As a trainee, you can start working at V.O. to become a patent attorney. Following a strict selection procedure, the new trainees follow official training at the Netherlands Institute of Patent Attorneys. Additionally, they complete an internal training programme at V.O., which ensures that trainees can start working for clients with practical knowledge. ‘The trainees absorb all knowledge like a sponge.’
A good patent attorney is versatile and fully rounded: technically competent and legally proficient, with a good feeling for language and strong communication skills. V.O. is very busy training new patent attorneys. In-house, this used to be done mainly through a patent attorney who acted as a mentor. This worked fine for theoretical knowledge, but other opportunities were missed. Furthermore, V.O. is currently recruiting lots of people, creating more room for a more professional induction programme that can be noticed within the tight job market. Coach Jeroen van der Kolk was hired to set up our own training class together with the HR department: ‘They have all completed technical degree programmes in which little attention was paid to good communication skills. How do you ask an open question? How do you provide good feedback? V.O. drew up the training programme together with him: eleven training days in which three ‘students’ learn everything about the multifaceted profession of the patent attorney. Experienced patent attorneys explain how to write a good application, back-office staff provide an insight into the administrative activities and Van der Kolk works on the soft skills, from consultancy skills to time management. ‘During the recruitment process, the trainees were deliberately selected based on their development prospects – especially in terms of these soft skills.’
You want it all, but you cannot do everything just yet. This used to be a frequently heard complaint from up-and-coming patent attorneys. They still had to learn everything, even though the entire office was buzzing. The internal training is aimed at making young trainees productive more quickly – i.e. working for clients, therefore also allowing the company to operate more cost-efficiently. And what’s just as important: being able to make a real contribution quickly is satisfying for the trainees. Maarten Reuver is one of the trainees from the class.
He studied geophysics and was introduced to the business world by writing a thesis at TNO. When a recruiter tipped him off about V.O., it was the first time he had heard about such a company: ‘I had never heard about the profession of patent attorney, but after an interview at V.O. I knew it was something I was interested in. You’re busy with state-of-the-art matters and no two days are the same with all kinds of different clients.’ Six months ago he started at V.O., and with the internal training.
Not only does the training focus greatly on communication skills, crucial subjects such as analysing and advising on search reports are also addressed. Reuver: ‘Once the 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 day-to-day work pressure. 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.’ He is already relishing the times that he accompanies a patent attorney on a visit to a new client: ‘You build a relationship of trust, the client shares key information about his invention. You can see an inventor’s passion in these appointments.’
‘What I like’, explains Van der Kolk, ‘is the fact that V.O. is a company with a rich history of people being very good at what they do. Now they have also thoroughly restructured their training. It is a company that is about content, but they also realise more and more that, as a complement to specialist knowledge, communication and the right consultancy skills are crucial to a successful patent attorney. Without the skills learnt by the trainees in the classroom, this whole development would be slower. In this way, newcomers are more aware of what is expected of them. It is really fantastic to see how they absorb all the knowledge and insights like a sponge and start using them in their daily work.’
For the internal training, the four trainees convene for eleven study days over a period of six months. In the morning, patent skills are covered (starting with how to read a patent application) followed by office skills (how to become a good patent attorney), and finally they work hard on soft skills, such as consultancy skills, in the afternoon.