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The Covid-19 Pandemic: How did UK IP firms respond?bigstock COVID contact tracing app o 370772524ver2

As I write England is in the midst of yet another lockdown. The way we work has inevitably changed as a result of the pandemic and we, the lovely people at Fellows and Associates, thought it might be interesting to explore how the IP community, in particular, has responded both in the short and (now even) longer term.

Following the announcement in March 2020 regarding working from home it seemed most firms were already geared up for such an event and, after a period of testing, both in anticipation of and immediately after the announcement, the transition was relatively smooth. It might seem strange to some but Zoom did actually exist prior to lockdown and this, along with Microsoft Teams and Lifesize, were in place to allow firms to work from home almost overnight. Cloud based phone systems also allowed colleagues to message and call each other quickly and easily. There were some whose systems were more suited to sporadic cases of remote working but these firms acted quickly and migrated to a more appropriate platform. The big issue seemed to be logistical with a lot of staff that had not necessarily worked from home before, for example support and secretarial staff, not having the necessary equipment such as laptops etc.

For most firms the focus shifted very quickly from the logistics of people working from home and ensuring they had the necessary equipment, to their mental well-being and questioning how they could help them emotionally. Chris Ball, Head of Talent Acquisition at EIP notes that their in-house IT systems enabled them to respond incredibly quickly in the run up to and immediately following the announcement in March and that the practical infrastructure solutions were rapidly replaced by well-being initiatives such as weekly vlogs from one of the partners, maintaining frequent communications on non-work topics and the welcome initiatives of their internal team of Mental Health First Aiders. He also adds that even though remote/flexible working was already part of the EIP ethos, lockdown has shifted everyone's perspective on what that might look like. Whilst the offices remain a key part of EIP's strategy moving forward, working from home/flexible working/remote working will be an evolving conversation as we emerge at the end of the pandemic. For now, cross-office teams have found additional ways to communicate and the firm is working efficiently whilst away from the office without the overall shape of the business being affected.

Technology has played a major role in helping to create a sense of togetherness for colleagues whilst they are unable to see each other in person. Hubs, intranets and staff portals have been transformed into more than a way of simply exchanging work and are allowing teams to meet for virtual coffees, upload videos and share stories and experiences. Firms hope that these avenues are providing vital lifelines to staff that could be suffering in a potentially very lonely time. This has taken many forms, including Zoom quizzes, virtual ‘escape the room’ sessions, mental wellbeing support groups, Murder Mystery events and weekly vlogs. Heidi Williams, HR Operations Manager at Marks & Clerk, explains that the firm responded quickly to the needs of their individual team members, but also considered family and childcare needs as well, with flexible shifts to accommodate home schooling, and family friendly activities to keep the kids happy whilst not at school. Ongoing communication has been vital, with a focus on business updates, but also on social activities and keeping people across the firm connected. A trend across a lot of firms has been a ramp up in communication, with Partners and management encouraging their teams to look out for one another. Positively, some have noted an increase in extended conversation across all levels of seniority, rather than a quick phone call or email exchange.

The way firms are training their staff has changed too with both internal and external courses (the Queen Mary for example) being completed remotely. Recently the UK patent attorney examinations went ahead on line and feedback has shown it was a success, hopefully this remains the case once the results are announced next March.  

There’s been no real dip in work thankfully, with the drop in some areas being compensated by a surge in others. Automotive and aerospace did take quite a hit, however clients in the health sector or those with an online focus/edge have seen a significant increase in work. The lack of office time does not seem to have impacted productivity with work being completed to the same deadlines and standard as before. Some firms have even taken the time as an opportunity to focus on investing in thriving areas of the business or expanding the business further geographically.

Social distancing and the various forms of lockdown over recent months has meant that conferences, networking events and face to face client meetings have all but ceased to exist, at least in their previous form. Conferences have gone on line with events such as the AIPPI World Congress and CITMA Autumn using chat rooms, video calls and even avatars to help bring the events to people’s home office, kitchen table or spare room. Some firms thought this was a great idea as they were able to ‘dip in and out’ of the itinerary whilst still concentrating on other work, whereas others opted to focus their online efforts elsewhere such as creating webinars or scheduling client meetings via Zoom around the same time they would have met at such a conference. The lack of networking opportunities and chance meetings to exchange a business card has meant that firms have had to revaluate their marketing strategies. The pandemic has also forced firms to look at other ways of reaching out to potential clients through avenues such as vlogs and social media.

