“I caught sight of the IP horizon from the lab and I knew that’s where I wanted to be.”

Thanks to a new partnership between the European Patent Office (EPO) and the Swiss Federal Institute of Intellectual Property (IPI), Emma Balibrea started a three-month placement in the IPI’s Patent Division in February.

Emma Balibrea is one of more than 100 participants in the Pan-European Seal Programme. (Photo: IPI)

In an interview, the enthusiastic microbiologist tells us about joining the Young Professionals Programme after getting a Bachelor’s in Biochemistry, how entering the world of intellectual property has broadened her horizons and how her work in Bern differs from Munich.


IPI: Welcome, Emma! You’ve started a very special placement at the IPI. What brought you here?

Emma Balibrea:I’m participating in the Pan-European Seal Young Professionals Programme (YPP). It’s a training programme run by the EPO for qualified young people. As a graduate of a partner university of the YPP, I was eligible to apply for a three-year programme at the EPO headquarters in Munich. The programme also offers placements in IP offices in other countries. I was very interested in seizing this opportunity and doing a placement in Switzerland, in particular. Luckily for me, there was a high demand for patent experts at the IPI, and that’s how I ended up in Bern. Since the start of February, I’ve been working in the team that handles patent applications relating to life sciences.


Tell us a bit about your background: where were you previously (professionally and privately) and what are your interests?

I did my Bachelor’s in Biochemistry at Imperial College London and, during that time, I soon realised that I’m much more interested in biology than chemistry. So in my third year, I decided to focus on microbiology and the prevention and treatment of disease in the human body – that’s my main area of interest. I’m fascinated by the health of the human body at microbiological level. For my dissertation, I carried out an in-depth analysis of CRISPR-Cas9, a molecular biological method of cutting and modifying DNA in a targeted manner. All of these topics are usually investigated in a lab. However, as I was looking to broaden my horizons, for my Master’s, I decided to examine IP rights for scientists and engineers. That was my start in the world of intellectual property. Now that I’m working as a patent examiner, I’m not in a lab: I’m where the technology and innovation get applied. I like that aspect.


"Now that I’m working as a patent examiner, I’m not in a lab: I’m where the technology and innovation get applied. I like that aspect."


How do you think the Young Professionals Programme helps young people gain a foothold in the world of work?

Personally, the Young Professionals Programme perfectly combines my professional interests. I gained a lot of theoretical knowledge at university. In addition to the practical experience I get to acquire during the programme, working at the EPO is helping me to identify above all the aspects of my subject area that interest me the most. I’m given the opportunity to examine topics in depth and work on my strengths. I’m very grateful for that. 
The placement at the IPI is a valuable experience for my career and it’s providing me with further insights for deciding on my professional future. From a practical perspective, the IPI is much smaller than the EPO, but that’s exactly what makes my work here even more interesting. At the EPO, I’m part of a group of patent examiners who deal exclusively with patent applications in the specialist field of nucleic acids. My tasks at the IPI are much more varied and multifaceted. I get to interact with clients and I really enjoy exchanging ideas with the various people involved – customer service is a high priority at the IPI. I get to broaden my horizons even further, refine my professional preferences and experience innovation promotion first-hand.


After three years, you’ll complete the programme in September. Do you already know what you’ll do next?

That’s right. After my placement in Bern, I’ll return to Munich at the start of May to finish the training programme there. I don’t know yet if I’ll go back to university or look for a job after that.
But what I do know is that I’ll miss the environment and the exciting subject matter. I’ve been able to benefit from many professional development opportunities, expand my network and collaborate with many like-minded people. My mindset has changed from that of a student to that of a working professional. No matter what I choose to do, it will be the right choice.


Info box

The IPI has been an official partner of the Pan-European Seal Young Professional Programme since 2024. The European Patent Office (EPO) programme offers talented young people the opportunity to lay the foundations for a professional career in the international IP environment.


The training programme aims to help young university graduates gain a foothold in the field of intellectual property. A combination of practical work experience and professional training offers them the opportunity to learn new skills and develop their existing ones. This will help to increase their future employability. Participants in the one- to three-year programme can also undertake placements lasting several months at partner institutions of the EPO in Germany and abroad.


Find out more here: www.epo.org/pan-european-seal

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