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Five minutes with ... Gwilym Roberts, chair at Kilburn & Strode


Each week Managing IP speaks to a different IP lawyer about their life and career

Welcome to the latest instalment of Managing IP’s new series, ‘Five minutes with’, where we learn more about IP lawyers on a personal as well as a professional level. This time we have Gwilym Roberts, chair at Kilburn & Strode in London.

Someone asks you at a party what you do for a living. What do you say?

I proudly declare that I’m a patent attorney then spend 15 minutes explaining what I do and an hour and a half hearing about their granddad’s best ideas.

Talk us through a typical working day.

More senior people always complain that they never get to do the job anymore but I’m lucky enough to have a fairly lively practice. A good chunk of my day is still spent drafting, prosecuting, and liaising with key clients.

My role as chair means that I need to be the right-hand aide to our managing partner Richard Howson. He and I spend a lot of time chatting about strategy. I'm also quite involved in making sure that all of our partner meetings – which take a range of different shapes these days – happen smoothly and get the results that make sense for the group.

The other part of my job is the external side. I’m lucky enough to work closely with Lee Davies, CEO at CIPA, in my role as honorary secretary and we have a great time chatting about issues important to the UK profession, as well as doing our podcasts, which are a blast. I also work closely with professors Duncan Matthews and Noam Shemtov at Queen Mary and I’m really happy with the academic work and little bit of book writing that I do with them. Pretty varied, basically.

What are you working on at the moment?

I recently found out that I’ve got over 2000 cases against my name on the European Patent Register – I’m trying to get it to 3000. We’re always improving and modernising the firm and we’re currently working on our 2030 strategy – it seems a long way off but the start of my career is a lot further away again, so I think it’s worth thinking along those timescales.

We’re heading for our 100th podcast and we’ve got some exciting planning in place to make it a memorable one. I’m also contributing to a research book at the moment in relation to patenting and interfaces, which is interesting because I don’t think anyone’s really thought about that before.

Does one big piece of work usually take priority or are you juggling multiple things?

I’m a juggler. If you’re familiar with The Cat in the Hat, I’m currently at the phase where I have the lamp, the little man in the boat, a goldfish bowl, an umbrella, and five or six other things up in the air — not to mention the toddler responsible for me being so familiar with The Cat in the Hat. I don’t want to know what happens when I turn the page…

What is the most exciting aspect of your role and what is the most stressful?

The most exciting aspect of my role is definitely the work I get to do with clients helping build their portfolio and strategy. The most stressful bit is the constant transformation we aim for at the firm – modernise or die. It’s worth it but change hurts.

Tell us the key characteristics that make a successful IP lawyer.

It may sound facile, but you’ve got to love inventions. I used to dismantle landline telephones when I was a kid for fun, now I get paid for finding out how things work. Latterly, getting more involved in the strategy side has been fascinating, but I don’t think it’s a tenable long-term career unless you still really enjoy the fundamentals of the job; understanding the technology, understanding law, getting the best patents for your client.

What is the most common misconception about IP?

The most common misconception about IP is definitely the ‘Fred in the Shed’ idea. It would be wonderful if the IP environment were able to help individuals with fantastic ideas become incredibly rich, but the reality is very different. We’ve had many sad meetings with people with wonderful dreams and ideas, bringing them down gently. IP is largely about incremental improvement, but those are the ones that turn a great idea into an amazing product.

What or who inspires you?

I’ve always kept an eye out for the people who stand out in the IP world and try to learn from them – attorneys, IPO officials, inventors and IP strategists. Also, Andrea Brewster at IP Inclusive, and Ferris Bueller.

If you weren’t an IP lawyer, what would you be doing?

When I went for careers advice at university they told me I could either be a patent attorney or a salesman for a regional brewery.

Any advice you would give your younger self?

You may not be the loudest voice, but keep pushing yourself and you’ll do okay.

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