Patent attorneys, on the whole, are solitary creatures, preferring to work the majority of the time behind closed doors. This has made it quite difficult for firms to gauge how everyone is coping when not everyone wants to participate in the weekly Zoom quiz/virtual cocktail night. A lot tried to overcome this by crafting surveys geared at gaining an insight into people’s thoughts and ideas on how to improve their working from home experience, as well as leaving open comments sections encouraging people to provide more detailed feedback. Individual budgets are being introduced so that people can kit out their home office with everything that they need and EAP schemes are being put in place where there perhaps wasn’t any help before. These surveys were also used to help firm’s plan in the longer term and manage the transition back from home to office working. They asked for preferred working times and were able to use them to stagger the number of people in the office at any one time, something that could prove difficult normally in an open plan setting, as well as if people actually wanted to return to the office at all. Sue Antoine, Head of HR at Haseltine Lake Kempner, notes that some staff perhaps want to come back to the office purely for the social aspect as they missed the useful (and useless) information they were gaining when having a quick chat at their desk or in the kitchen. Sue also notes that HLK is now constantly evolving to meet the needs of staff, adhere to the guidelines, and seeing what works and what doesn’t. It is no longer about surviving a few months but adapting to new working practices for the longer term, and there needs to be an equilibrium that marries aspects of before and the ‘new normal’.

Interestingly there has been a difference between firms on who would prefer to return to an office environment. For the larger IP firms with both regional and London offices, some noticed the regional staff have wanted to return, whereas for others they are happy with their home working set-up and it’s those in the capital who have made use of the office space once Covid safe. This might be because they have less than adequate working conditions (if living in a shared or smaller space) and there is an easier and safer commute by car in the regions as opposed to risking the tube and buses in city centres. Cost is also a factor, especially in London, with some perhaps no longer seeing the travel as a necessity if they are able to work from home. In terms of level, most agreed that their trainees and more junior fee earners were keen to come back in, again perhaps mostly down to their home set up and the need for more support. Some firms have even made the decision to shut their regional offices permanently or downsize to accommodate the smaller number of staff who want to remain in the office.

In terms of recruitment many firms implemented an ‘unofficial’ freeze whereas others very much closed, locked and bolted the doors to anyone coming in. Recruitment at graduate level did continue, although the intake numbers reduced and some start dates for those already scheduled to join were pushed back from the Summer. Instructional videos for universities and online careers fairs have helped firms remain present to prospective new starters. Many remain cautious about bringing in new people and have switched from proactively recruiting ahead of the curve to being reactive, and even when replacing leavers there is careful consideration about whether the role is really needed. They need confidence that they can rely on work they have historically had and develop this before growing the team, something that can prove difficult if their clients are also being more careful and money conscious. From our perspective we can’t deny that activity has dramatically reduced. Interestingly, the placements we have made have been quite different to our normal day to day pre Covid, and has mostly been cross jurisdictional moves or a focus overseas. An interesting point was made by one firm who predicted that the more time workers stay away from the office the more disengaged they may become, resulting in them potentially considering a new role, especially if their firm is not doing all they can to keep the level of connectedness up. They may forget their close bonds with team members and without the bells and whistles of office life in the cold light of their kitchen table they may think the grass could be greener.

Phillipa Holland.

We are recruiting a range of IP opportunities including an opportunity for a Partner or Partner Designate in the Midlands. Click here for more on that or visit our jobs page for a complete list of all of our current opportunities.

 

Intellectual Property Overview 2021

State of the Intellectual Property Recruitment Market, January 2021bigstock Flambe Fire In Frying Pan Pr 348086269ver3

The UK continues to jump out of the frying pan into the fire, only to leave the fire and find an even bigger frying pan where the only route of escape is via a fire. Fortunately, the Intellectual Property profession must have invested in some fire-retardant clothing, at least a fire-retardant t-shirt if not the entire ensemble.

