Patent attorney Annabel Beacham talks to Members' News

21 May 2013

What does your current job involve?
I am a partner at Dehns (previously Frank B. Dehn & Co), a firm of patent and trademark attorneys. Rather unusually amongst my contemporaries, I have worked for the same firm ever since leaving university. I initially started as a technical assistant, training on the job before taking the relevant professional exams and qualifying as a European and United Kingdom patent attorney.

My job involves advising clients on obtaining patent protection for their inventions around the world, defending their granted patents and enforcing them against third parties. I also advise clients on possible infringement risks in relation to third party patents. As my background is in chemistry, I specialise in chemical patents, particularly agrochemicals and pharmaceuticals. I am involved in training some of our current technical assistants and also have various management responsibilities. As with most jobs, as I get more senior I seem to spend more time on management and less on 'real' work.

Did you have an interest in science from childhood?
I don't recall being particularly interested in science at primary school, although apparently my first teacher told my parents that I found numbers easy. My interest in science was sparked when I went to secondary school, where I was lucky enough to have three inspirational teachers. I can still remember my first science lesson, investigating the effect on the appearance of the flame of opening and closing the air vent on a Bunsen burner, something health and safety might not even allow today. When general science split into chemistry, physics and biology, I found chemistry the most interesting. Physics seemed rather dry and, being slightly squeamish, the dissections rather put me off biology. Both my chemistry teachers suggested that I think about studying chemistry at university, and encouraged me to apply to Oxford.

How did you decide that you wanted a career in science?
I toyed briefly with the idea of reading mathematics at university, but eventually decided that I enjoyed chemistry more. I did not have any particular career in mind at that stage, and had not even heard of patents as a profession; I just wanted to continue studying a subject that I found interesting. At university, I found organic chemistry particularly rewarding and started having visions of a career in research.

My fourth year undergraduate research project was in the organic chemistry department and I was then lucky enough to be accepted to study for a DPhil in the same lab. I do not regret doing the DPhil, as it helped me to realise that I did not enjoy research enough to make it my career.

Still being interested in chemistry as a subject, rather then joining the majority of my peers and applying for a job in accountancy, I looked around for alternative career options, which would still involve chemistry. I was sponsored through my DPhil by GlaxoWellcome (as it was then) and my industrial supervisor suggested I consider a career in patents. That sounded interesting, and after doing, and after doing some more research I applied to various firms for a job as a trainee.

What are the most important things you've learned in your career so far?
That I am fortunate to have an intellectually challenging and stimulating job; that the continued success of our firm depends on recruiting top class science graduates and training them to become the best possible patent attorneys; and that being a good patent attorney doesn't necessarily make you a good manager.

What have been the significant milestones in your career?
Obtaining my professional qualifications and being asked to join the partnership at Dehns.

Would you have done anything differently?
Not really, although occasionally when visiting the European Patent Office in Munich I wish I had kept up German at school instead of dropping it for geography.

How did you first become involved with SCI and what has that involvement meant for you?
I honestly can't remember how I first found out about SCI. I have been a member for many years and have always found C&I a good way of keeping abreast of what's going on in the chemical sector, especially with my clients and their competitors.

If you hadn't pursued a career in science, what would you be doing now?
I cannot imagine doing anything different.

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