Intellectual property (IP) lawyers deal with inventions, creations, and other intellectual and intangible types of property. The term “intellectual property is used in its general sense to describe:A product of the intellect that has commercial value, including copyrighted property such as literary or artistic works, and ideational property, such as patents, appellations of origin, business methods, and industrial processes.
Examples of intellectual property are music, books, movies, artwork, product names, logos, slogans and packaging, inventions that qualify for patent protection, and information that is kept secret and not commonly known.
When people think of IP lawyers, they usually think of patent attorneys, which is no surprise given that a good majority of IP lawyers are patent attorneys. Patent attorneys, however, are not the only types of IP attorneys. Under the umbrella of IP lawyers also fall trademark, copyright, trade secret, and Internet/e-commerce attorneys.
DIFFERENT TYPES OF IP LAW AND IP ATTORNEYS
Significantly, where property such as machines may have once been the primary source of a company’s worth, in today’s economy much of a company’s worth comes from the ownership of intellectual property. In general, there are five basic types of intellectual property work that attorneys do.These areas are: a) Patent, b) Trademark, c) Copyright, d) Trade Secret, and e) Licensing.
PATENT LAW. Patent law protects inventions. By filing and obtaining a patent from the United States Patent and Trademark Office, the inventor of a product receives a monopoly on the commercial exploitation and use of a product for up to 20 years. Patents can protect the functional features of a process, machine, manufactured item, asexually reproduced plant, or composition of matter, for example.
TRADEMARK LAW. Trademark law protects words, phrases, logos or symbols used to distinguish one product from another. In circumstances where a competitor uses a protected trademark, the holder of the trademark can go to court and obtain an injunction to stop the use.
COPYRIGHT LAW. Copyright law protects the creators of expressive works, such as artists, photographers, writers, and musicians, and gives them the exclusive right to protect how their works are used. It is important to note that, unlike trademark law, copyright law does not protect names or titles. One way that copyright law can be distinguished from trademark law is in the advertising context. Trademark law would commonly protect the name of the product being advertised, while copyright law would protect the expression. For example, the statement in an advertisement: “If you drive this X car, you will undoubtedly realize it is among the best in the market for what it does,” is an example of something that would have elements of copyright and trademark within it.
TRADE SECRET LAW. A trade secret is “A secret formula, method, or device that gives one an advantage over competitors.” If the owner of the trade secret takes reasonable steps to keep the trade secret “secret,” courts will protect the trade secret owner from unauthorized disclosure by (1) industrial spies, (2) competitors who wrongfully acquire the trade secret, (3) employees of the owner of the trade secret, and (4) anyone with any type of duty not to disclose the information.
LICENSING LAW. While licensing law may make use of all the areas of law above, it is a popular-enough type of work that it merits some discussion. A license is a grant of permission to do something with an otherwise protected work or product. Copyright holders, for example, can give permission to other individuals to copy their work, or a trademark owner can grant a license to another to use the trademark.
PATENT ATTORNEYS–WHY ARE THEY IN SUCH DEMAND?
Without a doubt, the largest demand for intellectual property attorneys is for those who can do patent work. Approximately 85% of the intellectual property placements we make are for patent attorneys. Reviewing the listings on our website, one finds there are more openings for patent attorneys than for many other practice areas combined. So the question is, why is the demand so high?
First, patent attorneys are rare. Over the past five years, the percentage of practicing patent attorneys simply has not increased as a percentage of all the attorneys practicing in the United States.The percentage of practicing patent attorneys compared with the total attorney population has consistently remained at approximately 11/2 percent.There are only approximately 20,000 patent attorneys in the United States, while there are approximately 1,000,000 other attorneys.
Second, to become a patent attorney, it is not enough to take the bar exam of a given state. In addition, an attorney must also take the United States Patent and Trademark Office’s Patent Bar Exam.
Third, to even sit for the Patent Bar, an applicant needs prior scientific or technical-level training at the bachelor’s-degree level in a science or engineering field (or significant college credits in one of these fields).While there are certainly many people who graduate each year with technical and science degrees, very few of these people may have any interest in attending law school (and accumulating high levels of debt) because the market for these individuals is extremely good even without a law degree. Over the past several years, the demand for people to do research and development has grown rapidly, and many of these people can easily get super jobs without ever attending law school.Virtually every person who operates a computer dependent business knows how difficult it is to find computer programmers, for example. In the biotechnology arena, there is also a high number of positions that consistently go unfilled.
Fourth, assuming the potential patent attorney even has the requisite training to qualify to take the Patent Bar, he/she must also pass it, and the pass rate for the patent bar exam is much lower than for most bar exams; it typically ranges from 28% to 40%.