Intellectual Property Law Jobs - What Are the Prospects?
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Protecting the rights to your work has become infinitely harder in the internet era. Pirating a piece of digital art is incredibly easy, and, in most cases, it’s just a matter of a copy-and-paste action. Copyright holders couldn’t fight this battle alone - they needed lawyers specialized in intellectual property (IP) law.
Naturally, as the demand increased, so have the opportunities for finding intellectual property law jobs. It’s not just big companies that hire IP lawyers nowadays - individuals do, too. Pretty much anyone who creates some kind of product will seek legal help to protect their intellectual property. If you’re looking for an IP job or just wondering what it takes to become a lawyer specialized in copyright issues, our guide will explain every detail of this promising career.
The Intellectual Property Lawyer Job Description
As the name suggests, attorneys devoting themselves to intellectual property law will be helping their clients with all IP-related legal issues. That includes copyrights, patents, and trademarks. Just like in many other subsets of the law, working with intellectual property requires a certain level of specialization from each lawyer. On top of that, the attorney needs to understand their clients’ intellectual property. This is a constantly evolving field, so the attorneys undertaking this task are constantly learning and adapting.
Intellectual property attorney jobs require copyright, trademark, patent, and licensing law knowledge. Additionally, an attorney practicing IP law will have to be ready to advise and protect their client against unfair competition and be familiar with what constitutes trade secrets and how to protect them. If it sounds like a lot of responsibility, that’s because it is.
What Do Intellectual Property Lawyers Do?
Speaking of responsibilities, intellectual property can be the most valuable asset a business or individual has. If the client is badly advised by their attorney or the relevant documents aren’t watertight, IP abuse is a very real and very dangerous possibility. Such a lack of proper preparation makes protecting said property hard, and the damage to the company may even put it out of business. That’s why every IP attorney candidate must be aware of his future duties.
This is what most intellectual property law jobs usually entail:
- Counseling clients on protecting their IPs
- Representing clients in court during IP-related cases
- Copyright breach litigation.
- Submitting and negotiating patent applications
- Supervising and training staff
- Keeping up to date with intellectual property law
- Attending meetings with the creative team
Even though IP law is a specialization in itself, an attorney can further specialize in different fields of this law. We’ve mentioned these segments in the opening section, but let’s look closer at what an intellectual property law job can be:
- Patent lawyer - deals with inventions registered as patents at the United States Patent and Trademark Office. As not everything can be patented and, likewise, patent rights can be violated, a lawyer needs detailed knowledge to discern which is which.
- Trademark lawyer - names, slogans, logos, and other visuals related to a product or company are what trademark lawyers specialize in. Their job is to help the client protect their trademarked material from copycats.
- Copyright lawyer - unlike patent attorney jobs, dealing with copyright means the attorney will be working with art pieces, like movies, music, video games, and books.
- Licensing lawyer - related to the work copyright and trademark lawyers do, licensing lawyers ensure that the usage grants given by the license owners are followed properly and without hurting the license owner.
- Trade secret lawyer - keeping a company’s secrets actually secret and dealing with industrial espionage is what a trade secret lawyer does. They deal with legal issues when a security breach happens, but also educate employees on nondisclosure protocols.
Intellectual property legal jobs are almost exclusively office-based. As the attorney usually deals with intangible assets, they rarely need to go out of their office to do fieldwork. Depending on your contract and company structure, the legal office can be a completely separate entity or a part of the company itself.
The latter is more common, since companies often need lawyers to attend meetings regularly. This is especially true when working on new products that require an intellectual property lawyer overseeing the project and ensuring that all relevant copyrights and trademarks are well-protected.
Of course, visits to court are expected and sometimes inevitable, especially when the employer is dealing with an intellectual property rights breach.
On paper, this is a traditional nine-to-five job. But intellectual property law attorney jobs may sometimes require you to stay and work overtime in the office or the courtroom. Long hours are occasionally inevitable, especially during complicated cases, and more than one-third of surveyed lawyers practicing IP law confirmed they worked 50-hour weeks most of the time.
