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From science student to intellectual property lawyer

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By Elizabeth Davidson on

Mark Marfé, senior associate, Pinsent Masons, specialises in patent litigation, and often acts for companies in the high tech space

Mark Marfé

An ability to speak Spanish was the catalyst for Mark Marfé’s legal career. Now a senior associate at Pinsent Masons, specialising in patent litigation, Marfé graduated from Bristol University with a degree in cellular and molecular pathology and was living in London when a friend asked him if he’d be interested in a short-term paralegal job at a US law firm.

“My degree was very interesting but I knew I didn’t want to be a lab-based researcher,” Marfé says. “I had moved to London and was looking into doing something related to my science degree. I had been considering scientific publishing when one of my housemates, who was training to be a barrister, suggested I consider a paralegal role he’d been offered.”

He continues: “The project involved the sale of energy assets in Spain for which they needed a Spanish speaker to assist. My friend felt his Spanish wasn’t quite fluent enough so he asked me if I wanted to apply — I’m from Gibraltar and am bilingual. I worked for six months at that firm, spending some of the time in Madrid, and really enjoyed the collaborative and varied nature of the work.”

Consequently, Marfé applied to various law firms with a view to doing a conversion course and ended up part of a cohort at BPP Law School with a training contract.

Marfé’s interest in science also influenced his traineeship at Lovells (now Hogan Lovells). He tells Legal Cheek Careers:

“I was looking at law firms with a science angle to their work, for example, product liability, but was also aware of intellectual property (IP) as a possibility. In the first six months of my financial seat, I made enquiries about IP and was given an opportunity to do a six-month seat in the IP department.”

Although his degree is in life sciences, it wasn’t necessarily relevant to the work he did subsequently, which has mainly concerned technology disputes. In fact, he says he would categorise himself more as a “smartphone war veteran” (a phrase coined by one of Marfé’s former clients), because of the large amount of smartphone litigation around when he started and worked on post-qualification.

Nevertheless, his science background has definitely been an asset. “I am inquisitive and interested in technology and issues relevant to it”, he explains. “I am interested in delving into the technical detail of our clients’ business, and enjoy conversations with technical experts when preparing patent cases. Pinsent Masons’ sector-led approach also means we spend time thinking about what issues may impact our clients’ business in the future which is fascinating”.

He continues: “However, you don’t necessarily need a STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) background — non-STEM graduates often take to the subject matter very quickly. What’s important is enthusiasm for the subject matter.”

Marfé’s work is predominantly contentious, in the high-tech space and frequently involves litigation in other jurisdictions as well as clients in other time zones. “When preparing for a case you are working in a team which will vary in size depending on the size and complexity of the case,” he says. “You will work collaboratively sharing ideas and will also work with experts and instructed barristers to develop a case. You can expect there to be regular meetings to update everyone, as the situation and priority tasks can change overnight, particularly where different time zones are involved.”

An example of recent work is the case of TQ Delta v ZyXEL, a dispute over global patent licensing rights concerning broadband technology, which went to the Court of Appeal in July in which Pinsent Masons successfully acted for the defendants, ZyXEL. Marfé says: “Patent licensing is a very fast-moving and fluid area of law, and it was great to achieve a successful outcome for our client.”

Find out more about training at Pinsent Masons

Pinsent Masons is keen to hear from STEM graduates and values having a diverse range of experience and viewpoints within the firm. The firm also has a reputation for embracing innovation and new technologies. For example, it has partnered with litigation analytics provider Solomonic to develop a new IP module combining the firm’s experience and insight as litigators with publicly available data from the UK’s IP courts to provide an additional layer of insight to help inform risk reduction, claims management and enhance disputes strategies. Marfé, who is involved in developing the module along with others in the IP team, explains: “It provides insight that feeds into the management of a dispute, which may be useful for the client. For example, how may a particular judge approach a certain legal issue in a case?” The insight gained helps Pinsent Masons advise the client with regard to reducing risk, managing the claim and forming business strategies.

On the future of ‘lawtech’ generally, Marfé is enthusiastic about a future where lawtech handles the more mechanical tasks, freeing lawyers up to think more strategically about the issues. He says it is important to think of it in terms of the technology itself and what benefits that particular technology brings. Doing that gives it the greatest chance of its adoption by law firms and their clients — there is a saying in the tech sector that “the only true disruption is customer adoption”.

For students considering IP as a career, Marfé’s advice is to keep up to date with industry trends such as autonomous vehicles or 5G, and the opportunities and challenges that such technologies will bring. He recommends vacation placements in firms with an IP practice or paralegal work as a good way to gain experience and an understanding of a firm’s culture.

Find out more about training at Pinsent Masons

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