When you consider that it takes an investment of at least £1 billion to develop and launch a new medicine, you can see why it’s so important that companies can protect the intellectual rights to their idea. If it wasn’t for patenting, registration of trade marks and copyright, there could be no research-based industry; because there’d be nothing to stop medicines being copied, companies wouldn’t feel able to make that crucial initial investment.
To apply for a patent, you must first disclose what the invention is. This means providing a detailed description and explanation of how it will work. All of this information is available to anyone who wishes to see it, and thus it provides a means by which the public can scrutinise our work and by which further developments can be made.
Patenting takes place throughout the drug development cycle – as new compounds and formulations are developed. Preparing a patent can take between 24 hours and two months; progressing it to grant will take years. It can be extremely competitive, as more than one company may be seeking to patent similar inventions. And by getting a well-prepared application in first, it’s more likely that a company will secure the rights to their proposition.
The main entry role is as a Trainee Patent Attorney. Some people come to this as a new graduate, others move from other areas of the industry having gained relevant research-based experience. People tend to specialise on the area they did their degree and/or research in as you need to be able to understand the invention to draft a good patent application. Although bioscience and chemistry specialists are most relevant, patent professionals with a background in other areas of science and engineering are also needed.
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Training is on-the-job and requires genuine dedication because you must pass professional exams to become qualified. Once you’ve attained professional status, your career will really take off. There are three consecutive levels to achieve:
The foundation covers a lot of ground such as English law, patents, trademarks, copyright and competition law. Most people achieve this via a full time three-month course, although you can do it through private study or on a part-time basis. To then obtain the full qualifications you have to pass advanced exams.
So, over the five to six years that it normally takes people to finish their studies, you can develop a real expertise. During that time you’ll be given complete support which will make things a great deal easier. And, upon qualification, you’ll be ready to work entirely independently with clients.
Pressure? Definitely, but this high level of responsibility is matched by excellent pay and benefits. And what it also means is that, by choosing a career in patenting, you can apply cold intellect to an exciting idea to create an eloquent, convincing argument. You’ll always be in demand, too, to give reliable advice if there’s a danger of infringing upon another company’s intellectual rights. So when patenting is described as the backbone of the pharmaceutical industry, it’s no exaggeration.
Choose a degree that will give you the opportunity to undertake a period of industrial experience within a pharmaceutical company.