11 August 2019

Patent Attorney Survey Part 2 – How Life Within Listed Groups Compares with Privately-Owned Firms

Masks - happy and sadIn this article, I am going to look at responses to the second section of the survey of trans-Tasman IP professionals (primarily patent attorneys) that I conducted earlier this year.  This part of the survey addresses various aspects of job satisfaction and the working environment, including ‘happiness’, professional support, and opportunities for career development and advancement.  In particular, I will compare the responses across groups defined by firm structure (i.e. ‘listed group’ firms versus traditional privately-held firms) and seniority, distinguishing between those at the ‘top’ of their organisations (i.e. owners of privately-held firms and employed principals, or the equivalent, within listed group firms) and employees at the levels below who are perhaps aspiring to these roles in future. 

I selected these four categories (‘private owner’ – sample size 54; ‘private employee’ – sample size 97; ‘listed principal’ – sample size 28; and ‘listed non-principal’ – sample size 68) after initially analysing the data, and finding that the responses of firm owners are quite different, in many cases, from those of their employees.  It therefore would not make sense to divide the data only into ‘listed’ versus ‘private’.  And, having made this division among attorneys within privately-held firms, it made sense to make a corresponding division among the listed group respondents.  Indeed, as you will see, there are a number of areas in which the views of principals within the listed group firms differ measurably from those of their less senior colleagues.

If you have not already read my earlier article on respondent demographics, then I recommend you do so.  That article makes the case that the survey responses are, overall, reasonably representative of the profession as a whole – not least because around 25% of all registered patent attorneys working in private practice responded, and this sample of the population is broadly representative of the whole, on characteristics such as gender, firm structure/ownership, and firm size.

In the following analysis, you will find various statements regarding the survey results that are supported by p-values, i.e. measures of statistical significance.  I have written an article explaining how these values were derived, and what they do, and do not, mean.  I recommend reading this article if you really want to understand what can, and cannot, reasonably be concluded from the survey results.  Furthermore, if you intend to take these results and use, or quote, them in a different context, you would be performing a great disservice to yourself (and me) if you do not make the effort to read this article so that you properly understand what you are doing.

While it is difficult to summarise all of the results in brief, I will make a few observations by way of introduction.  Firstly, owners of privately-held firms stand out as being more satisfied with their circumstances in every respect.  This is perhaps unsurprising, in that they are essentially a self-selecting group of individuals who presumably wanted to be business owners, and have achieved that objective.  What might have been less expected is how little difference there is between the other groups.  Certainly there are differences, and many of those differences are statistically significant, even where they may be relatively small.  In many respects, employees of privately-held firms consider themselves on a fairly equal footing with employed principals of listed group firms.  To the extent that there is a difference, listed group principals are far more polarised in their views – broadly speaking, many in this group appear to be either highly satisfied or highly dissatisfied with their circumstances, while fewer take up the middle ground than in other groups.  Non-principal employees of listed group firms appear to be least content with their circumstances, but even so there are many in this group that report agreement, or strong agreement, with positive statements about their employment conditions.

Patent Attorney Survey – A Primer on Statistical Analysis (and Pizza)

Pizza chefIn my articles presenting results of the attorney survey that I conducted earlier this year, I provide statistical measures – notably p-values – of the significance of certain results, such as whether particular subsets of patent attorneys are more or less satisfied with various aspects of their employment than others.  It is, I believe, important that readers with an interest in these results have a clear understanding of what these statistical measures mean (and, indeed, what they do not mean).  This requires some explanation of how they have been obtained, and the specific questions that they are designed to address.  This article is intended to provide such an explanation.

I realise that not everybody will take the time to read this article in its entirety.  For those who do not, the two main points that you should nonetheless take away are these:
  1. statistical significance is not the same thing as what we might call ‘practical significance’ – while we might be confident, based on a statistical test, that an observed effect (e.g. a difference between two groups) is ‘real’, and not just the result of random variations in our limited sample, this does not necessarily mean that the effect is large and, indeed, we may not be able to say anything much about the size of the effect; and
  2. p-values are not ‘magic bullets’ that can tell us exactly what to think about our data, based upon some fixed threshold (e.g. p < 0.05) – it is necessary to consider them in the context of the data, and of the importance and consequences of any conclusions that may be drawn and/or decisions made based upon the results.
For casual readers, this may be enough.  However, I hope that anyone who intends to take any of the results presented in my articles and use them in other contexts (e.g. for decision-making, or quoting them elsewhere) takes the time to read this article, and the effort to be suitably careful in interpreting the data.  While statistics is obviously a pretty dry topic, I have tried to keep things reasonably simple and (hopefully) interesting by presenting the analysis with reference to a hypothetical example involving pizzas and anchovies!

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