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Is hiring from overseas on the increase for British Intellectual Property firms?

bigstock Future Expectations 3181101

Is hiring from overseas on the increase for British Intellectual Property firms?

bigstock Future Expectations 3181101


I sense you want a little more context. Oh, alright then. There appears to be a significant shortage of candidates in the UK at around Associate level for patent attorneys and also, more recently, patent litigators up to and including Senior Associate. We’ve speculated as to why this might be on previous occasions, firms are better at holding on to their staff; flexible working minimises some of the conflicts that might exist in an office; nervousness of the wider political/economic situation, etc. This lack of resources does create opportunity, particularly for candidates interested in a move to the UK.

There is a mixed opinion on jurisdictions. For patent litigators the preference seems to be for attorneys from Australia, New Zealand or South Africa with similar legal systems and hopefully therefore a shallow learning curve. For patent attorneys we’ve been looking at any EPC contracting states as well as the USA, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

From a technical point of view, for patent attorneys recently our international searches have been focused on biotechnology. There seems to be significant difficulties finding Associate level patent attorneys for those roles in the UK (incidentally if you are a UK patent attorney in this technical area looking for a job, please get in touch!). For patent litigators there has been much more flexibility but ideally a scientific background plus demonstrable litigation experience.

UK firms seem to be more relaxed about visa sponsorship than in the past. Paradoxically, the UK’s decision to leave the EU and hence lose freedom of movement has meant that firms are perhaps more open minded to look at employing attorneys from around the world. The other impact of Brexit has been a not insubstantial uptick in firms investing in offices outside of the UK which has improved the diversity of the workforce and encouraged increased open-minded thinking.

There are a few things you should consider though before grabbing your nearest dinghy and hopping across the channel. The UK patent profession pays well, we’re on a par with most of Europe with the exception of Germany and Switzerland. It is also, in all likelihood, easier to become a Partner within a UK firm than either of those countries so the long term locally could be very attractive. However, if you are moving from the USA, expect a large pay drop. Most UK firms offer a fantastic work/life balance, with billable hours targets in the 700-900 hours per annum range, hybrid and remote working, part-time options and very little presenteeism. For patent litigators, remuneration is often higher than comparable European countries and our legal profession has a significant proportion of the world’s leading firms.

Cross-qualification is not necessarily straightforward, however. If you’re a qualified European patent attorney, you would not face too many difficulties. You would likely need to qualify in the UK as well, but you would have exemptions from many of the examinations. If you are qualified outside of the EPC, it’s a much longer road. The process can take 3-4 years and you would need to take examinations at both UK and EPO level. For patent attorneys we think it would be something you need to be fully invested in, this is a lifestyle move where you are committing to a number of years in the UK. For litigators, depending on jurisdiction, you would most likely be able cross-qualify as a UK solicitor. You can read more on that process here. It is not necessarily easy but not too onerous either.

The best time to move to the UK if you’re a patent attorney is probably when you’ve had somewhere around 3-5 years’ experience in the profession in total (not PQE). For litigators, perhaps up to 7 or so years’ total experience.

Over the years we’ve helped numerous attorneys change jurisdiction so if you are interested in an international move, we’d love to chat. We’re always happy to have an exploratory conversation, try and answer as many of your questions as you can and then you can determine if this type of move might be for you. 

Pete Fellows

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