Patently the best area of law…
Intellectual property law (commonly known as IP) governs the ownership and accessibility of ideas and inventions on tangible and intangible concepts. In an extremely competitive world, IP is an integral part of business.
There are many different ways to protect the ownership of ideas, products or concepts, but these usually come in the form of patents, trademarks or copyrights.
Why intellectual property law important? What does it involve?
Much of an IP lawyer’s activity will involve providing legal advice on usage, commercial viability, marketing and distribution mechanisms, infringement or duplication, vesting of ownership and usage rights for any product or matter which falls within the ambit of IP. Like most legal areas, IP also has contentious and non-contentious components.
Most large firms will have separate departments handling IP, I.T. and life sciences, where the maximum amount of patent, copyright and trademark usage is concentrated. If this is a field you want to specialise in, it may better to join one of the mid-range and smaller boutique firms which work exclusively on intellectual property matters.
An IP lawyer’s day-to-day tasks can incorporate a wide array of activities, from issuing notices to parties infringing on a client’s rights, to trawling through various patent registries in relation to a new product, innovation or idea brought forward by a client.
If any disputes arise, an intellectual property lawyer will be required to initiate discussions between parties, as well as challenging decisions and rulings that might go against your client’s interests.
What makes a good IP lawyer?
IP lawyers get the opportunity to deal with fascinating yet technically complex subject-matters. Consequently, it’s important for these lawyers to be up-to-date with business and innovation trends, and understand and appreciate creativity.
Drafting expertise is essential, since contracts and agreements are the lifeblood of any IP deal. Additionally, you will need to be flexible in your working style, as you will often work simultaneously on several projects at the same time.
It also helps to be organised so you can keep track of your workload. Furthermore, you will need to be able to discuss complex situations in a clear and concise way.
Andrew Bowler is a Partner in IP Litigation at Bristows. Here, he outlines a typical day in the life…
What’s the first thing you do when you get into the office?
Get changed into my suit – not in front of my room mates I should add - as I tend to travel to and from work in shorts and a t-shirt. I have usually read my emails and any interesting blogs on the train into the office so I tend to walk around the department first thing and catch up with the excellent bunch of associates that I’m working with on different matters. They are invariably in the office before me as I’m not known for being an early starter.
How do you handle and organise/prioritise your workload?
Although urgent issues inevitably crop up, litigation is generally fairly well structured in the sense that each case has a road map of procedural deadlines leading to trial so you know what needs to be done today, this week and this month. That makes it relatively easy to handle and organise workload. I keep a calendar of deadlines and for each case we use an action list. A team for a typical case would be me, a senior associate, a junior associate and a trainee. Clients get the best value when tasks are delegated appropriately within the team.
What sort of daily responsibilities does your role have in intellectual property law? How does it differ from an associate/trainee role?
The main responsibilities are ensuring that the standard of legal work is top quality and delivered on time in accordance with clients’ expectations. As I moved from being an associate to a partner, I have tended to spend more time considering the strategic aspects of litigation and less time drafting evidence and correspondence, though I still do plenty of that. There are other important aspects that come with being a partner, such as winning new work, developing careers of associates and trainees and, probably of least fun, billing.
Can you give us an idea of the sort of projects you manage from day to day?
For a private practice lawyer in 2016, I am lucky to have quite a varied practice. Projects might include providing trade mark advice to a small company that is looking to rebrand through to acting in the largest patent disputes in the country – patent litigation in the telecoms or life sciences sectors will often form part of a broader dispute which is played out in courts around Europe, the US and Asia; this means that projects often include a coordination role and therefore frequent interaction with lawyers around the world.
What sort of clients do you generally deal with on a day-to-day basis?
I act for a range of clients but they are, in the main, blue chip multinationals for whom technology and brands are key assets. Within these companies I tend to work with in-house lawyers or patent attorneys, though we are sometimes asked to brief senior management direct.