Sunday 27 November 2011

Electronics patent attorneys, trees and haystacks

Pete Fellows' latest piece on employment in the patent attorney profession makes interesting reading. In "Electronics Patent Attorneys No Longer Grow On Trees But They Might Be Hiding In Giant Haystacks" (here), he suggests that a pre-recessionary state of affairs has apparently re-emerged:
"Towards the end of 2009 and through the beginning of last year, I noticed a very unfamiliar trend. That was, for the first time in a very long time, there were more patent attorneys with a technical background in electronics looking for work than there were jobs.

That was short-lived. 
In an absolute reverse of where we stood in February 2010, there are now many more jobs than there are people for them. The options for electronics patent attorneys are myriad and there is certainly no shortage of firms clambering over each other to find a new a recruit in this area.
However the picture is not necessarily as simple as it might sound. There do remain some difficulties for this now coveted category of Patent Attorney. ...
It might be easy to move private practices but getting a job in industry is still extremely difficult.... The problem is that there are quite a lot of Attorneys who do fancy moving but are not particularly interested in another private practice. These are the people that seem to appear from nowhere when an industry position arises. Salaries for industry positions are nowhere near what they were (and getting a bonus of any size can be arbitrary at best; as difficult as mowing the lawn with nail clippers at worst) and hence added to the tough competition for in-house positions is a need to compromise on earning potential far more than many are prepared to stomach....
It’s also not necessarily easy for Attorneys who either are, or nearly are Partners and wish to move to a competing firm. There has been an apparent and brutally quick upturn in work across the electronics sector but practices themselves are in many cases still suffering from at least two years of economic uncertainty. This has a few implications: 1) Equity Partners are less interested in reducing their own share of the pot; 2) Firms are less interested therefore in hiring attorneys that might be banging down the door for partnership; 3) This has meant that the surge in demand is really only at part qualified, newly qualified and recently qualified levels. Having a client following does help circumvent the politics to some extent, although as getting work in electronics is not really the problem for many firms it is far less attractive than one might think ....."
Do readers of this weblog agree with this analysis?


  1. It's all recruitment agency waffle. You can find at least half a dozen adverts for patent vacancies for an electronics attorney only to discover they are all for the same firm. Most of these agents have no idea of the profession or its market. They are simply black-box advertising stooges. No better than estate agents, making a large percentage for no effort. They treat applicants with disrespect by failing to respond to queries, failing to keep candidates updated, failing to understand anything about the position or the employer and failing to give any feedback.

    In this age of the internet and advanced communications it is amzing how difficult they are to get hold of once your application is 'pending'. Such difficulty with communication affects also the agent who repeatedly advise they are struggling to contact the hiring firm, even when they are a global power in such telecommunications.

    My advice to the hiring firms is to stick to the CIPA Pink Pages and its online equivalent. Identify yourselves and clearly describe the role on offer. Forget all this nonsense pumped out by the agents. Use them and you yourselves will get an equally bad reputation with candidates. All fine and dandy in an employer's market but the worm will eventually turn. I made my previous move by responding to an employer's own advert and I would never use these agents again. Nor would I apply anywhere in response to a non-informative, generic advert.

    And equity partners are never interested in reducing their own share of the pot. True avidity!

  2. The recruitment process can be a very lonely one in a small market such as the UK patent one, as anonymous has clearly discovered.
    It would be fascinating to know whether this demand is simply from imported work or whether it is a real sign of increased activity in the electronic sector in the UK.
    It seems to me there are now two divergent businesses in IP in the UK. There are smart largish firms who are doing mainly imported work profitably and perhaps a little direct work but are not getting enough involvement in direct work to develop their candidates into proper commercial advisers which is what UK business needs from its patent attorneys. I wonder if we could persuade all those clever economists to do a little research on whether the IP profession that Hargreaves felt was missing is due to the high volumes of imported EPO work resulting in a reduction of career development of the IP advisers that the UK really needs

  3. Couldn't agree more with that. We have a profession dominated by agency work, which isn't good for anyone's personal development, but it is a nice earner for many.

