The patent profession is not especially diverse when it comes to race and ethnicity. An oft-quoted explanation for this is that the work of a patent attorney requires exceptional communication skills.
This much I agree with.
… And so – the argument goes – a candidate for whom English is not the native tongue often struggles to reach the requisite linguistic standards.
This second strand of the logic is where I get worried. So let me invite you to explore it with me in more detail. Because it is just possible that when we compare a foreign candidate with one who is English born and bred, we are assessing the wrong communication parameters, or assessing them in the wrong way. It is just possible that these assessments are based on one of the most sinister, and yet the most entrenched, conceits of all.
Why do we equate good communication skills with good English? The two are not inevitably the same. Good English, as most in this profession would recognise it, is both eloquent and elegant. It flows comfortably (to us, that is – because we are English). It is infused with idioms, metaphors and other linguistic devices, which evoke layers of additional meaning (to us – because we are English). Synonyms enliven it. It is properly punctuated and accurately spelled (according to the rules we learnt at our English schools).
But is any of that really synonymous with good communication? Or rather, is that the only form of good communication?