Home / Career Guides / How to Become an Intellectual Property Attorney

How to Become an Intellectual Property Attorney

If you are a lawyer looking for a career change, an intellectual property attorney (IP) might be a good choice. IPs ensure companies and individuals have ownership rights over their invented or created materials. They may specialize in patent law, copyright law, trademark law, or licensing. IPs need to have superior communication skills and expertise in the type of IP law they practice as they advise clients on such IP documents as patents or licenses and represent them in court. 

IPs should have exceptional negotiation skills and sound knowledge of research techniques. They research, prepare, review, and edit a lot of written documents, so they have to ensure that the information is correct. Excellent researching skills, good drafting skills, and a solid command of grammar are essential to produce strong, clear content. Many companies employ IPs in-house, such as software and technology companies, pharmaceutical companies, book publishers, record labels, and research or development departments at universities and colleges. 

Sample job description

Intellectual property attorneys work to protect the rights of both companies and individuals over their created material. This is an important role because they assist in protecting both products and inventions from being profited upon by other parties. Intellectual property can take the form of copyrights, patents, design rights, and trademarks. An effective intellectual property attorney is creative and capable of dealing with complex subject matter, so a broad base of technical knowledge in specialized topics is critical for career success. [Your Company Name] is hiring experienced intellectual property attorneys to take our business above and beyond. If you have experience in creating patents, licensing trademarks, and licensing agreements, an intellectual property attorney position at our company could be a good fit for you. 

Typical duties and responsibilities

  • Draft and manage agreements involving IP, including license agreements, manufacturing agreements, and supply agreements
  • Advise and counsel clients on matters related to intellectual property, including patents, trademarks, and copyrights
  • Draft, file and prosecute patent applications on behalf of clients

Education and experience

This position requires a Juris Doctorate as well as a license to practice law in the state where the candidate will work. Employers recommend candidates take college courses in science, engineering, and technology-related subjects. Candidates also need a passing grade on the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) registration examination and admission to the Patent Bar.

Required skills and qualifications

  • Written and verbal communication skills
  • Knowledge of U.S. patent laws
  • Research skills
  • Analytical thinking
  • Expertise in negotiation

Preferred qualifications

  • Exceptionally analytical 
  • Excellent communication skills
  • J.D. and certifications on top of it
  • Great interpersonal skills
  • 3+ years working in a law firm

Typical work environment

Most intellectual property attorneys work in offices, libraries, or courtrooms at desks. Long hours are typical for intellectual property attorneys (35% report working more than 50 hours a week), because a lot of time spent on the work is conducted outside of the parameters of normal business hours, such as research or preparing briefs for cases. Lawyers working on salary, however, may enjoy the perks of prearranged work schedules. 

Typical hours

The work hours in an office setting for an intellectual property attorney are usually from 9 AM to 5 PM. However, many attorneys work more than 40 hours a week, especially when nearing deadlines or preparing for court proceedings.

Available certifications

Although being an intellectual property lawyer requires years of formal academic rigor, many institutions offer different certifications to help in the process. Check out the following:

  • Certificate in Patent Law. The Certificate in Patent Law can be taken fully online and is designed to introduce students to all aspects of property law, such as patent, copyright, trademark, and trade secrets. The certificate involves three courses: Introduction to Intellectual Property, Patent Law, Patent Preparation & Prosecution. It is offered by Campbell University’s Norman Adrian Wiggins School of Law. Earning a Certificate in Patent Law can be a valuable next step towards becoming an effective intellectual property attorney.

Career path

Intellectual property attorneys must have a Juris Doctorate from an accredited law school and a license to practice law in the state where they work. They will also need to be admitted to the Patent Bar. A bachelor’s degree is required to pursue a J.D. degree. College coursework in subjects like science, engineering, and other technology subjects is preferred.

Most attorneys start in law firms as associates, then progress on either a partner or non-partner track, leading to positions as partners, senior attorneys, or of counsel. Corporations can also employ some intellectual property attorneys, engineering and technology firms, or media companies.

US, Bureau of Labor Statistics’ job outlook

SOC Code: 23-1011

2020 Employment804,200
Projected Employment in 2030876,578
Projected 2020-2030 Percentage Shift 9% increase
Projected 2020-2030 Numeric Shift71,500 increase

Intellectual property is incredibly valuable to companies. Since there are always new developments in science and technology, the need for intellectual property attorneys who specialize in those topics is increasing. Even in times of economic uncertainty, people keep imagining, creating, and inventing, so the need for intellectual property attorneys tends to be unaffected by economic twists and turns.

According to the career planning website The Balance Careers, the internet’s prevalence in daily life has led to a growth in intellectual property crimes such as internet piracy and cybersquatting, which is the act of registering a domain on the internet to profit from the goodwill of someone else’s trademark. Intellectual property attorneys working in the field say other trademark issues could have major impacts on IP law. For example, an upcoming U.S. Supreme Court decision involves whether adding “.com” to a generic mark constitutes a trademark, and another Supreme Court case concerns the ability to copyright a software interface.