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Want to be a patent professional?

If you are a science graduate with a techno-legal bent of mind, you could be one of the 15,000 patent attorneys the country will need in the next five years, writes Vimal Chander Joshi.

education Updated: Mar 18, 2010 09:32 IST
Vimal Chander Joshi

A degree in biotechnology and law seemed to be a strange combination for Rajeshwari H, and not once during her studies did she imagine that it would reap great returns for her in the field of patenting. After practising civil law for a couple of years in Mumbai and Pune, Rajeshwari envisaged a better career for herself as a patent attorney and made the move.

Now a partner at K&S Partners, she finds, “There is always a new challenge with a new assignment. An invention doesn’t end the moment it’s made. The final shape to it is given by patent attorneys.”

A patent is the legal protection given by any government to an inventor or a corporation for research undertaken or a new product developed. The rights are protected in the territorial jurisdiction where the patent granting agency works. When a person invents something, s/he hires a lawyer who has to first understand the invention and then do an online search of related items already patented. This search is aimed at avoiding any duplication of invention. In case there is some similarity between two products, the attorney identifies the unique, novel features in the newly created item.

The second stage involves applying for a patent in the patent office. Then the lawyer coordinates with the patent officer, on behalf of the client. This process is known as the prosecution. The person making the invention meets the officials and explains to them the unique features of his/her invention. In case the patent officer raises an objection, the attorney is expected to respond and defend his client’s invention. His coordination continues until the invention gets patented. An attorney must have a science background because if it is a pharmaceutical and biotech invention, then he has to understand what it’s about.

“There are times (normally 10 per cent) when the invention is challenged by a fellow inventor. The attorney has to then defend his client in the court of law,” says Chetan Chadha, managing partner at Chadha & Chadha Advocates, Gurgaon.

The profession is very demanding. “One has to undertake a detailed study of the subject to fathom the technicalities of the invention. It gets very demanding as you might have to draft the patent proposal in just two weeks’ time,” says Chadha

Patent rights are protected globally but one has to file different patents for the respective jurisdictions. A lawyer thus has to have a good grasp on international law.

“When a newly developed product is exhibited at an international trade fair, the inventor/company has to get it patented in that country too, as your country’s laws will not be applicable there,” says Rajeshwari.

What’s it about?
A patent attorney is a techno- legal professional who represents clients in obtaining patents and in filing a lawsuit in case of an infringement by some competitor.
The term is used differently in different countries. Ideally, it’s a legal professional who has to have expertise in atleast one scientific field: be it biotechnology or pharmaceuticals or electronics, among others

Clock Work
9 am: Meeting with client to discuss the novelty, features or design of an invention
11 am: Do patent searches to find out details of related inventions on websites like Delphion, Micropat, STL etc
1 pm: Lunch
2 pm: Drafting the patent proposal
4 pm: Meeting with patent officials
6 pm: Leave for home
7 pm: Read books, journals and newsletters on Indian and international patent laws and rules

The payoff
The starting salary as a trainee is somewhere between Rs 10,000 to Rs 15,000 per month, which increases to Rs 20,000 to Rs 25,000 when you become a regular employee. After you gain experience of three/four years, you can earn as much as Rs 40,000 to Rs 50,000.
Later in your career, you can make progress on the basis of your learning potential and performance

Skills
.
Ability to absorb all kinds of information
. Good oratory skills which come handy in litigation
. Analytical skills to make inferences and conclusions after studying the invention
. Creative abilities to make valuable contributions to the invention, design or software because some lawyers may end up as co-inventors as has happened in the
West

How do I get there?
Gain expertise in one area — mechanics or pharmaceutical, chemistry or software or even mathematical sciences. You can pursue a Bachelor’s or preferably a Master’s in engineering or science. After this, go for a diploma in intellectual patent rights from a known institute or do LLB from IIT (Kharagpur) where intellectual property rights is the prime focus.

Join some law firm or company as a trainee in the patent department and after gaining a year’s experience appear for patent agent’s exam. Once you qualify that, you can join a law firm, a corporate or an outsourcing firm with a job profile, which you find the best — drafting, prosecution or litigation.

Institutes & urls
. Academy of Intellectual Property Studies, Mumbai for a PG diploma programme in patent management
(www.aips.ac.in)
. NALSAR University of Law, Hyderabad for a PG diploma programme in patent law
(www.nalsar.ac.in)
. Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) for a PG diploma in IPR
(www.ignou.ac.in)
. National Institute of Intellectual Property Management, Nagpur
(www.patentoffice.nic.in/niipm/index.htm)

Pros & cons
.
The money is good and you can expect a good salary right at the beginning of your career
. It’s a new and emerging career, so there’s immense scope in this field
. The job is quite demanding, and may take up a lot of your ‘me’ time

A patent is an asset

An academic expert talks about the opportunities

What do you expect would happen in the field of patenting in the next few years?
As per industry projections, we would need around 15,000 patent professionals in India in the next five years for both litigation and back-office work in patents.

Though every science graduate is eligible to write the patent agent’s exam, the industry favours engineering graduates. Is this true?
Well, the industry does prefer professionals who have studied engineering. Considering the technicalities involved in the job, an engineer fits the bill. But even a science graduate can become a patent attorney after undergoing a technical programme.

Is it mandatory to qualify a patent agent’s exam to become a patenting professional?
Primarily, there are two kinds of job roles. The first one is prosecution, which entails meeting the examiner (official) in the patent office and getting the patent approved. To be able to deal with patent officials, one must have cleared the agent’s exam. The other job envisages drafting and patent search which doesn’t require any license or permission.

Are most of the patent jobs available only in legal process outsourcing?
There are jobs in outsourcing, the corporate sector and law firms. With the demand for patent attorneys soaring, there is increasing need to bring patent training in the fold of college education. When this happens, there would be a sudden spurt in the demand for trainers too.

Besides technical and legal knowledge, what else is included in the training programmes for patent attorneys?
It is necessary to learn the business aspects too (before venturing out). A patent is an asset for any company and in case the company owns multiple patents, there arises a need for portfolio management.

Atulya Nath Interviewed by Vimal Chander Joshi