Chemists in the Real World

Emily Berkeley

 


Emily Berkeley,
Patent Examiner

U.S. Patent and Trademark Office
Ph.D., Inorganic Chemistry

 

 


Emily Berkeley is just starting out as a patent examiner with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office — she's been there four months. She received her Ph.D. in inorganic chemistry in 2013, and began working at the USPTO shortly thereafter.

In her first job after receiving her bachelor's degree, family and friends helped her look for available science positions for recent graduates, eventually helping her find a position as a technician at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. She was unsure of the direction she wanted to pursue, and the technician job was an opportunity for her to gain some work experience.

Regarding her decision to leave her technician position to attend graduate school, Berkeley says, "I liked the big picture aspects of lab tech work, which motivated me to want to continue my education in a scientific area. I wanted to learn more."

After she completed graduate school, she found her current position on USAJOBS, the central clearinghouse for the federal government's job listings, "although the path felt more circuitous than that," she notes. "I knew that I wanted to take a more nontraditional path, and I looked at several different tracks — law, government agency work, policy fellowships, and intellectual property. It was important for me to explore the options." A friend suggested that she apply for a position at the Patent Office. Berkeley describes her current position as having a good level of challenge — stimulating, but not overwhelming.

What is your major responsibility in your current position?

I review and examine patent applications to determine if they are patent-eligible; for example, whether they are "novel and non-obvious". When you begin work at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, you are assigned to a specialty, based on your knowledge and capabilities. I'm working on analytical testing capabilities, mostly instrumentation for chemistry, physics, and biotechnology, or new applications for existing technologies.

What's a typical day on the job like?

I've just started, so there's still a lot of training time. New examiners spend four months learning the legal and technical aspects of what is and is not patent-eligible, and I'm just now completing four months on the job. During training, we work on actual patent examinations in a supervised environment.

A typical day starts out by getting a patent application to review, thoroughly analyzing it, and then searching for related technology. Throughout this time, there are discussions with colleagues and supervisors related to the patent application and technology at hand. Then I write up a report based on the final analysis. I generally work on one application at a time, but there may be some overlap due to the rapid nature of the examination process.  Most cases are generally responded to within two or three days after first looking at it.

Are there any apps/software/instrumentation/tools that you can't live without?    

I use Microsoft Word, Google, and in-house search engines. For the first level of analysis, I use the USPTO's specialized search tools. For the next level, I go to Google and journal publications. There are no restrictions on what search tools I can use, and I can look anywhere.

Describe your work environment.

I work only in an office, and I share space with one other person. The work space mostly consists of a desk, drawers, and a computer with multiple monitors

Does your job follow a typical 9-to-5 schedule?

A typical week is 40 hours. Currently, no overtime is required. The pace moves quickly, and the environment is geared toward flexibility and productivity.

Typically, how many days each month do you spend away from your workplace on travel?

I am not required to travel.

What do you like most about your job?

I get to be at the cutting edge of technology. Even just starting, I'm in awe of the amount I've learned through the patent examining process. Doing a search is like solving a puzzle.

In graduate school, I was very focused on my area of research. I really enjoy pursing the breadth of knowledge available in the scientific community, and my current position is a very good place for that. Not only do I get to read about technology, I also get to learn a lot about the legal side, including the history of how the laws developed. I like that I can tie it all together and feel connected to the legal system.

What's your best productivity trick?

Just start somewhere. If the obvious starting place feels too hard, pick a different way to begin.

Do you have any special talents or traits that make you a great fit for your job?

I have the ability to focus on the task at hand and enthusiasm for seeing what's next on the plate.

Is there anything else you would like to mention about your career?

My job is a way great to be surrounded by scientists and engineers without being in the lab.

What essential habit do you have now that you wish you'd started much earlier?

I wish that I had developed the ability to take criticism or feedback constructively sooner.

What is your favorite ACS resource?

The webinars are great! I watch the ones on topics that pique my general interest; for example, beer brewing, flavor science, and vegetables. I also watch the ones that focus on career development.

I like going to the ACS National Meetings for both the seminars and the career development aspects. The recruiting booths and career development workshops are some of the great professional development resources provided at the ACS National Meetings.

How have you benefited from being an ACS member?

I attend meetings, read C&E News, and listen to webinars. I also like having access to the ACS journals. All of these have helped me on a personal and professional basis.