Born: Milton, Ontario
Profession: Patent Law
When a scientist has come up with a new invention, such as a new drug or medical device, one of the first things to do is figure out if someone else has come up with the same invention. Scientific consults are people who make sure that the invention is unique and that it can hold up in court if a legal battle occurs. We speak to Kimberly McClintock to find out just what it's like to be a scientific consultant.
What does a Scientific Consultant do?
The field of Intellectual Property concerns Patents, Trade-marks, Copyright and Industrial Designs. At a law firm, a consultant searches for and reviews patents on pharmaceuticals and other technologies and may work with a Patent Agent to draft patent applications. They may also interact with the Patent Office regarding these applications — a process known as prosecution. Lawyers involved in science-based cases may even call upon their scientific expertise, which can be very exciting. A consultant can perform similar roles in an industrial setting, such as at a pharmaceutical or medical device company. A Scientific Consultant may also be called a Technical Consultant, a Technical Advisor or a Patent Associate.
What is a typical day like for a Scientific Consultant?
Typically, I would spend the better part of a day reviewing patents for clients who would like to manufacture something (a drug, for example) and want to make sure that there are no existing patents that cover their invention. If a patent does exist, I would check the validity of the patent and work with lawyers to see if it would hold up in court. I may also draft a report for the client on the state of the patents in that specific area.
What is the last movie you saw? Thumbs up or thumbs down?
The Weather Man. It's hilarious. Two thumbs up.
Did you always want to be a Scientific Consultant?
No. In fact, I didn't know that this type of job opportunity existed for scientists until shortly before I got this position. I came across the field incidentally through my work at a startup biotechnology company in Montreal. People investing money in a company like to know that they will get a return on their investment, and intellectual property is good insurance. For example, if a company holds a patent on an invention such as a drug, then no other company can manufacture that specific drug for a certain period of time. If the invention is useful to the public, this can be worth a lot of money.
What courses in high school prepared you for this field?
A broad knowledge of science and technology is invaluable to your success in this field. The more technical knowledge you can obtain, the easier and better your work will be. This includes mechanics and software in addition to chemistry, biology and physics.
What's your favorite cartoon character?
Bugs Bunny. He's SO bad! Sadly, with all of the anti-violence and political correctness around, most Bugs Bunny cartoons have had all of their funny parts cut out.
What type of personality is suited to this career?
There's no getting around it - this job requires working long hours alone in front of a computer. Whether you are searching patent databases, reviewing patents, or drafting applications, there can be long periods of time where you have little or no interaction with others. This can be challenging if you are an outgoing person. It's a great career for someone who is very detail-oriented.
Where did you go to university and how did you decide where to go?
I attended the University of Western Ontario in London. It had a good reputation and I really liked the campus.
Chocolate or Vanilla?
Haagen-Dazs Chocolate. You were talking about ice cream, right?
Was there extra training required for this career after you finished university? If so, what?
There is really no substitute for experience in this career. I found my previous industry experience was a great advantage in my work, although it is not necessarily required. There are specific courses offered by the Intellectual Property Institute of Canada and other organizations, but these can be expensive and may be better left until you are ready to apply for a job or have already begun working in the field. If you get a position, the company will normally pay for you to take these courses. However, I have talked to people who swear that having a completed course on their resume is the reason they got the job. I took my first course several months after I started my first job in Intellectual Property, and it the company paid for me to attend. A Scientific Consultant may also go on to become a Patent Agent, which takes years of work experience and several grueling exams, but is a very challenging and rewarding career.
Someone who may not be interested in pursuing a graduate degree in science may decide to complete an undergraduate science degree and then go on to law school and specialize in Intellectual Property Law.
What is the coolest part of your job?
Meeting with inventors. They are extremely excited about their inventions and their excitement is contagious!
Everyone makes mistakes so what was the dumbest thing you've ever done at work?
Well, the dumbest thing I've ever done with respect to work happened in an interview at a big pharmaceutical company. While attempting to sound like I was familiar with their products, I mentioned the brand name of a drug that was manufactured by their competitor. Needless to say, I didn't get the job!
What do you do in your spare time?
I love outdoor activities like hiking, camping and snowboarding.
What music do you have in your CD player right now?
Beastie Boys — Solid Gold Hits
Any advice that you would give others seeking a similar career?
Aside from completing a graduate degree in a scientific discipline, I think the best thing you can do to get into this field is to make some contacts who can help you get your foot in the door. These jobs are rarely advertised, so you need an insider to let you know when there is a potential opportunity. This means taking the initiative and taking some risks. Once I had decided that I wanted to pursue this career, I emailed numerous Intellectual Property Lawyers and Scientific Consultants requesting a brief meeting to discuss their careers and the field in general. This is also called an information interview. They will usually take your resume and let you know how you measure up to other people who are applying for those positions. Always be mindful of how busy these people are and let them know that you appreciate their time. Sending a short thank you note within a couple of days of your meeting shows courtesy and professionalism. This approach can be helpful for other careers as well. The key is to get someone to notice you so that you will stand out over the hundreds of other applicants.
What's your favorite holiday?
Christmas. I love cheesy Christmas music! I've even been known to play a song or two in the middle of summer.
What's your biggest pet peeve?
People who are inconsiderate of others. Grrrr.
Do you have any great web links or references for someone interesting in reading up more about this career?
For general information about Intellectual Property, or becoming a Patent or Trademark Agent, go to the Intellectual Property Institute of Canada website at
The Canadian Intellectual Property Office website also has lots of good information and you can browse through the Canadian patent database if you're interested.
If you're looking for something a little lighter, check out the Gallery of Obscure Patents. These are real patents, and are always good for a laugh! Look for the Gravity Powered Shoe Air Conditioner.