Do you want to work on mechanical or software patents? Litigate rights in music or art? Or counsel corporate clients on how to license their content while protecting it? The intellectual property rights field is diverse, with many lucrative sectors.
Explore the definition and examples of intellectual property law while discovering the various roles of IP lawyers.
What is the Definition of Intellectual Property Rights?
The definition of intellectual property rights is any and all rights associated with intangible assets owned by a person or company and protected against use without consent. Intangible assets refer to non-physical property, including right of ownership in intellectual property . Examples of intellectual property rights include:
- Domain names
- Industrial design
- Confidential information
- Moral rights
- Database rights
- Works of authorship
- Service marks
- Design rights
- Business or trade names
- Commercial secrets
- Computer software
What Are the Types of Intellectual Property?
There are four main types of intellectual property rights, including patents, trademarks, copyrights, and trade secrets. Owners of intellectual property frequently use more than one of these types of intellectual property law to protect the same intangible assets. For instance, trademark law protects a product’s name, whereas copyright law covers its tagline.
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office grants property rights to original inventions, from processes to machines. Patent law protects inventions from use by others and gives exclusive rights to one or more inventors. Technology companies commonly use patents, as seen in the patent for the first computer to protect their investment in creating new and innovative products. The three types of patents consist of:
- Design patents: Protection for the aesthetics of a device or invention. Ornamental design patents include a product’s shape (Coca-Cola bottle), emojis, fonts, or any other distinct visual traits.
- Plant patents: Safeguards for new varieties of plants. An example of a plant patent is pest-free versions of fruit trees. But inventors may also want a design patient if the tree has unique visual properties.
- Utility patents: Protection for a product that serves a practical purpose and is useful. IP examples include vehicle safety systems, software, and pharmaceuticals. This was the first, and is still the largest, area of patent law.
Trademarks protect logos, sounds, words, colors, or symbols used by a company to distinguish its service or product. Trademark examples include the Twitter logo, McDonald’s golden arches, and the font used by Dunkin.
Although patents protect one product, trademarks may cover a group of products. The Lanham Act, also called the Trademark Act of 1946, governs trademarks, infringement, and service marks.
Copyright law protects the rights of the original creator of original works of intellectual property. Unlike patents, copyrights must be tangible. For instance, you can’t copyright an idea. But you can write down an original speech, poem, or song and get a copyright.
Once someone creates an original work of authorship (OWA), the author automatically owns the copyright. But, registering with the U.S. Copyright Office gives owners a head-start in the legal system.
4. Trade Secrets
Trade secrets are a company’s intellectual property that isn’t public, has economic value, and carries information. They may be a formula, recipe, or process used to gain a competitive advantage.
To qualify as a trade secret, companies must work to protect proprietary information actively. Once the information is public knowledge, then it’s no longer protected under trade secrets laws. According to 18 USC § 1839(3), assets may be tangible or intangible, and a trade secret can involve information that’s:
Two well-known examples include the recipe for Coca-Cola and Google’s search algorithm. Although a patent is public, trade secrets remain unavailable to anyone but the owner.
What Are Some Examples of Violations of Intellectual Property?
The significant violations of intellectual property consist of infringement, counterfeiting, and misappropriation of trade secrets. Violations of intellectual property include:
- Creating a logo or name meant to confuse buyers into thinking they’re buying the original brand
- Recording video or music without authorization or copying copyrighted materials (yes, even on a photocopier, for private use)
- Copying another person’s patent and marketing it as a new patent
- Manufacturing patented goods without a license to do so
Since intellectual property can be bought, sold, or leased out, it offers many protections equal to real property ownership. Likewise, similar remedies exist. A dispute may end with property confiscation, an order of monetary damages, or cease and desist orders.
What Does an Intellectual Property Lawyer Do?
Like many areas of law, intellectual property attorneys’ responsibilities differ according to their niche. Lawyers may cover licensing, acquisitions, or creation. Some create and oversee strategies to protect intellectual property internationally and domestically. However, there are three main components of IP law: counseling, protection, and enforcement.
