Isaac Tan

What is your current position, and what do you do?
I am a Patent Hearing Officer and Patent Examiner with the Australian Patent Office (IP Australia), located in Canberra ACT. As a hearing officer, I am responsible for conducting patent opposition hearings and issuing decisions on disputes relating to the granting or refusal of patents in accordance with the Patents Act 1990. Oppositions are typically conducted based on evidence and written submissions. A hearing may be held orally or by written submissions. After the hearing, a decision is issued which will include the outcome of the opposition, a statement of reasons, and an award of costs. Copies of all of Australian Patent Office decisions since 1983 are available on the Australasian Legal Information Institute website. (
If either party disagrees with the decision, an appeal may be made to the Federal Court of Australia.

How did you transition into this current role from a science degree?
I completed a BSc (Honours) in Nanotechnology in 2009 at UNSW. My honours project, entitled "Random Lasers with Zinc Oxide Nanoparticles" was supervised by Professor Sean Li and Dr Thiam Teck Tan. In 2010, I enrolled in the Masters of Intellectual Property Law at the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS) and graduated in 2014.
I joined IP Australia in 2012 where I undertook a full-time competency based training program to attain the appropriate legal training to become a Patent Examiner. In 2016, I undertook further training to become a Patent Hearing Officer.

How have you used the skills/knowledge that you acquired, from studying chemistry, in your current role?
Nanotechnology is a multidisciplinary science. While studying at UNSW, I undertook courses in (for example) physical chemistry, organic and inorganic chemistry, surface chemistry and biochemistry. In addition to the chemical sciences, I also undertook courses in physics, materials science and biology.
Having a background from the different sciences has greatly assisted my technical understanding of patent applications across a broad range of technologies rather than being limited to a single field. This also means that I have been able to pick up new concepts relatively quickly.

What has been your biggest challenge, career-wise?
Balancing full-time work while studying intellectual property law. I also had to reprogram my mind from thinking like a scientist to become more legally focused.

What achievement are you most proud of?
Graduating from UNSW and UTS. More recently, becoming a qualified hearing officer.
What advice would you give to students starting their science careers?
Follow your passion. The last thing you want to do is be stuck in a job you hate. I would also recommend keeping an open mind as the skills taught in science can be applied across a wide range of different industries.

What helps you achieve a work-life balance?
Work smart, not hard. Learn how to prioritise tasks, and know when to leave work in the office. Never make work your life.

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