The differences between in-house and private practice.
I had always wanted to get into the patent profession, but it was not an easy industry to break into. I joined Keltie in 2002, working and training with the firm until 2010 when I made the decision to relocate westwards and take a job with the in-house intellectual property department of an consumer electronics company. I kept close links with ex-colleagues from Keltie and after working with the company for three years, realised that the move was not going to be long term.
I wanted to return to Keltie but remain based in the west of the country, so when the opportunity to open a new office in Cirencester arose, it was too good to turn down. The office is ideally located with strong links to the M4 corridor technology hub and our existing clients in the midlands. We still work with the electronics company today and were involved in providing drafting support for their development of an electric vehicle. It just goes to show that building good relationships is a key part of building a practice and maintaining personal bonds can help to grow our client portfolio.
I found the in-house culture to be a little too corporate. Having worked for a couple of large businesses during my career, the ‘big business’ environment is not as appealing as being part of a firm such as Keltie. We are small, boutique and we punch above our weight in terms of our client base and our work. There is a feeling within the business that we are building something that matters, where the driving force is personal growth - and more importantly, helping other people to grow - rather than money. It links back to why David set up the firm, built upon core principles and a philosophy that looked to train and pass knowledge on to younger people for the greater benefit of the firm as a whole. Our culture means people join Keltie and stay with us. We take great satisfaction in seeing members of the team grow into positions where they are mentoring new starters and sharing their experiences, having been there themselves some years before.
The way we work means that we are very good at getting under the skin of our clients’ projects and working with them for a long time. We focus our efforts on building lasting relationships based on mutual benefit. For many of our clients, we have become an extension of their in-house department or they view us as part of their team. We have great relationships with our clients and it feels very collaborative.
We are constantly searching for new clients to work with - we are not content to settle with what we have, we want to grow the business and provide opportunities and futures for others. Traditional firms operate structures with competitive billing which can mean short term success, but this does not build a long-term, sustainable culture where employees want to spend their whole careers with the company. At Keltie, we are collaborative. We work together to deliver the best result possible for our clients, rather than operating with silo mentalities which do not benefit the firm in the long run. We have found an ideal balance between success and atmosphere and it is something we work hard to maintain and protect.
As we grow and become more established, losing our culture is something we are very conscious of. With the pressures of business, there is always the compulsion to sacrifice principles for profit but this does not fit with the way we operate. The team at Keltie want to be there - there is no sole monetary focus with our work. This means we have to be more proactive in how we look after people and means that our recruitment process is rigorous - we are looking for ‘Keltie people’ - and not everybody fits the mould.
It depends very much on the in-house department. Some operate as semi-independent firms within their business whereas others outsource the ‘heavy lifting’ elements of search and filing work. It was quite unusual to do as much drafting and filing in-house as I did at the electronics company, and in fact, still is.
In-house work does mean that you are able collaborate very closely with the engineering teams behind innovations. You are exposed to the project’s very early conceptual stages which is beneficial to initial application drafting as you build a fundamental understanding of the creation, first hand. This familiarity can be both helpful and efficient as you can ‘borrow’ from other applications, but in reality, the challenge is the same working for a firm, just presented in a slightly different way.
On occasion, in an in-house department, the work is very similar from one project to the next by the nature of working for example, within a manufacturing company. The clients and work we undertake at Keltie give constant variety and mean we are continually learning as new creations are brought to us. For me, this was a key part of the decision to return to the firm.
Working in-house, you do have those closer relationships with engineers. Plus, it is fulfilling to see a product on which you have worked go to market, particularly goods in the FMCG sector. However, the culture can be much more corporate and the scope of work may be limited. With private practice, the variety of clients we work with at different stages of their business, the range of subject matters and sectors was certainly a driving factor for me.
At Keltie, there is also a strong social aspect. Lifetime friendships are forged here and the firm galvanises people together which maintains the identity and culture of the business. In-house, it felt as though it was ‘just a job’ but at Keltie, it is more than that - we are like a family.
The typical route into the profession is to start in private practice as these firms are better set up to train people, the variety of client work is good for developing a broader understanding of the industry and there is generally a strong social aspect. In-house departments do not typically take trainees. If I was advising someone thinking about applying for a role in IP, whilst you may get an in-house role with good training, a big part of working in intellectual property is dealing and working with clients - something you would only find in private practice. My advice would be to start in a firm, learn, explore and understand the profession from a more holistic perspective and perhaps move to an in-house role later. Above all, do your research and get as much information as possible - that will stand you in good stead for a career in IP from the outset.
For people considering applying for a role at Keltie, think about how you are incentivised. If you thrive on competition and money, then perhaps our culture will not fit. We invest a lot of time in our recruitment and interviewing processes so that applicants understand what it is like to work here, what day-to-day life is like and what our business stands for. We place cultural fit above academic prowess - it is that important to us. We are immensely proud of the firm and want to grow it with the most talented people we can, provided they share the same ethos and passion for Keltie.
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