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A Day in the Life of a Patent Attorney

By Chris Hall, Partner

Having recently joined Haseltine Lake Kempner, I thought it would be interesting for those considering entering the profession to hear about “A Day in the Life” of a patent attorney at Haseltine Lake Kempner (with all due apologies to the Beatles).

So, having woken up, fallen out of bed and dragged a comb across my head, I settle into my office chair and am presented with a list of “to do” items for the day. The bread-and-butter of the patent attorney’s day is prosecution of patent applications, and patent applications are heavily deadline-driven. Some deadlines are extendible, but miss the wrong deadline and you can lose your client’s patent application. Haseltine Lake Kempner has several systems in place to ensure that deadlines are correctly logged and never (unintentionally) missed. So, the computer will give you a friendly warning about upcoming deadlines at the start of the day, and our formalities staff will give you a less-friendly warning if you still haven’t finished the task on the deadline itself! This really isn’t as overbearing as it sounds. It’s nice to know there are several people checking the diary so that, With a Little Help from my Friends, I can meet all the deadlines!

The average morning is spent working on cases. For example, I might be drafting a new application for a client, or preparing a response to an examination report issued by a national patent office on an application that was filed previously. Each task is challenging in its own way. To draft a new application, you might have to Get Back to your academic training (for me, physics) and get to grips with a new technology, right at the point of its inception. Currently I’m working on cases in the diverse fields of high-voltage DC systems, radio access networks for the latest telecommunications standards and radiotherapy.

When responding to an examination report, in which the Examiner may have cited several documents as prior art against your client’s application, you have to assess several different things in parallel: what is the invention the application relates to? How does it work, and what is clever about it? Similarly, for the prior art documents, what is disclosed, and how do they work? If there are several documents, do they Come Together to render your invention obvious? Ultimately, is the Examiner right in his or her objections and, if so, what can we do to address them? Sometimes the answer may be “nothing” and the application is abandoned, but each task is a puzzle to be solved.

After lunch, it may be more of the same – sometimes we are so busy I wish there were Eight Days a Week!  But as Haseltine Lake Kempner is working at Getting Better, sometimes we have an internal meeting or two to attend. For example, last week I attended my first meeting of the HLK Technology Steering Group – a team of attorneys, formalities staff, finance and IT members – to discuss the ways in which we could use technology to improve our systems and, most importantly, the services we can offer clients. This is the first firm I’ve worked at which holds such meetings, and it was interesting to hear the different perspectives of everyone involved. It may be a Long and Winding Road to bring some of the projects to fruition, but others will hopefully be completed within the coming weeks and months, and I’m looking forward to the improvements they will bring about.

So that’s about it for an average “day in the life” of a patent attorney. Of course there are non-average days, too. For example, I might Drive My Car to visit a client at their premises, or be summoned to oral proceedings at the European Patent Office in Germany or the Netherlands. But – if I’m in the office – more often than not, this is how I’ll spend my day.