Rhiannon Turner's work as a patent attorney means she operates at the leading edge of technological advances and new inventions. Rhiannon talks to The Industry Leaders about how she got started, her role as a Partner at Greaves Brewster, and how the firm managed the challenge of the Covid lockdown.
How did you end up sitting where you are today?
I'm a patent attorney and a partner in a firm based in Cheddar, south west England. I have a degree and PhD in biological sciences. I started in the profession after hearing about it from a friend - I thought it sounded interesting.
One week of work experience, thinking in detail about essential features that make a paperclip work, had me hooked! Four years and 13 exams later, I was a qualified attorney. As well as working at the forefront of technology, I'm a partner in my firm and have the added privilege of leading and supporting our people.
What kind of work does your role involve?
As a patent attorney, I work with inventors and companies to obtain legal protection for new inventions. This involves working with the inventors to understand the science and problem that the invention solves. We then write a patent application and liaise with patent offices around the world to obtain a granted patent.
I enjoy working with attorneys all over the world. As a partner, I share responsibility for developing our business and nurturing a culture that ensures every member of our team can bring their best self to work. We are a happy community, and I'm very proud of this.
What gets you excited about your industry?
It's hugely exciting to have that first meeting with an inventor when nothing has been made public about their new development. I'm constantly hearing about work being carried out right on the leading edge of science, and I feel this is a great privilege. Although the IP system is not perfect in a global sense, at least in the West, it helps individuals and businesses to protect their new innovations from copying. In turn, this enables innovators to secure investment to help develop and launch new products that solve various problems that society faces.
What's the best advice anyone ever gave you?
"Don't let your career get in the way of your relationships".
My professional work is deadline-driven and can be all-consuming. Taking time out with loved ones and keeping a sense of perspective as to my place in the world is hugely important.
What's the best way to support aspiring leaders in your field?
I spend a lot of time talking with members of my team. This might involve teaching, coaching or just listening. Patent attorneys are often perfectionists, so I try to offer the perspective of 20 years in the profession whilst empathising with how the individual might be feeling. I also try to prioritise providing support to others even when I'm under a high workload.
How do you keep up to speed with what's happening in your industry?
There are a lot of great blogs which help to keep us informed about developments in patent case law. I also spend time chatting with friends in other firms in the UK and around the world to get insights into how other businesses are responding to the changing needs of their teams.
What was the most challenging project or situation you've overcome?
Facing the blank sheet of paper before starting to write a patent application always feels like a huge challenge.
How do I define this invention?
How to avoid describing it too narrowly or too broadly?
Once I get started, though, it usually flows.
Keeping the culture of our firm going through Covid lockdown has been the biggest single challenge recently. We've had help, though; our whole team has worked to look after each other and us, as well as us looking after them.
You finish work today and step outside the office to find a lottery ticket that ends up winning $10 million. What would you do?
Go part-time and spend the remaining days finding good causes to give it to!
How do you switch off after a day at work?
I spend as much time as I can in nature, either in my garden or walking in the beautiful Somerset countryside around where I live. I love hanging out with my partner and his children. I sing in a choir, and this always makes me feel better. Other ways I relax include running, cycling, reading, eating cheese and drinking gin and tonic!
If you had one wish for the future of your industry, what would it be?
I'd like us to massively improve our efforts to promote a more diverse workforce. Access to top-quality science education at all schools would be key to this, and I'd like to see our profession finding creative ways - perhaps including providing funding - to make this happen.
Individual firms are making efforts and attempts to find a more centralised approach are underway, but we're only just beginning.
What book or podcast should everyone know about?
The Overstory by Richard Powers. This has changed the way I think about our place in the natural world forever.
How should people connect with you?
*Would you like to have your questions answered by business leaders who've been where you are now? Get access to industry-leading mentors.
**Ever wondered what kind of leader you are? Take our free quiz to find out.