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A Career Transition from Patent Analysis: An Analyst by any Other Name – Guest Post by Matt Fornwalt

A Career Transition from Patent Analysis: An Analyst by any Other Name – Guest Post by Matt Fornwalt
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While it is hard to believe that anyone would want to do anything else besides patent analysis work it is always a good idea to keep your options open. Thinking about the recent economic environment it is also smart to be thinking about career options that are available to those of us who have analytics skills. Along these lines, we have another guest post from Matt Fornwalt talking about his recent transition from patent analyst to business analyst.

Considering their overall applicability, and the need for analytical processes in many fields, various hard skills and transferable soft skills associated with conducting patent analyst projects should help in any type of career transition.  After having started my career as a patent information professional, I have some thoughts for anyone else transitioning from the patent information world into other analyst positions.  I will try and focus on a specific example, having recently worked in a position as a business analyst (BA).

The International Institute of Business Analysis defines a business analyst as “An agent of change. Business Analysis is a disciplined approach for introducing and managing change to organizations, whether they are for-profit businesses, governments, or non-profits”.  Drawing on some parallels, I recently examined my LinkedIn profile, and while a small answer set, I noticed a nearly 50/50 split on endorsed skills for requirements gathering and business analysis from folks from the patent side, and those that I worked with as a business analyst.

When thinking of a career transition, focus can also be given to transferable or soft skills.  As a comparison to the role of a business analyst, I recently saw an opening for a Sanofi patent search position.  Some of these same soft skills are also associated with business analysis skills, such as this BA posting found semi-randomly.  Perhaps, I have seen too many posts on text comparisons, but there is significant overlap in these analyst skill sets from the two positions compared below.

Figure 1: Comparison of patent searching and BA job postings

Sanofi position

BA posting

results oriented Problem analysis and resolution
attention to detail attention to detail is a must
communication and presentation possess strong communication
team-oriented, collaborative work in a team environment and interact

When I first started out as a BA in software development, I started hearing about a focus on “what” as it applies to requirements.  While in an early BA boot camp, I saw a focus on overall goals, background, requirements, visuals, and future thoughts.  Mocking up a template with some lorem ipsum filler text, a one page example is shown in Fig 2. It is worth noting that some templates can be quite a bit longer.


When I looked at these sections, I started to think about where I had seen such items before, and a patent analogy struck me, as the layout is similar to what goes into a patent publication.  Taking parts of a Google patent record on computer servers stationed on floating barges that have been in the news lately, I mocked up some pictures showing some of these sections (Fig 3).  As a patent analyst, looking into what was asked for, what is being searched, and what was found that goes into a patent search reports have many of these same thoughts of a concise “what” that goes into business requirements.


In the BA template above, there is also a future thoughts section, and it shouldn’t be too large of a stretch to see some of the complexity of related family members, divisionals, and continuations, as being parallel to what BAs do with their backlog of requirement items. Another parallel could be made for future thoughts if there was some type of alert or update involved.

While not always the most straightforward sell to recruiters and hiring managers, I am hugely biased that the deep analytical skills of a patent analyst would blend into other analytical fields such as business analysis.  In a previous post, I mentioned patent analyst dealing with large answers sets in parallels with coding and patent analysts.  Business analysis is also an area dealing with a multitude of data. Considering the analyst and the SAT decision tree mentioned in my second post, another SAT tree was seen in this recent webinar from IBM’s Analyticszone (Fig 4).   There could be similar issues seen with patent analytics and the use of such a high level tree on the business analysis side.


So how does someone who works as a patent analyst today look to make a transition to a business analyst? To start with, interested individuals should look to the International Institute of Business Analysts (IIBA) – the voice of the Business Analysis Profession. The IIBA is a group of business analysts, and they often have local chapters.  The IIBA website also lists some background on their recognition and certification programs.  There are various organizations that offer training and certificate programs.  There are many groups on LinkedIn and various online blogs.  And like many areas of interest, there are books on various backgrounds associated with the profession.

Overall, like the recent Michael Bublé song, where things happen based on one half timing, and the other half luck, there is a need for new practitioners to take advantage of networking.  BAs are like many fields where employers are looking for people with some background in a particular area.  While I have seen pros and cons of people being too much of a subject matter expert, but it still remains that even with a good background, people still need to get into the “what” of requirements.  There are many areas with needs for deep analytical thinking.  For example, some opportunities around Philadelphia require having some background in financial, insurance, healthcare, or pharmaceuticals.

I would also like to mention mentoring.  In my previous patent analyst role, I would often see the transition from the research bench scientist to patent analyst.  In this case, while the bench scientist understood the subject matter, they needed a mentor to help understand the nuances associated with patents and the actual art and science of patent analytics. In the BA case, I received life lessons, and tips on the role from more experienced BAs, and also from coaches who work with various member of a project team.  Learning some of the software, the Office suite seems pretty standard for both patent and business analysts.  As patent searchers learn on patent tools, BAs have other query based tools and other analytics tools utilizing SQL, SPSS, Tableau, Qlikview, etc.

To close, this example focused on the business analyst as one particular type of analysts in many fields open to patent analysts in a career transition, especially considering the “what” that goes into various reports, overlap of soft skills, and a general similarity of analytical skills.

Matt Fornwalt Image

Matt Fornwalt was a patent searcher at Johnson and Johnson for 12 years.  He was recently a business analyst involved on new STN and is looking forward to working as a BA for a knowledge base rollout back at J&J.

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