One of the questions that I am asked often when I introduce myself is, “why and how did I choose a career in Intellectual Property (IP)?” Perhaps the origins of my interest in IP lie in my interests in law. While at college, I noticed that while my skills in my subject of specialization (Chemistry) were about average in class, my other skills such as written and oral communication, debating, making presentations, intrapersonal and interpersonal skills etc were substantially better than average.
Among the various specializations in law, Patent law was perhaps the only one in which a degree in science or technology would be a major advantage, and not just an additional qualification. Typical choices that were available to me on graduation included further studies in the same subject (e.g., in the USA), a job through campus placements, and further studies in management by appearing for entrance exams. I consciously chose not to opt for either of them. Instead, based on a recommendation from my guide who I worked with on my Masters thesis (the convener of the patent committee), I joined the division that handles IP (among other things) at the university. As such, I did not get much training on IP (or salary), but the job gave me some confidence (that I could learn on my own) and exposure.
As a student from a reputed institution where grads are assured of jobs with high salaries, working as a research assistant (very much like an intern) was not easy for me to digest, especially when my (less talented) peers were earning much more. But I told myself that I could either have a sustainable career in my chosen field (Intellectual Property) OR a high-paying job, but not both (at least not right away).
There are some fields that require analytical skills, not much specialized knowledge, and minimal training. Fresh graduates from reputed institutions can easily find high paying jobs in such fields and continue to grow further (just based on their analytical skills or on newly acquired management skills) without investing in acquiring specialized knowledge, however IP is not one of those fields. Without specialized knowledge, one can get a job (even a high paying one) related to IP, but not sustain a career, as the lack of specialized knowledge leads to stagnation in the (initially) high-paying job.
Some of the requirements to build a sustainable career in patents include:
1) The ability to grasp new technologies and applications quickly
2) Excellent written communication skills
3) Ability to understand laws, read bare acts and rules and apply them in practical situations
4) Interpretation of techno-legal documents
5) Thinking and reasoning like a patent professional (which is different from thinking like a scientist or engineer)
6) Analytical skills (particularly in patent analytics)
7) Reading comprehension (including ability to discriminate between relevant and irrelevant)
8) Attention to detail
9) Training by an experienced patent professional
10) Practical experience to realize and internalize the training
Among these requirements, the ones that can make the maximum amount of difference to an IP career are 9 & 10, namely training by an experienced patent professional and practical experience to realize and internalize the training. 9 & 10 can save several years of struggle for entrants to a career in patents, and even help cultivate 1 to 8 quickly. So, if you aspire for a career in patent law, choose a firm that will give you the right training, opportunities and exposure.
Image credit: http://blog.kaplanlsat.com/2014/08/15/different-types-of-lawyers-patent-law/