If you end up working in a law firm, expect overlapping cases with tight deadlines and plenty of overtime. Even 80-hour work weeks aren’t unusual in this business, especially for corporate lawyers. Freelance attorneys can, fortunately, be a bit more flexible with their schedules.
How To Become an Intellectual Property Lawyer
Similar to other highly specialized legal careers, the education and career path for lawyers looking to practice IP law can be long and winded. While studying, taking specific steps will open up specialization opportunities and, more importantly, legal practice experience, followed by a full-time job in a law firm.
The requirements can be pretty steep, however, even for entry-level intellectual property law jobs. Considering you’ll be working with licenses, patents, and digital rights, a certain level of knowledge and familiarity with the subject you’re protecting is a must. All that hard work is not for naught, though - there are many chances for advancement and an enviable annual paycheck. Read on to find out more about jobs in intellectual property law and their requirements.
Every attorney has a slightly different approach when working a case, but there are some commonalities needed to succeed in this career. Here’s what your future employers and clients will expect:
- Strong knowledge of intellectual property law: This should go without saying, but to get and keep any attorney job, one needs to have fully grasped all the intricacies of the law they’re practicing. This goes double for intellectual property attorney jobs, as they require almost constantly refreshing your knowledge and practices.
- Attention to detail: Any good lawyer will tell you that knowing how to spot potentially important particulars can be a tipping point for winning a case. There are many nuances of IP use that can make the difference between fair use and a copyright breach, so an intellectual property attorney needs to know how to spot them.
- IT skills: One specific requirement when working with intellectual property, be it a patent or copyright, is having a decent level of computer skills. You don’t need to be a hacker, but knowing how to search databases, verify information, and having some understanding of tech is imperative.
- Communication skills: To keep an intellectual property attorney job, you not only need to have good public-speaking skills for anything courtroom-related, but you’ll also be required to communicate with your client’s advertising team and even teach them about protecting their IP.
If you’re ready to take up this career path, congratulations! You’ll just need to complete several multi-year courses, get all the necessary certificates, and spend some time as an intern before getting a chance at some proper intellectual property legal jobs.
Don’t let that discourage you, though. This career offers many excellent opportunities and, compared to other options - like becoming a maritime attorney - doesn’t put you through too many hoops.
It all starts at university, of course. After four years of getting an undergraduate degree - hopefully, one with useful IP-related courses, like computer and data science, as well as some art courses - you’ll start attending the law school of your choice. High GPA and LSAT exam scores can get you into better, highly sought-after law schools, which then leads to better intellectual property law firm jobs. Your grades do matter here.
During your time at a law school, keep an eye on courses related to intellectual property law, like copyrights, patent prosecution, and unfair trade competition. If possible, hunt for an internship, as that will skyrocket your chances of landing a full-time job in the field, not to mention helping you develop your attorney skills faster by working on an actual case.
Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations
Once you’re out of law school, don’t immediately go searching for jobs in IP law - you’ll need to pass the bar exam first. These differ from state to state but, luckily, you can retake them if you end up failing on your first try.
Finally, to get your IP attorney license, you’ll have to take the USPTO (US Patents and Trademark Office) exam. Pass it, and you can start practicing IP law and go job hunting to protect businesses and individuals against intellectual property infringement.
An Intellectual Property Lawyer’s Salary
While becoming an attorney can be a reward in and of itself, we all still need to pay the bills. So, aside from the intangible benefits of this job, like experiences and a sense of accomplishment for helping someone protect their invention or artwork, you can also expect more-than-decent monetary compensation for your work.
Compared to the national median of $126,930 a year for lawyers of all kinds, intellectual property lawyer salaries aren’t very far off, at $128,913 annually; that’s $62 an hour. Unlike some law firm jobs, e.g., general counsel jobs, the lower margin for entry-level employment in IP law isn’t as low. When starting their careers in this particular field, attorneys can expect a $65,000 base salary. Veteran employees, especially patent attorneys with 8+ years of experience, can look forward to an annual salary of $210,000.
