Tim Austen realised that he wasn't cut out to be a scientist while growing cell cultures in the final year of his biochemistry degree. "I got in one Monday morning and discovered these really interesting things in my Petri dish," he says. "When I showed them excitedly to my colleague, he pointed out that what I had grown was in fact moss." Disillusioned, Austen became a science intellectual property (IP) lawyer at Allen and Overy in London. "It made sense to me as I love thinking through the facts, coming up with a different angle and then crafting a good argument," he says.
Although Austen hasn't been near a Petri dish in years, he still uses his biochemistry degree every day. Companies regularly accuse each other of stealing scientific inventions and it is Austen's job to carefully read the invention's patent, investigate whether the claim is true, and decide whether the company should take the case to court. "These patents bristle with specialist terms and concepts so a biochemistry degree is often essential to fully understand the case," he says.
Sometimes the team that Austen works with is hired to defend a company that has been accused of infringing on a patent. For example, he is part of a team gearing up to defend the drug company Novartis in court in 2011. Novartis has been accused by a rival drug company, MedImmune, of infringing on a patented drug-screening technique that relates to how Novartis developed a drug that treats macular degeneration. "With a big blockbuster drug the stakes are high," says Austen.