Intellectual Property Lawyers


Exploring this Job

IP law is a perfect career for someone who is interested in both science and technology and legal areas. Because of this duality, you can explore the career by focusing on the law side or on the science/technology side. To get experience on the law side, seek summer jobs and internships with law offices where you live. You may be able to get a part-time job as a legal assistant. Also check out your local business college for special prelaw programs that offer introductory law courses to the public. If you can't get any hands-on experience right away, ask your guidance counselor for help in setting up a tour of a local law office or arranging for an interview with a law professional. Any experience you can get writing technical or legal documents can also help, so don't rule out temporary jobs in any kind of business office.

If you have another interest that can be combined with intellectual property law, try to get some hands-on experience in that area as well. If you are interested in science, for instance, join the science club at your school. Ask your science teacher about planning a field trip to anywhere you can learn about engineering. Take initiative and start an inventors club with your classmates to come up with new ideas and products. 

The Job

Intellectual property lawyers protect a client's creative interests, whether those interests are to patent a new product or to ensure that a copyright hasn't been infringed upon. IP lawyers may work in all areas of intellectual property law; however, many lawyers specialize in patent, trademark, copyright, or licensing law. Whichever area the IP attorney focuses on, some job duties are the same across the board. One of the IP lawyer's main tasks is to counsel clients. Usually this counseling concerns whether the intellectual property can be patented, trademarked, or copyrighted; the best method of protection for the individual property; and whether the product or idea being discussed will infringe on someone else's patent, trademark, or copyright. Another major task for an IP lawyer is the drafting of legal documents, such as patent applications and licensing agreements. An IP lawyer drafts applications to the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and answers actions from the USPTO by way of drafting amendments to the already filed application. Also, part of the job is drafting licenses and assignments (documents transferring ownership or giving permission for other people to practice the invention) for patent and trademarks.

The IP lawyer also serves clients by being their advocate before administrative bodies and courts. His or her goal is to secure the rights of the client and then protect those rights if others violate them. Conversely, if the IP lawyer's client is accused of violating someone else's intellectual property rights, the IP lawyer defends the client.

IP lawyers may help their clients choose an Internet domain name or a trademark. They are often called on to review advertising copy, press releases, and other official documents to ensure that there are no intellectual property problems.

IP lawyers work with a wide variety of clients, from an individual inventor or author to top executives at a large corporation. Those who work for corporations are usually in-house counsels concerned with decisions affecting the use of intellectual property within the company. IP lawyers working in universities assist scientists and researchers by identifying products and inventions that have potential in the marketplace.

The majority of IP lawyers focus on patent law. A patent lawyer works with an inventor from the beginning to decide if the invention has a chance of being granted a patent. If so, the attorney drafts and files a patent application with the USPTO. The lawyer then works with the patent examiner to try to get the patent approved. If a patent is issued, the lawyer has succeeded; if it is not, the attorney can appeal the decision to the USPTO's board of appeals. If the lawyer and client are again denied a patent, they can appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. Once a patent is approved, the patent lawyer may continue to be involved by investigating and developing licensing agreements.

If a client believes his or her rights to intellectual property have been infringed on, the IP attorney must try to prove that someone else has taken or used the client's intellectual property without consent. On the other hand, if a client is accused of infringing on another's intellectual property rights, the lawyer must try to prove that the item in question didn't deserve a copyright, patent, or trademark in the first place or that the protection is invalid. Although lawsuits are commonplace today, most IP lawyers consider litigation the last step and try to settle differences outside the courtroom.