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What does an IP Litigator do?

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  • Written By: C. Mitchell
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 30 October 2016
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    Conjecture Corporation
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An IP litigator is an attorney who specializes in either challenging or defending various aspects of intellectual property rights in court. Intellectual property law is broad, covering all aspects of trademark, copyright, and patent rights. No intellectual property lawyer is able to comprehensively cover the whole body of IP knowledge, and most of the time, he narrows his focus to one aspect: protecting a company’s trademarks online, for instance, or managing a client’s patent portfolio. IP litigators work the same way, usually only appearing in court on behalf of clients with the same or similar problems.

"Litigation” is a legal term that incorporates almost all aspects of trial law. Most IP Litigators work in intellectual property practice groups of large law firms or in-house for corporations and businesses. They usually begin by meeting with clients and assessing whether a dispute is worth suing over. Trial is almost always expensive, and usually takes up a lot of time. Unless the problem is a serious one, litigators usually will try to settle the case outside of court through negotiation.

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If a trial is deemed the best option, litigators get to work building the case. For an IP litigator, this usually means collecting evidence supporting the rights owner’s position, filing documents such as complaints and responses, counseling the client, and preparing motions asking the court for relief. Actual courtroom representation, including jury selection, oral arguments, and witness examination, is also the job of the IP litigator.

The specific the day-to-day tasks of an intellectual property litigator vary significantly beyond these basics. An IP attorney may be hired for litigation by major corporations looking to prosecute misuses and abuses of corporate intellectual property. These lawyers often target trademark infringement in advertisements and online, looking for unfair comparisons or knockoff products. Others work for music labels and motion picture companies to prosecute those who copy and share protected works. In the realm of patents, an IP lawyer or litigator frequently works for patent owners who believe that new products or methods infringe on their rights.

Of course, litigators work on both sides of the courtroom. For every litigator who launches a case, there is a litigator defending one. When a person or company has been sued for intellectual property infringement, an IP litigator is the person to talk to. On the defense side, IP lawyers work to prove that their clients' actions were either not infringing, or were otherwise protected by some statutory provision. Many copyrighted works are permitted to be used in some circumstances, for instance, and a trademark or patent owner who has not adequately protected his rights over time is not usually eligible to enforce them selectively.

To be successful, an IP litigator for either party must have a firm understanding of the underlying law. Intellectual property litigation is as much about courtroom procedure as it is about the complicated nuances of the governing IP statutes. An intellectual property attorney who knows how to argue will only be effective if he or she also knows how to use the law to the client’s advantage.

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