International Day of Women and Girls in Science 2022: Charlotte Teall
Charlotte is a partner at Forresters, based in our London office. She holds both a BSc in Biochemistry from Imperial College London and an MSc in Intellectual Property Management. She tells us about how she has utilised the skills she learned in these degrees throughout her career.
Tell us about your academic background.
I studied biology, chemistry and maths at A level and also art for one year but decided to focus on science as I knew that I wanted to pursue a career using science. I then went on to study biochemistry with a year in industry at Imperial College London. I was the first person from my school to go on to study at Imperial, so it was a step into the unknown. Between my third and fourth year I worked as a placement student at Merck, Sharp and Dohme in their neuroscience research centre, where I worked under an experienced and enthusiastic researcher Ignacio Munoz-Sanjuan studying stem cell technologies. While I enjoyed the year in industry, I realised that I did not have the same enthusiasm for conducting research as Ignacio, but I still wanted to use my science background. The year in industry really helped me to understand the theoretical science I learned in my first two years, so I found it much easier to comprehend the concepts in my final year and to have the confidence to read journal articles in the areas we studied. I graduated from Imperial with a first-class honours and was awarded the highest achievement prize.
Having considered and discounted entering healthcare marketing, I focussed on intellectual property and found the Inside Careers guide very helpful in this respect. As it is a very competitive career to get into (we regularly have around 115 applications for a single trainee patent attorney position here at Forresters), I decided to enrol for the MSc in intellectual property management at Queen Mary University, London to show prospective employers that I was serious about a career as a patent attorney. I also researched funding options and managed to secure funding for the MSc through an intellectual property education fund. I achieved part qualification as a patent attorney as part of this course, which made me attractive to employers in reducing my training cost burden. Happily, I secured a trainee patent attorney position in the life sciences team at Forresters during my MSc year, and the rest is history as they say. I am now a partner in our growing Life Sciences team.
During my MSc, I also worked at a local diving school and earned my PADI divemaster qualification, so spent the summer before I joined Forresters in Spain working at a dive school.
Do you often have to draw upon your scientific knowledge in your day-to-day work?
Yes. I use my scientific knowledge in some form or other almost daily. I have a range of client portfolios where I have intricate knowledge of their technologies. These range from medical devices to improved formulations for treating Parkinson’s disease, and engineered bacteria that can produce commodity chemicals on an industrial scale. Our clients are constantly innovating in different areas, so I must keep pace with their innovations. My solid grounding in biochemistry helps with being able to quickly learn about new technologies and how they function. This provides a new challenge every day. It is important to our clients that we quickly understand their technologies and can ask the relevant questions, so they have the confidence in us that we will provide the best level of protection for their inventions.
Is your client work closely matched with your technical background, or is it broader than that?
My client work closely matches with my technical background. When our trainees are undergoing their training, we try to give them experience of a range of technologies. Our life sciences trainees will undergo some mechanical training because the UK and European exams we take to qualify usually involve mechanical inventions. As we progress in our careers, we become involved in client portfolios in our technical area and pursue business development in our areas of specialism.
For example, I have studied the patent term extension system in the UK since I began my career, where it is possible to obtain a Supplementary Protection Certificate (SPC) for marketed pharmaceuticals, to compensate for the regulatory delays in placing the products on the market. I handle many SPC applications for our clients and have written extensively in this area.
As part of our business development and networking, we come across clients in other areas. In those cases, I will put our client in contact with our attorneys with that technical background. Increasingly, clients are developing hybrid technologies, for example in the bioinformatics and medical devices areas, and so often we have a multidisciplinary team working together on those cases.
Have you had any challenging situations in your career/day-to-day work that your scientific knowledge helped you to overcome?
I used my scientific knowledge every day in my career, but when it is most useful is when we are drafting patent applications for clients who are not familiar with the IP system. Here, you need to be able to quickly understand the technology and, using the foundation of your scientific knowledge, be able to ask your client the right questions to ensure that you are drafting the claims and rest of the application at the right breadth to cover their commercial requirements and avoid competitors from designing around your claimed invention.
There are also transferable skills based on my scientific background that I use daily. Studying a science degree requires you to think analytically, to problem solve and to question why something functions in the way it does. I use all of these skills in overcoming the challenges with running Foresters and how we strategically position Forresters to ensure long term success.
Have you noticed any changes since you joined the IP profession in terms of its gender diversity at both partner level and among those entering the profession?
The profession is much more aware than it used to be on issues of inclusivity and avoiding unconscious bias. At Forresters, we are trying to be forward thinking in this respect and have signed up to the IP Inclusive charter as well as formed the Equality and Diversity group. I have always found Forresters to be inclusive and have never felt that my gender has played any part in my career progression. As always, there are improvements to be made, and I believe we are going in the right direction in that respect. Our working group has made a number of suggestions to the partnership, and we have implemented a large proportion of those suggestions, which has had a positive effect on the business.
Above all, we value hard work, respect and a willingness to be a team player. We are happy to support all our staff in shaping Forresters to remain a modern and growing business, which is highly respected by our clients for its commitment to quality service.
Do you have any advice for graduates considering a career in IP?
It is an increasingly competitive market, and many candidates have top degrees, so try to get some work experience and speak to various patent attorneys to find out about the role. This will show employers that you are serious about the profession. Speak to people, do your research and make sure you have an understanding of the profession. We value well-rounded candidates, so we like to see that you have hobbies and interests outside of your academic pursuits. This is also important because the exams are complex and require a lot of independent study, so it is good to have hobbies and interests to help relax when you have down time.
It is an incredibly rewarding career, and if you choose private practice, you also have the challenges as you progress up the career ladder of business development and running a business.