Oxford and Cambridge Graduates Monopolise the Intellectual Property Industry

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Intellectual Property recruiters Fellows and Associates have found during a recent study that an astonishing proportion of all patent attorneys working in the UK originate from an Oxbridge University.

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It was hoped that recent efforts in the industry would indicate a decline in those from an Oxbridge background, however it was found that 28% of all those currently training were from either Oxford or Cambridge.

Fellows and Associates, a boutique IP recruitment and management consultancy, has publicised their findings following an industry wide study on the university preferences of UK patent attorney firms. The report was published in February 2017. The data was gathered in November 2016 and included all firms listed on the CIPA website at the time the research preparation commenced. “The lack of academic diversity in the IP industry is quite prevalent and has been for some time” noted Fellows and Associates Director Pete Fellows. “There is still a perception that firms, whether consciously or not, gravitate towards those who studied at either Oxford or Cambridge. We were curious as to whether this theory held any actual truth and decided to investigate further.”

The study included all patent attorneys in the profession ranging from entry level up to Senior Associate, and all technical disciplines excluding trade marks. The Fellows and Associates team’s initial findings indicated that over half (53%) of the firms researched had at least 20% of their patent attorneys with an Oxbridge background and over a quarter (26%) had at least 40%. Phillipa Holland, Consultant at Fellows and Associates, commented “the figures do suggest that there is an overwhelmingly disproportionate representation of graduates originating from either Oxford or Cambridge and, although we most certainly don’t think that attending either university is a bad thing, it is disappointing that excellent graduates from other academic institutions are perhaps being overlooked as a consequence.”

The data was analysed further to test the theory that the older a firm is, the more of an Oxbridge bias it might have. The team focused on firms established around the mid to late 1800s and found that the average percentage of Oxbridge staff members was 27%, with the lowest at 0% and the highest at 78%. When looking at firms founded at the more recent end of this time scale 57% still had at least 20% of patent attorneys with an Oxbridge background, leading Fellows and Associates to conclude that the bias is likely a problem for the profession as a whole, not simply firms that have existed for a long time.

“When reviewing the demographics of larger firms, we found the results to be even more alarming,” say Pete Fellows. “For firms with a total staff number of 100 or more, 36% of their patent attorneys attended Oxbridge, with the highest rate at a startlingly high 83%.”

Technical specialism was also an area of focus, with the team keen to find out if some areas of expertise had a higher Oxbridge representation than others. It was found that 43% of those with a background in chemistry, life sciences or similar attended either Oxford or Cambridge, compared to 25% of those in physics, electronics, engineering or similar. “This is the highest statistic we have seen during our research, however it could be attributed to a number of factors other than bias” Phillipa Holland explained. “There is huge market demand for candidates with the latter backgrounds, which has meant firms have had to become more flexible in their recruitment strategies either consciously or unconsciously. It could also be due to firms hiring ‘like for like’ with Oxbridge alumni naturally gravitating towards other Oxbridge alumni, as well as non-Oxbridge perhaps favouring those who also have an alternative background.”

Some conclusions were drawn between the proximity of firm to the universities in question, with an average of 32% of patent attorneys attending from all London based firms, including those with offices elsewhere. For firms solely based in the regions, 22% of their attorneys had an Oxbridge background.

The findings have definitely encouraged debate amongst the IP community and for many to agree that it is a problem that needs addressing. Following the publication of the article and prompted by a query from the industry equal opportunities initiative IP Inclusive, Fellows and Associates made a final remark regarding those who have entered the profession most recently. “It was hoped that recent efforts in the industry would indicate a decline in those from an Oxbridge background, however it was found that 28% of all those currently training were from either Oxford or Cambridge.”

The research does suggest that the profession is perhaps missing out on some excellent graduates to other industries, however Pete Fellows stressed that “the article by no means a criticism of hiring practices and we are definitely not trying to force opinion on what is regarded as correct or incorrect, we merely hope it is used as a platform for discussion in the industry.”

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Pete Fellows
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