Between Brexit and the pandemic what can we expect from 2021 and where are we now? In respect to private practice most firms I speak to tell me they have not seen anywhere near the dramatic drop off in work since March 2020 that one might have anticipated. In fact, some firms are seeing pre-pandemic levels of revenue. It’s too early to tell in all likelihood what impact Brexit will have, particularly on the trade mark profession but there is at least as much optimism as pessimism.

At the beginning of 2020, firms were, to generalise, under-staffed for the circumstances of the time. There were many more vacancies than there were candidates to fill them. This has meant, I believe, that if and where work has dropped off, for the most part firms have not needed to make redundancies or even furlough fee-earners. There are some exceptions but as a trend job security has not been dissimilar to where it was in 2019. More surprisingly, this also seems to be the case in house. Whilst there have been cut backs and redundancies for IP attorneys in corporate roles this has been far less than appeared might be the case back in the early months of the pandemic. Is everything awesome? Nope, unfortunately it’s too early for Lego anthems but everything is okay-ish. Given the larger global and economic picture, okay-ish might just be a little bit awesome.

The IP profession is risk averse. And much like the financial crisis of 2008 one of the early steps most firms took was to freeze all recruitment. There has been very little recruitment for most of 2020. However, given the relatively stability of employment, it has been more difficult to find candidates when firms are recruiting as attorneys are reluctant to risk moving firms. For a time, there were few jobs and few candidates. Much of the recruitment that has happened has been of the less urgent, ‘nice to have’ type so firms have also been very strict on the criteria they use to determine a potential recruit. To speculate, Partners have perhaps wanted to grow their departments but have been under pressure to justify any new hire to their colleagues which has meant that the burden of proof is much higher for candidates. The lack of jobs is perhaps one of the reasons why at times during the last year Fellows and Associates were the only IP recruiter to be advertising at all on the CIPA website and even now at the time of writing are only one of two. We’ve been fortunate that some of our close clients have been recruiting in some capacity but we have had to rely on goodwill and a strong network more than ever before (including the nervous days of our launch in 2009).

The last two to three months have been interesting. December was the busiest month of the year for us in terms of new instructions but it was also the busiest December in IP recruitment I can remember. I’m not entirely sure why but I would theorise that perhaps if firms were under-staffed back in February 2020 and work has not dropped off for the most part, then not hiring becomes unsustainable. I think there’s also been a change in collective mindset in so much that the pandemic is not something to move past then return to normal but might be something we need to live with. Stalling recruitment forevermore may be uselessly waiting for an outcome that will never happen. December is usually a quiet month for recruitment and one unusually busy period is not an indication of anything as yet. I will have more of an idea where we truly stand by the end of February, the six weeks from mid-January to the end of February often being our busiest.

The financial crisis of 2008 caused a similar stalling of recruitment (albeit to nowhere near the extent of 2020), as did, to a much lesser extent, the Brexit referendum result of 2016. My fear is that the lessons of those events may not have been learned. Following both, there seemed to be an unconscious collective decision for firms to start recruiting again all at the same time. We went from recruitment bust to boom in a matter of months but this was far from ideal. The available candidates remained very much a finite resource and demand massively outstripped supply. This resulted in a bidding war for excellent candidates or even not so excellent candidates and with many firms looking for the same thing at the same time it was not an environment that was particularly easy to navigate. I would recommend that firms try and get ahead of this, if they can, at this stage I can’t see any reason why events of the past won’t repeat. It may be in the latter half or 2021 or even 2022 but at some point, under-resourcing will be a huge issue that for some firms is almost impossible to resolve. Flexibility will help, even though nearly everyone is working from home at the moment, many firms still seem reluctant to commit to hiring someone who works remotely most of the time (for example because they live in another part of the country). Whilst being fully remote will not always be possible (for reasons such as receiving or delivering training, staff supervision, business development) it may be more achievable than some firms will currently allow despite the considerable body of evidence from 2020. With potential future employees used to working from home firms who more proactively support this if and when the pandemic has ended are highly likely to be at a competitive advantage when recruiting.

