What Does an Intellectual Property Attorney Do?

Nicole Etolen

Intellectual property refers to any type of creation that arises from an idea, including songs, books, works of art, and other creative mediums. An intellectual property attorney deals with all the legal issues involved in protecting those mediums. Duties range from simply assisting creators in registering trademarks or copyrights to handling large civil court cases regarding misuse of the intellectual property.

An intellectual property attorney might deal with trademark issues.
An intellectual property attorney might deal with trademark issues.

The increasing accessibility and popularity of the Internet has made the job of an intellectual property attorney more important and demanding than in past decades. Information, including protected intellectual property, is easily shared between online users, and copyright violations occur on a more regular basis than in past decades. The Internet also makes it easier for more people to get involved in creating content. Writers can now self-publish their books with ease, musicians can use their computer to record songs and upload them to others, and photographers can create their own online galleries to showcase their work. These factors all play a role in increasing the demands for an intellectual property attorney, making it a relatively stable career choice.

An intellectual property attorney may handle large civil court cases regarding misuse of intellectual property, such as works of art.
An intellectual property attorney may handle large civil court cases regarding misuse of intellectual property, such as works of art.

The education requirements for becoming an intellectual property attorney are similar to those of any law specialty. Students must receive a four-year degree before applying to law schools. While just about any degree is sufficient, those who plan to specialize in intellectual property should consider majoring in communications, journalism, or another program that provides an overall understanding of intellectual property. While attending law school, students can choose classes that prepare them for their specialty.

Most recent intellectual property attorney graduates start their career working as associates in a law firm or under a more experiences attorney in a large corporation. After gaining the necessary experience, many attorneys choose to start their own law practice. Deciding whether to start a small practice or take a position within a larger corporation depends on the type of individual the intellectual property attorney plans to represent. Large publishing houses and recording studios often hire in-house attorneys, while unrepresented artists are more likely to work with smaller firms.

While an intellectual property attorney should be prepared to defend copyrights and trademarks in a courtroom setting, the majority of the time will be spent advising clients on tasks such as registering and protecting their intellectual property. The attorney may also send “cease and desist” letters to those suspected of violating a client’s intellectual property rights or draft other legal documents pertaining to the field. Many legal cases are settled out of court, so intellectual property attorneys may see very little time in a courtroom.

As many intellectual property cases are settled out of court, an intellectual property attorney may spend very little time in courtrooms.
As many intellectual property cases are settled out of court, an intellectual property attorney may spend very little time in courtrooms.

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