A good patent attorney must have a range of skills. Obviously, technical skills are vital. You have to be able to understand the technology you are seeking to protect. You also need good client facing skills - whether you work in private practice or in house, you need to be able to work well with your clients to ensure that expectations are aligned and commercial goals are met. Another vital requirement, of course, is knowledge of the law and an aptitude to keep learning as the law constantly evolves.
One of the most important skills is the ability to communicate - understanding your audience and writing in a way that's accessible, appropriate, accurate and persuasive. Writing a patent specification is a very different exercise from presenting your case in person at a hearing, for example. Writing to the CEO of a startup is a very different exercise from writing to an inventor in a large multi-national.
A good deal of time and effort goes into making what we write just right for the intended purpose. Stray, misplaced or missing commas can cost millions (see the story below). On the other hand, sometimes what we want is a bit of creative ambiguity. At other times you may need to make a savvy judgement about what to say explicitly and what to leave for the reader to infer.
Knowing how to write well for your audience is a part of the job that's not always evident to someone considering a career in the profession. Yet it's a vital skill and can be highly rewarding.
Boult Wade Tennant is always interested in hearing from candidates with strong technical backgrounds who are considering training as a patent attorney. If that's you, and if careful communication is something that appeals, do please send me a message.
‘An expensive comma’ In 1872, an American tariff law including an unwanted comma cost taxpayers nearly $2m (the equivalent of $40m today). The United States Tariff Act, as originally drafted in 1870, allowed “fruit plants, tropical and semi-tropical for the purpose of propagation or cultivation” to be exempt from import tariffs. For an unknown reason, when revised two years later, a stray comma snuck in between “fruit” and “plants”. Suddenly all tropical and semi-tropical fruits could be imported without any charge.