Paralegals have reason to worry

  • Roles such as paralegals will be threatened by automation and AI
  • In-house practitioners will focus on more skilled work, rather than mundane tasks
  • Future IP departments will include staff with a greater variety of skills

As in other fields of intellectual property, the growth of automation will replace (either completely or partially) some roles in patent departments. “If I were a paralegal, I would be worried,” quips one practitioner, in a comment that reflects the wariness that many feel about increasing use of technology. But used effectively, AI tools should increase efficiency and enable staff to focus on more complex, valuable tasks than searching, docketing and so on. One in-house counsel in a small high-tech company puts it like this: “There are loads of things I would love to do but I can’t do them because I’m filling NDAs. If in a few years’ time AI can do 90% of the patent drafting, then I’m there!”

Most of those interviewed predicted that their teams would remain about the same size in the next decade, but would be doing different jobs, thanks to automation, outsourcing and changing business needs. “Technology doesn’t replace humans, but enables you to grow without adding staff,” notes one in-house counsel.

The IP department of the future is likely to have more data analysts and IT consultants, as well as more people with economics or accounting backgrounds sitting alongside the patent attorneys. But there will probably be fewer people doing the nuts and bolts of patent drafting. “An EQE [European qualifying examination] will no longer be enough,” says one practitioner, adding: “There will be a shift in the type of people working in IP departments… It will be important to have leadership and product management skills and be entrepreneurial in using intellectual property. You need a combination of different skills. There will be a shift to being strategic portfolio managers.”

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