    To be fair, I have little sympathy with businesses who complain about the IP world and the advice they receive or don't receive. From my perspective, I see businesses wanting lower charges and better commercial advice, but they want to receive that advice from the traditional firms mentioned above. Management want the security of the 'well-known' firms in order to protect their own personal interests, ie cover their backs. It was once said to me that no-one ever lost their job when a case was lost if they used a big London firm.

    Because of this attitude from businesses (and universities) it is extremely difficult for attorneys to leave their current firm and become successful solo practitioners. It is easy to greatly undercut the prices charged by traditional firms, while providing a more bespoke service to suit the client. So why don't more businesses not take the plunge and go with a solo practitioner? If a corner shop opened up next to my local Tesco's selling the same goods at a much lower price (and possibly a more personal service) then I know where I would shop.

    As for clever economists, what are they? Economists are neither scientists/engineers nor artists and therefore have no value to society! The rest of us that are bean counters/paper pushers at least have some use as supporting cast.

  4. The clever economists is a reference to the Ipkat blogpost.
    You are quite correct that big firms feel safer for the IP buyer so the sales pitch must never focus just on price.

  5. I agree, which is why there is little point in massively undercutting the competition, but simply being price-competitive and cutting out the long invoices charging explicitly for every email and phone call. Because of this, I see little benefit in being a solo-practitioner as it just cuts down the pool of potential clients to those sensible enough to realise the benefits that could be achieved, but in today's climate that is a very small pool. The result is maintenance of the status-quo and no creation of a service industry more suited to the needs of the British research industry.

  6. I'd be more impressed with agents if they provided a real insight into the recruitment market at the moment. The information they have which is not generally available relates to numbers of attorneys contacting them after losing their jobs, the profile of said attorneys, the attitudes of recruiters (those who actually talk to the agents and not just email a request for CVs with a meaningless job description).

    Telling us all about the number of adverts that we can all see already is not helpful.

    If our representative body was truly representative, they themselves would have covered this subject at some point since the recession began. It is not only relevant to us professionals, but us an important indicator of the economic climate relating to research and development in the UK and the export of services elsewhere.

    One of the problems in our area is the hush hush nature of business who don't wish their problems to become public knoweldge with a potential knock-on effect.

  7. There is an excellent post here from Barrister, Jane Lambert demonstrating just how un-integrated the IP advice world is at present

  8. More of an advert methinks.

    "I explained how the relationship between patent and trade mark attorneys, solicitors and the patent bar was analogous to the relationship between general practitioners and consultant physicians and surgeons in medicine."

    Shame this explanation is incorrect. Patent attorneys are highly specialised too! When a patent attorney provides an infringement or validity opinion on a patent in an area in which they specialise, they are far more likely to have a knowledge of the relvant law that exceeds that of a barrister.

    If Jane's explanation was that it is the barristers who are akin to GPs then I take my criticism back, because I would say that is a more accurate comparison.

    I can't imagine many occasions when a barrister should be the first port of call for an inventor/businessman. Jane should sell herself as a provider of IP advice and not as a 'barrister' who provides IP advice.

    As for correcting a lay audience on the pronunciation of 'patent', I can't see that helping to improve the perceptions of our industry.

  9. Agents are a waste of time and space and if Einstein was correct and there was a God, they would be buried deep inside a wormhole and locked in forever.

    Why they are all so useless is beyond my comprehension. It is not the most difficult role on earth: advertise job, receive applications, forward applications and liaise with both parties.

  10. The trees must be planted and grown only in locations having the right soil.

    "Oxford/ Cambridge Graduate Calibre- Electronics or Physics Patent Attorney "

    We physicists grown elsewhere must not take root well in firms of a higher breeding. Mustn't pollute the rarified gene pool!

  11. Sacco Mann: "Ten Interview Turn-offs"

    "Unexplained delay in – or lack of – feedback"

    Good advice. Why do they and other agents believe it doesn't apply to them? The only time an IP job agent contacts a candidate is to tell them they have an interview and to tell them they have been offered a job.