Adam Mackinnon – Interview
Adam Mackinnon – Interview

What inspired you to study biological sciences at university?

The answer is sadly one that most five-year-olds would give – I like animals. That together with always loving science made it a natural fit. That said, I considered pretty much every other subject on offer, as I had no particular career aspirations at that stage. 

When did you decide to pursue a career in IP law?

I was very fortunate to do some work experience in a patent litigation department within a law firm in London. Although it only lasted two weeks, it gave me a valuable insight into a profession that allowed bright people to apply their scientific knowledge to a commercial setting. One thing I struggled with at university was how the very interesting things I was learning could be applied outside a strictly academic context – this was the answer I was looking for. 

How helpful has it been to have a background in biology?

Having a background in biology has been incredibly helpful. It gives me a general understanding and scientific literacy, especially when dealing with cases related to biotechnology (for example, I have worked on cases concerning medical devices and vaccines). Often my job involves reviewing scientific papers and patents and my biology degree means I can avoid looking up every other word!

Having a solid grasp of biology also allows me to communicate effectively with scientists, who often assist us as expert witnesses in patent litigation.

How would you describe a typical day for an associate working at Powell Gilbert?

The answer might be unhelpful but is probably fair – there isn’t one! Our cases have distinct phases in them, during which the typical activities vary considerably. However, the most common day-to-day tasks often involve reading, drafting documents and correspondence, calls and meetings with other lawyers or expert witnesses.

I split my time roughly equally between working at home and from the office. A day at the office often involves some socialising!

What have you found to be the most challenging aspects of working as an IP lawyer?

Getting my head around the technical and legal arguments at play, all at speed, has been the toughest challenge for me. Just as I begin to feel I understand the technical aspects of a patent, my more experienced colleagues are often several steps ahead, considering relevant legal arguments. Being able swiftly to pull together the technical and legal aspects of a case is definitely a sign of an experienced member of the team!

What technical areas have been the primary focus of your work at Powell Gilbert so far?

I have predominantly worked in the life sciences sector (vaccines and medical devices). Recently, I have had my first exposure to patents directed to electronic consumer goods.

How do you maintain a work-life balance amidst the demands of your legal career?

My colleagues are often quick to check whether my workload is manageable and will step in to stop me taking on more than I can handle. Beyond that, I try to do most of my socialising at the weekend and get in as much sport as possible. Cycling to and from work is also great for headspace.

What is your favourite memory from Powell Gilbert?

I have only worked at Powell Gilbert for just over a year – but my favourite memory is definitely my first trial. As a trainee you bounce from department to department every six months, so being able to stick with one matter and see it to fruition was very rewarding.

What advice would you give to someone considering a career in IP law?

Try to get some experience – nothing can compare to living and breathing a job through work and experience. However, if you are interested in both science and law, that’s a good start!

What role do you think IP can play in addressing the challenges facing humanity?

Inventions are ultimately the thing that drives human civilisation forwards, all the way back from the invention of the wheel today’s world of electronics. Patents provide a powerful incentive for people to invent. Although few people would suggest the patent system is perfect, most people would agree promoting innovation is a good idea!

Which innovation do you think deserves particular recognition?

Currently, I am slightly biased but I would have to say mRNA vaccines. Ending a global pandemic is a fairly big deal.

All time? Wheels really are excellent. If after several thousand years, people still say “let’s not reinvent” about your invention and use it every day, it must be pretty good.

Tell us an interesting fact about you.

While at university, I spent two months living in a tent in Madagascar, studying lemurs. I now hate lemurs.