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Working as a (Trainee) Patent Attorney

The Patent Attorney: the needle in the haystack

Many people are unfamiliar with the profession of patent attorney. Nevertheless, it is a field in which you can grow in all manner of areas. It is a field that keeps you busy every day with the most varied new technical inventions which you are able to articulate on paper into a standalone patent application. A good patent attorney is versatile and fully rounded. He or she is technically competent and has legal skills, a good feeling for language, a commercial mind and strong communication skills.

As a Trainee Patent Attorney you are trained to become a fully-qualified patent attorney. However, what does this process look like and what do your daily activities entail once you are working as a Trainee Patent Attorney or patent attorney?

Henri van Kalkeren, a former Trainee Patent Attorney and now a qualified patent attorney at the Chemistry & Life Sciences department in Amsterdam, and Maarten Reuver, a Trainee Patent Attorney at the Engineering department in The Hague are eager to tell you more about this.

How did you come to choose the profession of patent attorney?

Henri: “During my degree programme at university, I undertook a master’s work placement where we invented something. A patent attorney from V.O. then visited us to write a patent application for the invention. At the time, I already found this a really great process. This was the moment I started to become interested in the patent attorney profession. Several years later I decided to apply to V.O. for the role of Trainee Patent Attorney. The fact that V.O. has existed for over 100 years and is one of the largest firms in Europe, were extra reasons for choosing V.O.”

Maarten: “I studied Geophysics and wrote my graduation dissertation at TNO where I acquired knowledge about the business world. Some time later a recruiter recommended V.O. to me. That was the first time I had every heard of this kind of company. I didn’t know anything about the patent attorney profession, but after talking to V.O. about this, I knew it was something I was interested in. In Spring 2017, I started working at V.O. and followed an internal training course.”

What most appeals most to you about the profession of Trainee Patent Attorney?

Henri: “As a patent attorney, you’re involved with articulating the technological advances that your clients have made. The client often shows you their invention in the flesh during a client visit. Clients are usually extremely enthusiastic about what they have done. This helps you to understand the invention even better than when you only see it on paper. In the process that follows, when you draft a patent application and immerse yourself in precisely this invention, you try to create added value for the client by anticipating their needs as far as possible. After several years and when you have sufficient experience, you can visit the client alone, without a mentor. In the course of these visits and the ensuing collaboration, it becomes even more striking how exciting and interesting this profession really is.”

Maarten: “What makes this profession so interesting is that you are involved with the state of the art. No two days are the same and you have contact with the most diverse range of clients. In particular, I really enjoy the client visits as you build a relationship of trust with the client. The client shares key information about his or her invention. It is during these meetings that you see the inventor’s passion.”

Trainees at V.O. are trained to become fully-qualified patent attorneys. How does that happen?

Henri: “To become a patent attorney after your technical studies, in principle you need to go through three sections of study. Naturally, the formal training to become a patent attorney is crucial here, but so is the daily supervision by a mentor, an experienced patent attorney who is allocated to you. V.O. also offers something different to other firms, namely a traditional training system that they developed in-house. This comprises eleven days of training in which trainees learn everything about the wide-ranging profession of patent attorney. This lets you see the practical side of the profession above all. Experienced patent attorneys explain how to write a good application, back-office staff provide an insight into the administrative activities and a coach works on the soft skills, from consultancy skills to time management. The internal training is aimed at making young trainees productive more quickly so that you can work independently sooner and allowing the company to operate more cost-efficiently.”

Maarten: “I am positive about the content of the training course at V.O. Not only does the training focus greatly on communication skills, it also addresses important subjects such as analysing and advising on research reports. Once a patent application has been filed, the European Patent Office sometimes raises objections and I have to investigate if they are realistic and defend our application. In our class we have enough time to cover this in-depth, without the high pressure of day-to-day work. I learn a great deal from it. I think this training programme really allows us to kickstart our careers at the company and prepare more quickly for the real work.”