Intellectual Property Lawyer

Intellectual property refers to a work or invention created by the human mind. This includes symbols, names, digital content, music, books, logos, and more. The body of law that protects a person’s right to their own creative works is known as intellectual property law. An intellectual property lawyer deals with any matter related to this area of the law. Keep reading to learn more about an intellectual property lawyer.

What Does an Intellectual Property Lawyer Do?

Intellectual property law secures and enforces the legal rights to ideas or inventions. These laws encourage people to produce creative works for profit, as this also benefits society. According to the U.S. Department of State, there are three main areas of intellectual property law.

Patent — A patent gives an individual or business exclusive rights to manufacture, sell, use, or import an invention. The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USTPO) issues patents, which last for 20 years from the date of application.

The USPTO issues three kinds of patents:

  1. Plant patents are issued for certain types of plants.
  2. Design patents are issued for the ornamental characteristic of a device.
  3. Utility patents are issued for inventions that are useful.

Trademark — Trademark laws prevent the unauthorized use of logos, symbols, slogans, and other works that identify and distinguish products or services.

Copyright — Copyright law gives photographers, musicians, dancers, and other artists exclusive rights to publicly display their work. The law protects only the content of the work, and it must meet certain requirements to qualify. Copyright protection varies in duration, depending on the type of work and whether an individual or a corporation created it.

Individuals who have created or obtained the rights to original works may benefit from an intellectual property attorney. The lawyer can help protect a client’s interests or defend a client accused of infringement.

The attorneys may also litigate matters concerning intellectual property in state and federal courts, as well as before agencies such as the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. They may also:

  • Draft invention licenses
  • Transfer proprietary property
  • Negotiate settlements
  • Advise clients on laws

Professional Requirements to Become an Intellectual Property Lawyer

It takes seven years of full-time study to become an intellectual property attorney. Students spend four of those years in an undergraduate program earning a bachelor’s degree. Before graduating, they must take the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT). This test measures the student’s understanding of the law. The score is one of the main factors used by law schools when choosing which students to admit.

After receiving a bachelor’s degree, aspiring lawyers attend law school for three years. Most states require attorneys to receive a Juris Doctorate (J.D.) degree from an American Bar Association (ABA) accredited law school. J.D. programs include courses like contracts, property law, and constitutional law. Students can also opt to take specialized courses.

Before practicing law, the lawyer must become a member of the bar. This also may involve taking a professional responsibility exam. While in law school, students can opt to complete clerkships or internships. These give students experience and may improve their job prospects.

Additional Education and Experience

Licensed attorneys can earn a Master of Laws (LL.M.) degree. This degree allows them to study a specific area of the law more in-depth. It also gives attorneys global credibility.

Additional Licensing Requirements

Each state has additional licensure requirements for lawyers. The most common is participation in Continuing Legal Education every one to three years. This keeps attorneys current with new laws and case precedent.

Lawyers dealing with patents must register with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. In order to do so, they have to possess a degree in the right field of study, and take an exam over patents.

Where Can You Work as an Intellectual Property Lawyer

There are several options when it comes to where you can work as an intellectual property lawyer. Some choose to practice solo, while others join law firms. Generally, attorneys start as associates with a firm with the hopes of becoming partner in the future. When a lawyer makes partner, he or she becomes partial owner of the firm. It is common practice to force an attorney to leave a firm if they fail to make partner within a certain timeframe.

Another option is working for a company’s legal department. It is rare, however, for a large corporation to hire a new attorney as in-house counsel. Additionally, they can find employment teaching courses at law schools. They can also provide legal services to the local, state, or federal government.

How do Intellectual Property Lawyers Get Paid

The rate of pay and method of billing for intellectual property lawyers varies. Some charge an hourly fee while others provide services for a flat-rate. In general, attorneys charge a flat-rate fee for cases that are cut-and-dry such as drafting documents.

Sometimes, a client expects to recover monetary damages and the lawyer may charge a contingency fee. With this type of case, they only receive payment if they win the case. If the court does not award damages, the attorney does not receive compensation for his services.

Many lawyers also charge a retainer fee, which the client pays up front. The attorney then places it into a special account and uses it as needed as he works on the case. If the retainer runs out before the case concludes, the lawyer may request another retainer fee.

Intellectual Property Lawyer Salary

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (“BLS”) Occupational Outlook Handbook reports that as of 2018, the average annual lawyer salary is $119,250.

An attorney’s experience and geographical location plays a part in how much they earn annually. Those with more experience tend to fall on the higher end of the pay spectrum. The same is true for lawyers employed in large law firms.

Employment Outlook for Intellectual Property Lawyers

The BLS expects the employment rate for lawyers to increase around 8% by 2026. This is the same for all U.S. occupations. The job market will remain competitive as more students graduate from law school than jobs become available.

Hiring an Intellectual Property Lawyer

There are a few things to keep in mind once you have decided on hiring an intellectual property lawyer. Most specialize in a specific area of the law. Therefore, hiring one a with relevant experience is important. For instance, an attorney that practices family law is not ideal for cases involving intellectual property rights.

Try talking to several lawyers before choosing one to represent you. Most offer a free consultation, and this gives you the opportunity to ask about experience, expertise, and success rate. You should also inquire about the lawyer’s fees during this initial meeting. Be sure to find out what services this fee includes to avoid surprises down the road.

The lawyer you hire should keep you updated as your case progresses. You should feel comfortable with your attorney’s approach to the case.

How to Find the Right Intellectual Property Lawyer

The thought of finding the right intellectual property lawyer leaves many people feeling overwhelmed. Knowing where to start however, helps make the process go smoothly. Many resources are available including attorney databases. These online databases allow you to search for attorneys by practice type and location. Some even include information such as disciplinary records.

Also, ask friends and family who they would recommend, since personal references are often the most reliable. An attorney that practices in another area of the law may also point you in the right direction. Another option involves checking the bar association website in your state. Some offer a list of licensed attorneys while others allow you to search by name or bar number.

Once you find lawyers that you believe are a good match, visit their business website, if available. Most offer information about their practice.

Essential Information

Degree Level Juris Doctor (J.D.), Master of Laws (LL.M.) is optional
Degree Field(s) Law
License/Certification Licensure in state of practice
Key Skills Critical thinking, negotiation, verbal and written communication, reasoning, ability to research, analytical
Number of Jobs (2016) 792,500
Job Outlook
8% growth rate (average growth rate)
Median Salary (2017) $119,250*
On the Job Training Moderate term of on-the-job training
Top Earners Top earners in the field are generally employed by large law firms

(*Source: the BLS)