University: University of Oxford
Undergraduate degree: Chemistry
Intellectual property (IP) work can be divided into two main areas: so-called ‘hard’ and ‘soft’. ‘Hard’ IP generally relates to patents, while ‘soft’ IP includes registered trademarks and registered designs, copyright, unregistered design rights, database rights, trade secrets, confidential information and passing off. IP lawyers advise on issues ranging from commercial exploitation to infringement disputes, and agreements that deal either exclusively with IP or with IP rights in the wider context of larger commercial transactions. Many lawyers specialise in either contentious or non-contentious IP work.
Having studied chemistry at university, Selina Badiani knew that patent law would be “a good fit for my science background.” After graduating with a chemistry degree from University College, Oxford, she considered becoming a patent attorney (the specialists who draft new patents) but decided against it; and she didn’t feel that the barrister route was for her either – “I enjoy working and perform best as part of a team,” she explains. Selina admits that she was also a “little hesitant about going into corporate law because I had heard horror stories about the hours expected, but during my research, Bristows stood out as a leading IP firm with high-quality clients and exactly the kind of work that I wanted to do, but also for its focus on having a healthy working culture and work-life balance.” A key indicator on the latter issue is that the firm’s culture is not built on billing targets. “Small things like that are important – and together it made the firm my first choice to apply to,” she confirms.
On joining Bristows, she made the most of the training contract’s guaranteed seat in patent litigation which enabled her to “spend six months in the area that I knew I wanted to qualify into.” She also gained exposure to the firm’s commercial IP practice, where the subject matter is particularly scientific and technical, as well as a client secondment and other seats in real estate and commercial disputes. “It was valuable to see both the transactional and litigation sides of practice, as well as working in-house,” she reflects. “It gave me a broad training experience and helped me to find what I was best at.”
Life in the patent litigation team
Now an associate, Selina’s focus is entirely on patent work. “Some firms have general IP practices but Bristows has a specific patent litigation department which is the largest department in the firm,” she explains. “Our key sector focuses are life sciences and telecoms. To date I have mostly worked on the life sciences side because of my chemistry background, but more recently I have started working on telecoms cases as well.”
Although Bristows has a transactional IP practice, Selina’s department focuses on the contentious side: “We are either acting to have a patent revoked because it is preventing our client from bringing a product to market; or the other way round – to defend a client’s patent from revocation proceedings and to prevent infringement.” At associate level, that involves “drafting witness statements and expert reports, and often having responsibility over a particular part of building the case. For example, in one case I was in charge of organising the scientific experiments we needed to conduct, which was quite daunting at six months qualified!”
Working with experts is a key part of the job. “With patents you generally have to look back to the date that the patent was written,” Selina explains. “For example, I am currently looking at a patent that dates to 1993, so you have to identify people who were working in that specialist field at the time. Expert evidence helps us determine whether the invention would have been obvious in 1993, or whether it really was an inventive concept. One of the things I enjoy about patent law is that really trying to understand the science is a key part of it. Having a science background helps, but there are a range of backgrounds in the patent litigation department so it is definitely not essential.”
International disputes and arbitration are another side or the patent litigation team’s practice. On the potential impact of Brexit, Selina says: “The Unified Patent Court is one issue as the UK will not be seeking membership as part of any exit agreement. But I think most patent work will be unaffected by Brexit because the European Patent Convention – the overarching legislation governing European patent law – is independent of the EU and hence the UK will remain a signatory after Brexit.”
Vacation schemes are a great way to gain experience, but there are other valuable opportunities too such as talks, webinars and networking sessions, all of which can help you get a feel for what each law firm does.
Selina emphasises the intellectually demanding and technical nature of patents. Expertise in reams of black-letter law is required, so all NQs who qualify into intellectual property practices at Bristows study for an intellectual property diploma at the University of Oxford during their first year post qualifying. “It was difficult!” she laughs. “It was crammed into an eight-hour exam due to covid-19, but it has really helped in terms of my knowledge of the law.”
If IP is what you find inspiring, Selina has the following advice: “Check firms’ social media to see what events they have coming up. Vacation schemes are a great way to gain experience, but there are other valuable opportunities too such as talks, webinars and networking sessions, all of which can help you get a feel for what each law firm does. It is as much about you choosing a firm that is right for you as impressing the firm enough to offer you a training contract. Also, apply early and make the most of the opportunity to gain sponsorship – it is really worth trying to secure a training contract before you do your law conversion, LPC or SQE.”