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Intellectual Property Lawyers

The Job

Intellectual property lawyers protect a client's creative interests, whether those interests are to patent a new product or to ensure that a copyright hasn't been infringed upon. IP lawyers may work in all areas of intellectual property law; however, many lawyers specialize in patent, trademark, copyright, or licensing law. Whichever area the IP attorney focuses on, some job duties are the same across the board. One of the IP lawyer's main tasks is to counsel clients. Usually this counseling concerns whether the intellectual property can be patented, trademarked, or copyrighted; the best method of protection for the individual property; and whether the product or idea being discussed will infringe on someone else's patent, trademark, or copyright. Another major task for an IP lawyer is the drafting of legal documents, such as patent applications and licensing agreements. An IP lawyer drafts applications to the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and answers actions from the USPTO by way of drafting amendments to the already filed application. Also, part of the job is drafting licenses and assignments (documents transferring ownership or giving permission for other people to practice the invention) for patent and trademarks.

The IP lawyer also serves clients by being their advocate before administrative bodies and courts. His or her goal is to secure the rights of the client and then protect those rights if others violate them. Conversely, if the IP lawyer's client is accused of violating someone else's intellectual property rights, the IP lawyer defends the client.

IP lawyers may help their clients choose an Internet domain name or a trademark. They are often called on to review advertising copy, press releases, and other official documents to ensure that there are no intellectual property problems.

IP lawyers work with a wide variety of clients, from an individual inventor or author to top executives at a large corporation. Those who work for corporations are usually in-house counsels concerned with decisions affecting the use of intellectual property within the company. IP lawyers working in universities assist scientists and researchers by identifying products and inventions that have potential in the marketplace.

The majority of IP lawyers focus on patent law. A patent lawyer works with an inventor from the beginning to decide if the invention has a chance of being granted a patent. If so, the attorney drafts and files a patent application with the USPTO. The lawyer then works with the patent examiner to try to get the patent approved. If a patent is issued, the lawyer has succeeded; if it is not, the attorney can appeal the decision to the USPTO's board of appeals. If the lawyer and client are again denied a patent, they can appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. Once a patent is approved, the patent lawyer may continue to be involved by investigating and developing licensing agreements.

If a client believes his or her rights to intellectual property have been infringed on, the IP attorney must try to prove that someone else has taken or used the client's intellectual property without consent. On the other hand, if a client is accused of infringing on another's intellectual property rights, the lawyer must try to prove that the item in question didn't deserve a copyright, patent, or trademark in the first place or that the protection is invalid. Although lawsuits are commonplace today, most IP lawyers consider litigation the last step and try to settle differences outside the courtroom.