Intellectual property is a work or invention produced by human creativity that the law protects from unauthorized use by others.
A manuscript, a song, a logo design, a mobile application — or even proprietary knowledge like the formula for a soft drink — are all examples of intellectual property. Protecting intellectual property, which can be a person's or a company's most valuable asset, requires specialists: intellectual property attorneys.
Among practice areas experiencing growth
Intellectual property law is among the practice areas experiencing job growth, according to a Robert Half Legal survey. It is a broad field, and pursuing a career in intellectual property law may require you to have expertise in other specialties such as trademark law, copyright law, patent law, licensing law and trade secret law. The upside is that pursuing a career in intellectual property also provides an opportunity for you to combine different areas of interest and develop a specialized blend of legal expertise.
For example, if you are passionate about music or art, you might focus on learning copyright law or trademark law. Enjoy business? You may want to learn trade secret law. If you have studied or worked in the fields of technology or science, you could become skilled at patent law. In fact, employers such as patent departments look specifically to hire intellectual property attorneys who possess scientific, engineering or technology-related degrees.
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Qualifications for practicing intellectual property law
If you are interested in a career in intellectual property law, you will need to earn a relevant undergraduate degree, graduate from law school and pass your state's bar exam, and then possibly jump through one other hoop: successfully completing the patent bar exam administered by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Many intellectual property attorneys must interact regularly with USPTO, and to do so, they must be listed on its registry.
A career in intellectual property law may require you to have expertise in other specialties such as trademark law, copyright law, patent law, licensing law and trade secret law.
If you are already a licensed attorney, you might want to consider earning a Master of Laws (LL.M.) in intellectual property law. This could help give you an edge in a hiring environment where many legal employers want to recruit specialists. You can develop knowledge in practice areas ranging from intellectual property rights to intellectual property law in cyberspace, as well as broaden your legal career options. (Note: Some LL.M. programs may require you to write a thesis as a graduation requirement.)
The importance of real-world experience
Of course, nothing beats real-world experience. Law firms, private companies and other entities that hire intellectual property attorneys to assist them with obtaining and enforcing patents and other protections for their intellectual property typically look for at least two years of relevant experience. Look to your current employer to help you build the skills you need for this career path. In short, identify a need and volunteer to fill it. For example, if workload for the firm's intellectual property practice is growing exponentially, but the group is short-staffed, ask about working in an apprentice-like capacity so you can learn the ropes while also providing support.
Even if you decide not to become an expert in intellectual property law, you are likely to encounter these matters at some point in your legal career, especially if you become a general counsel. Robert Half Legal's Future Law Office report, Client Dynamics Driving Change in the Legal Profession, notes that intellectual property matters are among the many business challenges general counsel are increasingly expected to manage. So developing at least some basic working knowledge of intellectual property law is likely to benefit you in the long term.
Ready to explore your next legal career opportunity? Robert Half Legal can help.