Intellectual property refers to creations of the mind: inventions; literary and artistic works; and symbols, names and images used in commerce. Intellectual property (IP) rights are like any other property right. They allow creators, or owners, of patents, trademarks or copyrighted works to benefit from their own work or investment in a creation. There are five basic types of intellectual property work that attorneys do:
Patent Law: The branch of intellectual property law that deals with new inventions. A patent is the right to exclude others from making, using, selling, offering for sale, importing, inducing others to infringe, and/or offering a product specially adapted for practice of the patent.
Trademark Law: Protects words, phrases, logos, or symbols used to distinguish products.
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. Copyrights do not protect ideas, only how they’re expressed.
Trade Secret Law: A trade secret may consist of any formula, pattern, device or compilation of information which is used in a business and which gives this business an opportunity to obtain advantage over competitors who do not know or use it.
Licensing Law: A license is a grant of permission to do something with an otherwise protected work or product.
As far back as the year 2000, according to BCG-Attorney Search and Placement site, the largest demand for intellectual property attorneys is for those who can do patent work. Approximately 85% of the intellectual property placements BCG makes are for patent attorneys. In support of this percentage, the Department of Commerce reported in early 2016 that IP-intensive industries support over 45 million U.S. jobs—30% of the nation’s total—and contribute more than $6 trillion—or 38.2% of United States GDP. By comparison, the bio-pharmaceutical industry employed almost 854,000 Americans in 2014.
Many patent attorneys have at least a bachelor’s degree in one of the STEM disciplines: Science, Technology, Engineering or Mathematics in addition to their law degree. In the more competitive science arenas of patent law, applicants may need a master’s degree to be noticed. In addition to passing the bar exam, you must also pass the Patent Bar. To even sit for the Patent Bar, an applicant needs prior training at the Bachelor’s degree level in a science or engineering field (or significant college credits in one of these fields). In order to be registered as a patent agent or patent attorney in the United States, one must pass the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) registration examination.
STEM graduates are best suited for patent work because attorneys in this profession typically fit into a specific niche. A review of job postings at the BCG site seeks patent agents with experience as follows: electrical engineering. chemistry, technical background, molecular biology, biology, and pharmacology. The salaries are not stated, but glassdoor.com reports the national average at $148,000. Another site, salary.com has the range between $193,142 and $265,080 for a top patent attorney. The latter site states the median salary at $230,073. (Please see our report on Where Should I go To Earn a STEM Degree?)
There are law firms that contend they are less concerned about what law school you attended, but more interested in your scientific knowledge. Other firms opine that an IP attorney is still an attorney and you should know certain basic areas of law to best serve the client. Both viewpoints acknowledge that the profession of IP law is a blend of both science/technology and law.
If IP law is your intent, we invite you to read our post on the Top 25 Law Schools. Some are noted for their IP programs. Unfortunately, most of these have higher annual tuition, for example: University of California-Berkeley ($49k), Stanford ($58k), and New York University ($62k). However, there are less costly schools, that are also listed as Best Grad Schools for Law by US News & World Report 2017: Texas A&M ($28k), University of Houston ($30k), and University of Washington ($33k).