The Big Picture
Jonathan Foster graduated from the University of Leeds in 2016 with an MPhys & BSc in Physics. After eighteen months studying for a PhD, he joined Intellectual Property Law Specialists Appleyard Lees, who are based in Leeds, where he has worked as Trainee Patent Attorney since 2018 (qualifying as a European Patent Attorney in 2022).
The Application Process
Jonathan studied a professional skills module during his degree, which involved weekly lectures from different physics professionals. The patent attorney session particularly interested him and had always stayed at the back of his mind even during his later studies.
Once he’d made the decision to move away from his PhD, he searched online for trainee patent attorney positions, focusing on three firms based in Yorkshire, as he was keen to stay in the area. At the same time, he was also applying for other technical roles and on the day he was offered the position at Appleyard Lees he was also offered a different role at another company.
“So I went from no offers to two offers on the same day, and had to make that tough decision.”
Jonathan mentioned that the main talking points in his interviews were not the physics degree he completed but the other things he’d done around his degree, such as the society and undergraduate research body he co-founded and other extra-curricular activities.
“Doing the extra stuff, that makes you stand out.”
“Appleyard Lees is a leading intellectual property law firm with over fifty patent and trade-mark attorneys and litigators. Who we are and what we do – but also, how we do it – makes us distinctive. We help our clients protect and monetise their intellectual property, and manage post-grant challenges, should they arise. We offer broad sector and industry knowledge, plus the ability to adapt our services to specific client requirements, in an agile way. With offices in UK innovation hotspots, we are positioned to give clients expert strategic IP advice in the UK and worldwide.” – Appleyard Lees
The Learning Curve
Jonathan’s main point of learning was around the fact that he was initially studying for a PhD at the Univeristy of Leeds, but decided that as he wasn’t enjoying the experience he would change his career path.
“I heard about patent attorneys during my undergrad, but didn’t pay it too much attention because I thought I want to go into research. It turned out that doing a PhD just wasn’t for me. My mental health wasn’t great at the time, and I found myself feeling very anxious. At one point, I changed my working patterns because I didn’t really want to be in. Basically, just didn’t have a very good time of it.
I made the decision to leave, and although it was difficult to carry out (and tell those around me), when I did leave I felt instant relief, like a weight had been lifted.
When I left I wanted to find a job that didn’t leave the science behind fully. I wanted a role that was a mix of a ‘city’ job and something that involved seeing new technology. This was where being a patent attorney sat quite nicely.”
Another attractive thing about becoming a patent attorney was the fact that it was a new area of learning.
“The thought of learning something completely new was appealing because having to learn the legal side of the role was completely different compared to the physics that I had done for the previous six years. Law was something I’d never studied, but always found interesting.”
Day to Day
Jonathan acknowledged that being a Patent Attorney is a desk job, it mainly involves teams or zoom calls, emails and written communication.
“On a typical day I might have a new client meeting, or meet with an existing client about a new invention they have. We’ll talk to the inventors about their invention, and then I will go away and start to draft a patent application for their product. I might also respond to letters from the UK or European patent offices, arguing why an application should be granted, or amending the application to overcome objections.”
He is also required to respond to patent applications via exam offices and attend related court hearings.
“You could be summoned to oral proceedings at the European patent office. You attend these either in person or via teleconference and you’ll be sat in front of multiple European patent Examiners. This is effectively your last chance to argue on behalf of your client. You have to be able to succinctly respond to the Examiner’s objections and explain why the patent application should be granted.”
The Physics Connection
When asked about how much technical physics knowledge Jonathan used in his role he recognised that it was less than he thought.
“The thing I use most is the actual ability to just understand and interpret a new concept quickly. In a physics degree you’re taught lots of weird and wonderful physics things and it’s that skill that’s useful when speaking to an inventor or an Examiner. You might meet with an inventor who is very specialised in a particular technology, and you have to know when to ask more questions and quickly recognise features that may be important later down the line.”
“It’s a lot of written communication… converting scientific information into a legal document is quite different, and something you do have to learn, and I think that’s often a big hurdle for someone with a physics background. A physicist might typically be very used to working with things that are black and white, whereas the IP world is far more grey and can be interpreted in many ways.”
His advice to current undergraduates would be:
“Do something you like, and if you don’t like the thing you do first, find another thing!”
The Next Step
When asked whether Jonathan could see himself staying in his current role going forward. He replied:
“It is a job I could see myself doing in the long term, but you never know what is around the corner. Saying that, I could see myself quite happily doing this for a long time, which is a very nice position to be in.”