As for Brexit, I think it really depends who you talk to. I would say that of the people I have spoken to, 60-70% are cautiously optimistic that either the negative impact will be minimal or that there will be a positive impact. I would think that most within the IP profession would have preferred a different result in 2016 but the increased bureaucracy of not being a member of the EU particularly in relation to trade marks could produce a significant uplift in work. At Fellows and Associates we have been consolidating our position in this area by increasing our network of European Trade Mark Attorneys across the main EU states in part in anticipation that more British firms will likely wish to grow their presence within the EU. If that is part of your strategy, we are now very well placed to help.

Conclusions

At present there is not a heap of recruitment but it is busier now than at any point since the beginning of March 2020. Firms remain hesitant to recruit but then candidates are hesitant to leave a job. The IP profession has been resilient in respect to revenue which means there is a likely a latent demand. When firms start recruiting en masse again that there could be a snowball effect of massive demand and massive undersupply. For firms, it would make sense to move early ahead of this possible upwards curve. For candidates, if you can, it might be worth hanging on a little bit longer where you are, or, at the very least, that there will be more options as the year progresses. At least I hope so.

Pete Fellows

Nearly everything we're recruiting right now in a handy shareable page

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Don't say we don't make things easy for you! If you would rather look through our current recruitment requirements in a digestible form well here you go.  Please feel free to share... 

Electronics/Engineering Newly/Nearly Qualified, London

We are recruiting for a relatively small but growing, innovative and flexible London firm.  The workload and client mix is likely to be pretty changeable across engineering and electronics, so a broad base of technical backgrounds will be considered.  You need to know enough to work autonomously so it is expected that you are either qualified or nearly there.

  • Build your career in the best possible way with access to an ever-changing mix of technologies and an interesting client base, ranging from sole entities and academia, to SMEs and world-renowned multinational conglomerates
  • Be an invaluable advisor to your clients, helping identify and shape their IP and construct complex arguments to ensure their portfolio’s ongoing protection
  • Become involved in drafting and prosecution in the UK and Europe, as well as liaising with foreign attorneys on high value cases from around the world
  • Balance your work and personal life perfectly
  • Belong to an approachable and friendly team
  • Have active involvement in business development and networking

Biotechnology, Qualified Patent Attorney, Bristol

Join a firm with an excellent reputation amongst their clients, the likes of whom range from innovative UK based sole inventors and SMEs through to large international corporations with high value patent portfolios reaching into the billions. The firm are well known for providing first class advocacy to their clients both at home and overseas, and as a result your work load will be as international as it is diverse.

You will have access to an engaging portfolio of work and have the opportunity to carry out a significant amount of contentious work, such as EPO oppositions and litigation. Furthermore, you will be working alongside attorneys with a wealth of contacts and practical experience gained from their time spent working in a variety of roles, including in-house at blue chip organisations and at well-known academic institutions. This is an exceptional chance to join a firm that is consistently rated as top tier by a number of legal directories. You will be welcomed by an open culture, in which collaboration and the sharing of knowledge between attorneys at all levels is of a paramount importance.

Biotechnology, Patent Attorney, London or Surrey

Great jobs have been few and far between in 2020.  Many firms haven't been recruiting and attorneys can feel stuck in a job they don't hate but do want to leave.  Well, the recruitment market is beginning to grow again and this firm are a great example.  They're actually recruiting numerous positions at the moment and their biotechnology department is recruiting due to a growth in work.  If you have been sitting on your hands waiting out the pandemic but hoping to change jobs, now is an excellent chance.

  • One of the UK’s most highly regarded patent and trade mark firms
  • A client portfolio that incorporates extensive oppositions work and complex prosecution as well as drafting
  • Work with many of the world’s leading biotechnology companies directly
  • Benefit from an excellent base salary and a market leading benefits package

Chemistry Patent Attorneys Outside of London

We are recruiting for a chemistry patent attorneys Cambridge and Surrey.  If you would like to have less of a commute or want to move out of the city then we have a range of opportunities that will support this.

Chemistry Patent Attorney, London

There is a real flair for entrepreneurialism within the Chemistry department of this firm. However, those who prefer portfolio management and the everyday spectrum of patent duties will also find their niche, with plenty of original drafting, prosecution, opposition and appeal work. There is exposure to a diverse client base, both in the UK and overseas, and career progression is flexible - allowing the Attorney to have a real say in the way their future is mapped out. All with an enviable bonus structure that is both generous and achievable.

