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How accurate are salary surveys? 

Michele Fellows elaborates...

Fellows and Associates Salary Survey

We at Fellows and Associates are in the data collection phase of our 6th Annual Salary Survey of the Intellectual Property profession (www.fellowssurvey.com) and I wonder…Who cares? Does anyone rely on the survey? Use it as part of salary negotiations as an employee or as a benchmark as an employer? Place any credence in what it reveals? Perhaps you feel that it isn’t an accurate reflection of the situation you find yourself in…and so in answer to our titular question….

Well, that depends. 

A number of factors need to be considered before determining how much reliance you can place on a survey to provide a rigorous set of results.


Where did the data come from? Was it sourced from central databases, HR departments or directly from the source to be surveyed? For salary purposes I can’t think of a central database outside of HMRC that would have information on the IP profession in its entirety and even then, only at top level figures.  The issue with that is that HMRC is not concerned with the analysis of the IP sector alone and thus while they have a significant proportion of the information, there simply isn’t the inclination. HR departments will have far more detailed information but then they’re less willing to share these elements with others.  So even if you get several that are amenable, not all are and the data will be biased to some degree.  Or, you will get a range, “we pay between X and Y” but because the range can be wide and because the questioner wouldn’t know what the split of people would be earning at across the range then the data becomes much less valuable.  Finally, you can go direct to source.  We feel this is best (no surprise there) as we are not taking information in a pre-existing format but it is being given to us in the configuration that is required. Of course, the flaw here is that it is wholly dependent on others who wish to contribute their data and thereby help provide a more robust and representative set of data to report on. Can you see our dilemma?


Precisely what is being analysed? The more detail provided the more decisive the comparisons can be.  We know that in the IP field there is always nuance and comparing like for like is near on impossible.  There are ways to address this issue and we strive to do just that with our survey.  This year we are asking about career breaks – to better assess experience levels and as a consequence place the data within the correct bracket for comparison.  New this year too, we are requesting information about the entirety of one’s benefit package as we understand that base salaries vary widely and other benefits such as bonuses can sometimes constitute a significant proportion of one’s remuneration. This is especially a bone of contention when measuring industry against private practice.


How recent was the data collected for the results you are reading?  There is often quite a lag between collection, which itself can take a considerable time, analysis and then reporting.  Thus by the time you see the results the information can be fairly unreliable. Furthermore, when it is collected will have a bearing on the information being reviewed.  Does it include the impact of recent exam results which usually translate into increases?  What about annual reviews and corresponding increases?  I have to admit that we, perhaps, have been guilty of poor timing in the past but with continual improvement at our forefront we are collecting now over a shorter period to coincide with, we hope, both exam and annual increases, with the results out within a month after that (end of June 2017).

We believe our survey adds value to the market and, whilst we have considered suspending it each time we do get asked by attorneys when the next one is out.  Hopefully you feel the same way and that there are a number of you that have read it, or perhaps used it in some way but not completed it before.  We would like to appeal to your sense of collective responsibility, the more of you that complete it, the more useful it becomes.  For the cynics amongst you, yes, we receive some marketing benefit from producing a survey every year but that doesn’t make the survey’s creation any less useful.  And, there might be one of you right now, underpaid and overworked, that could be earning a great deal more elsewhere.  Whilst we of course realise that you will learn what your peers earn in other firms regardless, black and white survey data can’t do you any harm in salary negotiations if you decide to stay or justify a reason to move on.  Alternatively you might believe you are underpaid but discover that your firm is being fairer than you think. Please, give us a few minutes of your time and help us make this the best survey we’ve ever produced.

We’ll aid you in your quest to help us with our data by providing a handy link to complete the survey.  Go to www.fellowssurvey.com and have a blast answering questions for 5 to 10 minutes. And, if you choose to leave your email address at the end, you will be entered into a draw to win a £100 gift card of your choice.

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