The IP lawyer job description traditionally involves four areas of law: copyright law, trademark law, trade secret law, and patent law. Copyright law protects mostly tangible expressions of ideas such as books, movies and artwork. Trademark law protects names, logos and taglines. Trade secret law focuses on protecting confidential information. And patent law protects inventions and scientific discoveries. In recent years there has been an emerging area of IP law related to protecting intellectual property in a digital environment.
So what does an IP attorney do? A common task of an IP attorney working in any intellectual property practice area is to review the invention, product, service, logo or whatever intellectual property the client seeks to protect and then gather information to help the attorney make a determination as to whether it is protectable under the relevant statute. To this end the IP attorney will spend time meeting with the client to learn why the client feels the property is protectable. The IP attorney will then perform searches to determine if someone else has already received protection for a similar property.
Once the IP attorney, after consultation with the client, decides to move forward with the copyright, trademark or patent application, the attorney will work on completing the appropriate forms and organizing supporting documentation to submit to the U.S. Copyright Office or the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
In an IP lawyer’s typical day, he or she often handles conflicts or potential conflicts between his or her client’s intellectual property rights and the rights of third parties. This frequently involves negotiating settlements, drafting cease and desist letters, co-existence agreements, and other similar documents. If the conflict rises to the level of litigation, the IP attorney will then spend time preparing for the trial.
Law students contemplating careers in the field of intellectual property may find opportunities not only in large, corporate law firms and small boutique IP law firms, but also in the government, in corporations that have trademarks and trade secrets to protect, and in colleges or universities that conduct a significant amount of scientific research.
Most law schools offer several different elective classes related to Intellectual Property that students interested in careers in intellectual property law should consider. Such classes include Intellectual Property Law, Copyright Law, Patent Law, Trademark Law, Licensing Law, Intellectual Property and the Internet, and Unfair Trade Practices. In addition, several law schools offer LLM (Master of Laws) programs in Intellectual Property Law.