International Day of Women and Girls in Science 2022: Emma Johnson


Emma is a partner at Forresters, based in the Birmingham office. She is a chartered UK trade mark attorney as well as a UK and European patent attorney. Emma explains how her technical background in physics is applied to her work for a diverse range of clients.

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Tell us about your academic background.

I hold a BSc degree in Physics with Astrophysics from the University of Birmingham.  I didn’t choose my degree course with a career in patents in mind. I only began to consider a career in IP after I had graduated. However, if I had always wanted to be a patent attorney, I would probably still have chosen physics.

Do you often have to draw upon your scientific knowledge in your day-to-day work?

Yes, using techniques and concepts learned at university has been essential. As you build up relationships with clients, your knowledge of their specific technology and their business becomes more important than the ability to understand or remember things learnt at university but being able to apply technical or scientific principles to what your client tells you is always important. A large proportion of my client contacts are engineers and so understanding technical terms is important, it makes it much quicker and easier for them to explain an invention if they know you understand the basics.

Is your client work closely matched with your technical background, or is it broader than that?

I would say that my client work is broader than my degree, but physics is a good general subject to cover a lot of technical bases.

Have you had any challenging situations in your career/day-to-day work that your scientific knowledge helped you to overcome?

Patents are a unique blend of technology and law. Sometimes crafting a convincing legal argument is a challenge, but it is impossible to do that without a decent understanding of the technology in the patent or application.

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?

I remember being pleasantly surprised at the number of women joining the profession at the same time as me – taking exams with peers at other firms gives an insight into the rough gender balance. There were fewer women than men, but it is not something I remember paying a huge amount of attention to; perhaps because I was used to being in a “male-dominated environment” at university. When I joined Forresters, there was only one female partner. Now, there is a significantly higher proportion of female partners.

Do you have any advice for graduates considering a career in IP?

Research what it involves. Ask to speak with a patent attorney, if you can. Some firms only recruit once a year, and some firms even less frequently, so check application deadlines and apply in good time! There are quite a few exams, so be prepared for lots of studying outside office hours, for the first few years.