Another interesting thing about IP careers is the possibilities for various bonuses. Depending on your employer and whether the law firm is partnered, you may earn upwards of tens of thousands of dollars a year in bonuses alone, on top of possible profit sharing. This, of course, depends on what type of cases the firm takes on, as well as how far along your career path you are.
Not all careers in intellectual property law are created equal, however. Your location can impact your earnings drastically, even by more than 30%. For example, California is hands-down the best place for an IP attorney in the United States, with lots of high-profile cases and corporations dealing with intellectual property from multiple industries. That being said, prepare for tight competition if you decide to move to cities like LA, as the more lucrative the market, the bigger the competition for the IP attorney jobs, too.
Attorneys for intellectual property-related cases are in high demand right now, and they’ll continue to be for many years to come. We’re not just talking about bands like Metallica suing file-sharing platforms, but also many small artists that are fighting over the rights for their digital art. It’s not uncommon to hear someone’s illustrations were stolen and used without permission.
The global push toward digitalization means that there are plenty of intellectual property law career opportunities. It’s not just about legal actions or courtroom drama, either: Many businesses need an IP lawyer team around the clock, be it for rebranding or launching a new product and ensuring that no trademarks were broken in the process. It’s a very dynamic job where you’ll get to meet and work with many interesting people.
Intellectual Property Job Prospects
It’s worth repeating that any legal job has its fair share of competition. This is especially true for anything related to intellectual property, as it’s one of the hottest job prospects today. That’s why it’s essential to start chasing this career as soon as possible and building as many connections as possible along the way.
The market is far from saturated, though - even with numerous law firms and attorneys in the businesses, there’s still plenty of copyright attorney jobs available. Digital rights management is something more and more companies are looking into, trying not only to protect their IP, but also expand their income streams. Since this is still a wild frontier for many, a young lawyer fresh out of school has a fighting chance to get in on the action. How successful you’ll be mainly depends on those communication skills we’ve talked about earlier.
Whether you’ll be working in a permanent position or one based on cases depends on the types of IP law jobs you take, as well as whether you manage to join a big law firm. Solitary IP lawyers usually don’t work as “hired guns” for hot cases, more often taking on advisory roles. Remember, a USPTO exam doesn’t lock you into a specific segment of intellectual property law - with a bit of skill and multitasking, you can manage to hop around the IP law spectrum and build a prosperous intellectual property law career.
Finally, you may have found that you’ve got a knack for teaching others, passing on your knowledge to the younger generations. Luckily, IP law offers many opportunities for aspiring tutors, and you might even get a cushy job as a law school professor.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do I get a job in intellectual property law?
As in any legal branch, to practice intellectual property law, one must go through a multi-step process. Starting at law school, try to specialize your studies by taking classes that will help you better understand IP law. Look for internship opportunities, too. As this is usually a technology-related practice, it’s worth getting additional tech or scientific education to back up your attorney skills, and you might even choose such classes during your undergraduate studies.
How much do intellectual property lawyers make a year?
The average IP lawyer in the United States makes a median salary of $128,913 a year, or $62 an hour. Entry-level salaries start at $65,000 annually, and the top experienced lawyers earn upwards of $210,000 a year.
Is IP law in demand?
Yes, IP lawyers are very much sought-after. In fact, the demand has never been higher, as more and more businesses are dealing with protecting their intangible assets, ideas, and patents.
What do IP attorneys do?
Intellectual property law jobs are based on protecting intellectual property, be it a trademark, patent, copyright, or license. The lawyers will interpret the law for their clients, represent them in court, and work with trademark offices to confirm whether there was actually a breach of intellectual property rights. They also work as advisors and oversee many projects, helping individuals and businesses protect their ideas and products.