Candidates will be likely qualified or very close to qualification.

Biotechnology Patent Attorney, Cambridge

This is a client facing role with a great deal of autonomy coupled with excellent support from colleagues.  The firm are in a position to ensure you enjoy a broad range of work including drafting, prosecutions, EP oppositions and providing strategic advice to your clients.

The team have a fantastic reputation and their clients are cutting edge across technologies such as genetics, diagnostics, medical devices, and therapeutics.

Culturally the firm have a very open and open-minded environment, with well organised flexible working policies and a very generous approach to benefits and, of course, remuneration.  In respect to career progression, there is a great deal of support to ensure you achieve your own goals and there will be ample opportunities for partnership as your career develops.

Ideal candidates will be European and UK qualified patent attorneys (albeit European only qualified candidates would be highly regarded, for example if a candidate is relocating from another jurisdiction or from an in-house environment).  Given the nature of the role it is anticipated that you will have at least a couple of years' post qualified experience but if you feel you have the character for the role and are a qualified Patent Attorney then you will be actively considered.

Patent Attorney, Qualified, Chemistry, London

Enjoy a wide range of chemical pursuits. This firm has a really varied client group and hence can offer attorneys a wide range of technical scope and a broad sweep of legal work from drafting and prosecution to oral proceedings and oppositions. But more important than the work might be the environment; the firm is quick to encourage, push you when you need it or support you when times are tough – they raise excellent attorneys who are well-rounded legal professionals. To put it another way, the firm appreciates the importance of its entire staff irrespective of their seniority. They put considerable effort in to ensuring the people who work for them get the best possible experience and witness all that being a Patent Attorney has to offer.

There is flexibility but ideally you will be a qualified patent attorney with general chemistry background.

Patent Litigation role for a Patent Attorney (electronics/hi tech/telcos), London

Have you reached the point when you just can’t draft another patent? You simply can’t.  You’re sick to the death of prosecution.  Your career isn’t going anywhere fast and you can’t see yourself doing this day in day out for who knows how much longer?

What you really want to be is a lumberjack litigator.  Yes, a litigator, not drafting but contesting.  You might even want to cross-qualify as a solicitor (although that’s less essential).  Where would you do this?  I’m glad you asked.  This is a position for an international law firm (that you will have heard of) working for a partner who is a leading and globally recognised IP lawyer.

Changing career doesn’t mean you will need to compromise; you’ll join at a commensurate level to where you are currently with a highly likely improvement on your compensation and benefits.

Who are you? Well, you are a qualified patent attorney ideally with some post qualified experience (but there’s flexibility).  You will have a technical background in electronics, engineering, physics or related areas and ideally (but not essentially) some experience of Standard-Essential Patents.

If you have enjoyed your IP career so far but have been looking for that something just a little different, here is your chance.  Opportunities like this really don’t come around very often.  That’s not hyperbole I really mean it, the last position I recruited like this where a patent attorney could cross-train as a patent litigator was quite a few years ago.  If you are even a little curious, give me a call let’s have a chat.

Biotechnology Patent Attorney, Manchester

High quality work from high quality clients – a portfolio that it is entirely biotechnology based and is diverse, interesting and global.  A role that demands a great deal but offers considerable new experiences – consultancy, oppositions and direct client contact.  A firm that appreciates your value and ensures you are amply rewarded.  A firm that knows where you are heading and helps you get there.  Above all, a firm that has been and is continuing to be very successful.

The firm has weathered 2020 very successfully.  They were quick to implement and support remote working and were one of the first to start recruiting again.  The long-term scope for the role looks to be very bright due to a significant uptick in work.

Candidates are likely to be nearly qualified, newly qualified or have a few years post qualified experience (they’re very flexible).

To find out more...

For more information or to apply for any of these roles please email contact@fellowsandassociates.com or call +44 20 7903 5019.

Fellows and Associates

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61 Bridge Street,
Kington
HR5 3DJ

+44 (0) 207 903 5019.
 
 
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