Five minutes with … Parminder Lally, Appleyard Lees
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Five minutes with … Parminder Lally, Appleyard Lees

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

Welcome to the latest instalment of Managing IP’s ‘Five minutes with’ series, where we learn more about IP lawyers on a personal as well as a professional level. This time we have Parminder Lally, partner at Appleyard Lees in Cambridge.

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

Oh gosh, tricky question. When I was a student and I told people I was studying physics, they’d often respond with how they hated the subject at school. Now, if I say I’m a lawyer, people usually tell me about their divorce! So, I’ve learned to keep it simple: I’m a patent attorney, and I help companies protect their clever new products and inventions.

Talk us through a typical working day.

My days tend to vary depending on whether I’m working from home or in the office. When I’m at home, I focus on the work that needs the most concentration: patent drafting or dealing with tricky patent office objections.

The in-office days are much more collaborative – I’ll often schedule meetings with clients then spend time talking to my trainees and going over the work they’re doing with me, and talk to colleagues about our business development activities. They’re also when I set the weekly riddle for the office!

What are you working on at the moment?

Currently, I’m working on a new patent application which is for a super clever, but very mathematics-heavy, machine-learning based invention. I need to spend time thinking about how to write the claims so that the invention is considered patent eligible by the UKIPO, EPO and USPTO.

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

I’m often doing multiple things – I expect that’s true for many patent attorneys. This week, I’ve done patent prosecution work for cases relating to bioinformatics, automatic speech recognition, and machine learning model training.

I've also done patent drafting, business development, work around recruitment, and some training with my trainees. I like the variety in the type of work I do, the types of inventions I handle, and the clients I work with.

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

I still get a thrill whenever I find out that a patent application I’ve been working on is going to be granted! I hope that never stops being exciting! The thrill is probably a bit because of imposter syndrome too. There are lots of other things I get joy from. For example, when my trainees have made a really good argument, or explained something confidently in a client meeting, or done well in their exams, I am usually sat at my desk beaming because their hard work is paying-off for them.

The most stressful is the deadlines – it’s an extremely deadline-driven job. That’s why I’m really glad that IP Inclusive has arranged webinars on mental health and managing stress, and that firms in the UK are looking at looking at these issues too.

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

A good patent attorney should be able to communicate clearly and appropriately. For instance, we need to be able to write about a complex invention in a clear, concise way, so it can be understood by the inventors when they review our drafts, so that the patent office examiners can understand it, and so that it can be translated into other languages.

We also need to be able to explain what’s going on during the patent process to our clients clearly, taking into consideration that clients have differing levels of knowledge of patent law and jargon. Patent law is not the place to unleash your inner Charles Dickens!

What is the most common misconception about IP?

In my specific area of patent law, the most common misconception is around software, i.e. that it cannot be patented or that you can only patent it in the US. I’ve given lots of talks and written many articles about this, as it seems to be a rather persistent myth!

What or who inspires you?

People who stand up for what they believe in, even if doing so is difficult. In the IP world, I think everyone who challenges the status quo is admirable. Andrea Brewster will always be a hero to me for the work she started in 2015 to tackle the equality, diversity, inclusion and wellbeing issues in the UK’s IP profession. But I also admire those who ask tricky or provocative questions, and they’ve given me the confidence to ask those questions too.

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

Probably a baker or a gardener. Yup, quite different!

Any advice you would give your younger self?

Read as many books as you can before you become a patent attorney! Once you become one, your days of agonising over the words you write will mean reading for pleasure becomes a bit of chore.

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