provide alignment between the IP landscape and regulatory pathways.
After three years in this role I transitioned to another pharmaceutical company in Switzerland where I now work on both biosimilars and branded biopharmaceuticals. It is interesting to work on both sides of the fence and I can apply my learnings from one side to the other.
If you are serious about a career as a patent attorney, the best advice I can give is to get your foot in the door and work towards qualification. Competition for training positions is intense and it is important to make your application as attractive and interesting as possible. Most life science graduates approach the profession with a number of higher education qualifications, and a PhD is increasingly common. While a PhD is not essential, it is true to say that most trainee patent attorneys will have a strong academic background.
The patent attorney qualifying exams are challenging but it is certainly worth it. A qualified patent attorney will have a myriad of opportunities to explore as their career develops.