Market Leaders Pick Their Market Leader: Who is the patent agent with the mark of approval?

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The Independent Online
Chris Eyles


WP Thompson & Co

AS A European and Chartered Patent Attorney, one's function is to protect the client's inventions, a task which requires the attorney not only to understand and describe the client's ideas, but to define the invention and, hence, what his competitors can be sued for copying. I enjoy the challenge of having to analyse a tremendous variety of subject matter at the cutting edge of technology, including chemical engineering, pharmaceuticals, computer-controlled instruments for brain surgery, vending machines, hip and knee implants, genetic engineering, and food technology. As a trade mark attorney, I also register those for clients.

The world-wide nature of the profession requires close co-operation with colleagues in other countries, observance of tight deadlines, and mutual trust. I appreciate enormously the sense of international fellowship that exists throughout the intellectual property profession. With a directory of patent attorneys in my pocket I know I have a friend in every country. There are three attorneys who impress me. John Ellis CBE, formerly partner of Mewburn Ellis and a giant in the profession, is a solicitor, besides being a patent attorney, and set me the highest possible professional standards, forming a beacon that I have tried to follow. David Votier, a partner of Carpmaels and Ransford, has been a powerful voice for the profession in Europe and has served with great distinction as president of the Chartered Institute of Patent Agents and the European professional body. John Reid, whose services to the profession were recognised by an OBE in this year's Birthday Honours, is the former head of Unilever's patent department and now secretary- general of the Intellectual Property Institute; he managed to combine running successfully the Dutch and English offices of his department with his duties as president of the Chartered Institute of Patent Agents.

Mike Abrams

Managing Partner

Haseltine Lake & Co

THERE ARE several qualities essential to becoming a success within this industry. You need to possess the perseverance to be able to take up a problem and overcome any difficulties on the way to solving the problem. The invention has to be completely distinct from anything else invented so you need the patience to comb through past similar inventions. You also need the fine mental agility to grasp the technical detail of the invention and be able to translate this into writing. It helps to have the ability to remain calm when faced with technical jargon. The one rather nasty down-side to the profession is the fact that we do have absolute deadines. The legal framework within which we work imposes serious repercussions if documents are not submitted on time. So an ability to meet deadlines is essential. A successful patent agent will enjoy dealing with people at the top of their careers - that's certainly what I enjoy about it, along with an excitement and enjoyment of science. Thinking about agents who impress me, I think I'd plump for Ian Muir who has just retired from our Bristol office. He was broad-ranging in abilities and an expert in terms of computer related inventions. He was involved in our professional examinations and he is also an author. Despite all this, he still managed to maintain a sense of humour and sociability.

Chris Rees


Kilburn & Strode

I'D SAY two things are very important for a patent agent. The first is the power of analysis which is important when it comes to technical and legal questions. This is why the profession is quite so interesting. I am given different problems to solve day after day and that's a great challenge to rise to. The second important capability is the aptitude to communicate with others. We have to speak to all levels of inventors, analyse their data and situations and explain any problems. Although we don't often get the wackier type of inventor, when we do I think it is good that they are around, otherwise you are working within a rarefied atmosphere of business people and researchers. The smaller people bring you down to earth. So I do appreciate them. You do have to be intellectually very agile and fully committed to the career. Patenting is an international industry and that adds an interesting dimension. Patent agents are continually exposed to different national cultures and it is fascinating to see how other cultures examine different things. It's vital to be able to think and act quickly, but accurately. I admire a great many people, some for their mental process- ing abilities and others for the way they've moved the profession. But if I had to single out agents, I'd choose the Bill Caro for the way he moved the profession forwards with his vision to set up a mutual insurance association for the industry. The whole profession now gains from his vision. And there's David Votier of Carpmaels and Ransford who I admire for the international contribution he has made for the industry while bearing the British flag.

Richard Abnett

Senior Partner

Reddie & Grose

ONE THING you can say about the patent profession - every job you do is going to be different, by definition. A science degree is the basic essential, but what we look for is an analytical mind, an ability to communicate, and an ability to express concepts in clear written English. The ability to communicate is vital; you may be dealing with a one-man firm one day and a multi-national corporation the next. Being able to put yourself in the shoes of the person you are advising and tailoring your advice accordingly is very important. It's an esoteric profession; few clients can judge whether you have done a good job. You must be prepared to obtain your job satisfaction from knowing that you have done your best for a client. That said, it is extremely satisfying when you have got to the bottom of what an inventor has really done and analysed just where he has departed from the known ideas - frequently inventors don't realise themselves just what they have achieved. Unlike other jobs for science graduates, this one is not restricted to one narrow branch of technology. It can be toasters one moment and computers the next. No other job I know provides such stimulating variety. I think Richard Jenkins, who started his own firm, stands out in the profession for me because of his ability to combine a professional approach to his job with the ability to run a business at the same time - he has set up his own firm. So that's what I admire, the capability to run a firm while being a successful practitioner.

Tibor Gold


Stephenson Harwood

TO BE a success in this field, you should have a good scientific or technical brain, allied with a facility to write jargon-free English for the lay person to understand. And you need to enjoy problem-solving. I actually enjoy the fact that it's an international business and luckily enough, I am an extrovert who speaks several languages. The travelling is definitely a perk of the job for me. In essence, the idea is to perfect a fusion of legal expertise, technical knowledge and verbal capability in order to be a success. One of my partners here, Nick Hadley, has managed that. He is very good with clients, he is very patient and he has a deep and through knowledge of the law. I'm not just plugging my firm either. I've worked with Nick for 17 years and in my opinion he's an extremely impressive and very capable patent agent.

John Slater

Managing Partner, London

Marks & Clerk

THE IDEAL patent agent combines a good general scientific ability (obviously, it's not possible to know everything) with an inquisitive mind - you've got to be able to ask the client the right questions about the invention - and an enjoyment of the English language. Personally, I am thoroughly enjoying the client side of my work at present. My clients are usually big multinational companies and I enjoy being allied with that level of marketing and research. That's the great thing about being a patent agent, there are so many facets to the job and one rarely spends two days doing the same thing. I do enjoy the business side to the profession, making sure we operate efficiently, examining our computer systems, all that stuff. But overall, it's a wonderful job and I certainly have no wish to retire just now. There are a number of people I particularly admire in the profession and obviously there are plenty working within my own firm!. But if I were to pick out individuals, I would name David Evans of FJ Cleveland, I've watched the firm and seen it develop well. I also admire Tibor Gold of Stephenson Harwood who is an extremely impressive figure, always keen to promote the profession and keep us in the public and professional eye. And then another key figure would be David Votier of Carpmaels.

Tony Rackham

Lloyd Wise & Tregear

BEING A patent agent is particularly intellectually satisfying. And the intellectual challenge will change from day to day. So you need to be on the ball. You need a broad understanding of science and scientific issues in order to understand the detail and meaning of your documents and you must also be a competent scientific writer. I do think you also need to be something of a businessman to progress in the world of patenting. You need to be able to hold your client's hand, so to speak, and think in their terms so it's not really any use just being an academic; you need commercial acumen.

The real skill of a patent agent is in drafting the patent claim and good use of English is absolutely vital. I think one of the impressive people around at the moment is David Votier of Carpmaels. He works hard to keep Britain's name at the forefront of Europe and spent some time working on the European system. He brought an interesting view to the profession and ensured levels of professional qualifications were kept up.