Intellectual property law
According to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), intellectual property encompasses the “creations of the mind, such as inventions; literary and artistic works; designs; and symbols, names and images used in commerce”.
Intellectual property (IP) law involves the protection of these valuable creations. IP is protected under law to allow people to be recognised or receive financial payment from their inventions or creations. With regard to the law, IP is divided into two groups: industrial property and copyright. Industrial property involves inventions and their patents and trademarks, while copyright includes literary and artistic works such as:
• Poems, novels and plays
• Musical works
• Drawings, paintings, photography and sculpture
• Architectural designs
In the UK, IP in the UK encompasses United Kingdom trademark law, copyright law of the United Kingdom and United Kingdom patent law. Intellectual property lawyers assist businesses in the acquisition, protection and use of intellectual property. Solicitors who practice in the IP sector assist with licensing and other commercial agreements involving intellectual property and litigation. While some lawyers have broad practices that cover all aspects of IP, others specialise in one niche area, such as patent litigation or trademark filing.
Type of clients
IP solicitors typically represent inventors, scientists, writers, performing artists, producers of sound recordings, broadcasters of radio and TV programs, and clients in the business of online retail, social media and technology. Many work in a number of different industries, including pharmaceutical, consumer electronics, communications and in the media and film industry.
Kind of work
A good IP lawyer knows less about science and technology and more about the process required to prepare a patent application and the proceedings involved. Since IP matters rarely involve long hours and the work is rather consistent, with few extremely busy or slow times, intellectual property lawyers usually have a better work/life balance than solicitors who work in other areas of business and commercial law. IP is considered to be a social area of law, and intellectual-property lawyers get many opportunities to travel and meet lawyers from different firms and companies, in the UK and internationally.
Most large law firms have separate divisions that handle intellectual property, information technology (IT) and the life sciences, specialties where most of the work involving patent, trademark and copyright law is performed. Some mid-range and small boutique firms work exclusively on intellectual property cases.
Skills useful for an intellectual property lawyer include a high energy level, the ability to work as part of a team and flexibility, since several projects are typically going on at all times. Legal backgrounds that successful IP lawyers possess include intellectual property, contracts, torts and competition. Drafting experience is critical for an IP solicitor, since contracts and agreements are central to intellectual property law.
Much of an intellectual property solicitor’s day might be spent providing legal advice on usage, commercial visibility, marketing and distribution, infringement or duplication, ownership and usage rights of virtually any product or matter. Some IP lawyers spend their time issuing notices to parties who are infringing on a client’s rights or searching through patent registries to conduct research for a client’s new product, idea or innovation. If a dispute arises, an IP lawyer will be required to facilitate discussions between the parties and challenge any decisions or rulings that don’t support the best interests of their clients.
Although inventors and other creative individuals have the right to prepare and file their own patent application and conduct their own proceedings, they typically don’t have the knowledge it takes to navigate the complex world of property rights and laws that intellectual-property lawyers possess.
Legal Practice Areas