Jennifer Antcliff specialises in life sciences patent and SPC litigation. She joined Carpmaels & Ransford in 2016 from an in-house role at Actavis/Allergan and was promoted to partner in July 2020. Antcliff was featured in the 2019 edition of Managing IP’s Rising Stars publication. Read her practice profile here.
In our first IP STARS interview series, we asked Antcliff about her career and firm and her advice to junior IP practitioners and those interested in joining the profession.
Pretty late in the day! I had originally planned to complete my postgraduate studies in the lab and then work in industry as a research scientist, using molecular and structural biology techniques to help develop new drugs.
By the time I was reaching the end of my research project and writing up my thesis, life in the lab was more competitive than it was collaborative due to funding constraints, and it was increasingly becoming quite a solitary way to work.
I realised that I wanted a career which allowed me to put that technical training to good use, but ideally in a different and more team-oriented way. A career in IP law, specialising in the life sciences sector, seemed to tick all of those boxes.
During the last year or so of my postgraduate studies I started to attend events which showcased alternative careers for scientists. This was how I first learned about IP law.
I was also fortunate to meet a few former scientists who were full of enthusiasm about IP and on the lookout for more scientists who might also be tempted to convert to a career in IP law. That then turned into work experience opportunities and my new career snowballed from there.
I joined Carpmaels & Ransford from an in-house role as IP litigation counsel for Actavis/Allergan. While working as an associate in private practice I had become curious about life in industry. I wanted to see for myself what it means to be the client, and responsible ultimately for the decisions that a company makes during the execution of their IP strategies.
I was also looking for an opportunity to work directly with the functions of the pharmaceutical industry that are so important, but can often be one or two steps removed from private practice – like the business, regulatory and supply teams who all pull together ahead of product launch. It was a fantastic experience.
Very much a mixture of luck and judgement. I was fortunate to have met some of the patent attorneys at Carpmaels & Ransford several years ago while working at a magic circle firm. I had always thought they were an incredible team, but then there was no role for a litigator. Luckily for me, the firm’s dispute resolution practice launched just at the right time.
I was attracted to the firm by the unique opportunity to help grow and shape a brand new practice, which had just been set-up under a different business model in which litigators work side-by-side with patent attorneys (known affectionately as 'the vision'). This integrated approach allows us to advise our clients from the initial prosecution and any opposition of their patents to implementing SPC strategies, right through to the enforcement of those rights or handling defensive actions when potential loss of exclusivity is on the horizon. Our integrated approach also allows us to identify and flag up potential contentious issues in advance, and enable them to be resolved without recourse to litigation where possible.
Finally, but importantly for me, Carpmaels is a place where technical backgrounds really matter, and I was definitely looking for a role where I could continue to specialise in life sciences litigation and strategic advice, including fielding the kinds of SPC and regulatory queries that I had enjoyed so much in-house.
My transition to private practice has been much easier than I had perhaps anticipated. My day-to-day job is not all that different, other than I don’t have to multitask to quite the same extent as I did in-house!
My role in-house was predominantly to support the generics side of the business, whereas Carpmaels & Ransford is an innovator practice. I couldn’t be certain, until I joined, how that would be received, but I’m delighted that our clients have embraced that experience and the advantages it brings when anticipating an adverse party’s most likely next move and when, or their ultimate objectives.
Having handled mainly small molecule cases during my in-house role, I have really enjoyed working on biotechnology cases again at Carpmaels & Ransford. One that particularly stands out for me is a competitor versus competitor action concerning a first-in-class antibody product for the treatment for migraine. We had a brilliant team of solicitors and patent attorneys working with top class technical experts in a therapeutic area much in need of a new treatment strategy.
It was a fantastic case to work on and really showcased the vision.
This was a co-counselling role, involving parallel litigation in the UK and elsewhere. For their top products, many clients now want the pressure testing of arguments that comes with this kind of co-counselling structure. It can of course sometimes give rise to differences in opinion and potential tensions on which arguments to deploy or at what stage. However, it worked really well with the personalities in this team – everyone brought something slightly different to the table and the technical experts we were working with seemed to enjoy the process as much as we did.
Honestly, I wasn’t expecting Carpmaels to be so much fun! My all-time favourite Carpmaels memory is a Christmas party in a Bavarian beer house, with all of my new colleagues doing the Macarena in a brilliantly uncoordinated fashion, but somehow styling it out in a sea of Christmas jumpers.
The team enjoys spending time together and I think that really shows. Meetings with colleagues who know each other that well means we are comfortable challenging and testing each other’s views, and that healthy debate often leads to a better result. That has always really stood out for me and our clients seem to really appreciate the way we work together.
Handling the pregabalin litigation during my time at Actavis. It was the first case in which the enforcement of second medical use claims was tested before the UK Patents Court and, for me personally, it was the perfect mix of patent and regulatory issues.
As a close second, I’d say the Human Genome Sciences v Eli Lilly litigation – a high-profile patent validity dispute concerning antibody products. We went up to the UK Supreme Court and back down to the Court of Appeal on a remitted issue, with the added bonus of a reference to the Court of Justice of the European Union on a point of SPC law. Hopefully there will be many more to come!
Team work, a keen eye for research, attention to detail and creativity.
It can be difficult to know whether a career in IP is for you until you see first-hand how it works and what is involved, so I’d recommend gaining some work experience within an IP team, ideally. Some firms may be able to consider a request even if they don’t necessarily advertise formal placement schemes, although many these days, like Carpmaels & Ransford, will be able to direct you to their open days or internships (or equivalent), or organisations that they partner with to provide work experience, like the Social Mobility Foundation.
Insight events, panel sessions and careers fairs are also great places to start. I was fortunate to obtain a couple of different placements that helped confirm that IP is not actually all that different to what was then my day job in a lab.
It is similarly challenging and very research-focussed, and biochemistry is often a huge part of it even now, but it comes without the uncertainty of running experiments that may or may not work on any given day, week, month!
Give yourself a bit of time to consider whether partnership is really what you want. I remember starting my training contract and being amongst the half of my intake who really didn’t know where their career in law was going to take them.
If you do decide you want to go for it, then find and develop your USP.
It could be based on your earlier studies, by gaining experience of a sector-specific area of law that is complementary to your IP practice, or by gaining a different type of experience altogether for a while (e.g. a client secondment or working in-house). It’s so much easier than it used to be to transition from one role to another, and the insight and unique experiences you gain in doing so can be invaluable.