Fri 4th Jun 2021

Behind the scenes – insights into a career in IP support

If you are interested in the law and innovation, then intellectual property support might be a career path to consider. 

We asked Steph Oates the office manager for Page White Farrer in Leeds to answer a few questions to help people to understand why IP support is such a satisfying role.


Q: How long have you worked in the field of intellectual property?


Steph: I joined Page White Farrer in February 2020 just as the firm opened the new office in Leeds, but I stumbled across the IP profession completely by accident twenty years ago. I haven’t looked back since and can really recommend it.


Q: What qualifications do you have? Do you need a degree?


Steph: I am educated to degree level, but I wouldn’t say that was essential to become a successful legal administrator.  More importantly you need good concentration and attention to detail, a high level of numeracy and the ability to write accurately and concisely and the desire to provide a quality service and to care about your clients and your colleagues.  In addition to this, in handling information about clients’ inventions in the early stages of the patenting process, we are being trusted with highly confidential and sensitive information on a daily basis, so discretion and integrity are essential.


Q: What sort of jobs are available in IP support?


Steph: An intellectual property firm will employ qualified and trainee patent, trade mark, and design attorneys who are supported by a range of staff including:


  • patent or trade mark administrators – who may also be called IP administrators, formalities clerks or paralegals;
  • patent or trade mark secretaries, both of whom tend to work for allotted attorneys;
  • renewals and records staff; and
  • the usual support departments of accounts, HR, IT, marketing etc. which operate on a firmwide basis.


Q: What does IP support work involve?


Steph: IP support staff, as the name suggests, are there to provide administrative support to the attorneys in the processing of patents, trade marks and designs.


As an IP administrator or secretary, you monitor deadlines, maintain client and case records and deal with the day-to-day aspects of the filing, prosecution, grant and then maintenance of the patent or trade mark. 


You are responsible for advising and reminding clients of deadlines during the prosecution process, obtaining client instructions and reporting events to clients, along with the preparation of official documentation and forms, preparing invoices, standard letters, and any other documents.  You also deal directly with the clients and answer routine queries regarding the prosecution process. 


The patenting process is complicated, and the work requires a great deal of accuracy, detail and thought.


Even after twenty years rarely a day goes by when I do not learn something new.


Q: What do you enjoy most about the work?


Steph: The aspects of the role that I enjoy the most are the variety of work we undertake,  the unpredictability in what a day holds, the mixture of periods of quiet concentration and colleague collaboration from working as part of a team.  There are also opportunities to develop relationships with clients.


Over my years in the profession, I have found IP firms to take the work very seriously and in so doing you go home at the end of each day feeling like you have a provided a carefully considered and high quality service to your clients.  In addition to that, the IP profession seems to attract incredibly kind, conscientious, and good humoured people and Page White Farrer is no exception to this.


Q: Was it strange to start a new role just as the Covid pandemic started?


Steph: Joining a firm at the opening of a new office was a daunting prospect and the added element of Covid-19 and lockdown made it even more interesting.  I was lucky in that I had worked with a couple of my new colleagues at a previous firm, and I also had time to fit in a quick visit to our London Office to meet the team there before the full force of Covid was thrown at us.


Q: What opportunities are there for career advancement?


Steph: Opening the Leeds office was a satisfying logistical challenge, it provided me with the opportunity to start with a blank canvas and to get involved in other aspects of the business too. 


As office manager in Leeds, my role covers all areas of office management from ordering stationery, health and safety, IT, supporting and supervising the others in our office. 


The most recent development in my role, which I am particularly enjoying is business development.  As a new firm in Leeds, at a time when Leeds is taking off as a major centre for technological development, the tech community has been very welcoming, and we have met some really inspiring people with very interesting and innovative businesses - albeit mainly online for now!


This briefing is for general information purposes only and should not be used as a substitute for legal advice relating to your particular circumstances. We can discuss specific issues and facts on an individual basis. Please note that the law may have changed since the day this was first published in June 2021.

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