1. Client Counseling
Lawyers who counsel clients find the best way to guard intellectual property and help their clients license and use it. For example, executives enlist attorneys to research the availability of trademarks. If a similar mark already exists, lawyers help leaders determine whether to alter their design or drop it altogether.
In the field of patent counseling, attorneys with a technical background assess the client’s patent to determine the possibility of patent infringement and its validity. Patent lawyers usually must have a background in science, including an undergraduate degree in a scientific field, to qualify.
2. Intellectual Property Protection
Lawyers involved in the protection of intellectual property complete the processes associated with securing the highest available rights. Doing so involves preparing and transmitting an application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO). Attorneys will also respond to issues or requests by the agency until the patent or trademark clears and is issued
3. Enforcement of Intellectual Property Rights
Lawyers who enforce intellectual property rights do so by guarding the owner against infringement. Litigation against violators in federal court includes criminal prosecution and enforcement for intellectual property rights. International enforcement is much more complicated and can involve local politics in the country where the infringement occurred.
What Skills Help Intellectual Property Lawyers?
Law firms hire attorneys for work in the licensing, trademark, and copyright fields if they have a science or litigation background. There are rarely separate departments for each area at firms. However, patent attorneys may also complete copyright and trademark work related to their field of specialty. The most desired skills in intellectual property law include:
- Well-versed in business transactions
- Ability to work alongside other legal representatives
- Strong written and oral communication skills
- Negotiation capabilities
- An understanding of international and domestic considerations
- Lateral thinking skills
- Attention to detail
Does a Patent Attorney Require Different Skills?
Typically, firms look for patent lawyers with a technical undergraduate degree. Patent litigators don’t have any special requirements, whereas patent prosecutors need to pass the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s Patent Bar Exam.
Patent litigators oversee disputes, develop enforcement strategies, and defend companies accused of patent violations. Patent prosecutors establish patent rights by advising clients, drafting applications, and creating protection strategies.
However, patent prosecutors must fully understand how an invention works, differs from others, and is original, and argue these points. Lawyers in patent law do well with a bachelor’s degree in engineering or science fields, such as:
- Life sciences
- Material science
- Medical devices
- Electrical engineering
- Pharmaceutical and chemistry
- Mechanical engineering
- Computer science
Are Intellectual Property Lawyers In Demand?
Yes, IP attorneys are in demand across the United States. With new developments in science and technology, and the growth of the internet, IP lawyers are needed for creators, content protections and electronic rights. Although many types of technology firms hire at high rates, manufacturing and pharmaceutical corporations all require legal support. However, patent lawyers who specialize in certain areas can get higher pay and a wider variety of job offers. These fields include:
- Electrical engineering
- Computer science
- Biotech engineering
- Mechanical engineering
Intellectual property lawyers also enjoy a fair amount of work even during an economic downturn. IP has a high value to organizations as executives will protect their assets regardless of a slowdown or other financial disturbance. Since patent prosecution requires a greater knowledge level, these positions are in higher demand and tend to be financially lucrative.
How to Learn About Intellectual Property Law
Your first-year law courses introduce the basics of law required for each sector of intellectual property law. During your second or third year, you’ll learn about business associations, which helps you understand future IP clients’ organizational structures and needs. Most law schools, including St. Francis School of Law, provide elective courses teaching lawyering skills and offering practice exercises in intellectual property courses.
Intellectual Property I
Students focus on copyright and trademark law in this first introductory intellectual property law course at St. Francis School of Law, including legal rights, remedies, and infringement. Students learn about the specific rules and professional skills like completing copyright and trademark registrations. Class projects may include drafting:
- Appellate opinion on copyright infringement
- Legal memorandum on a possible copyright infringement
- Client letters discussing the loss of trademark rights or trademark priority
- A final analysis of federal trademark benefits, domain names, or cybersquatting
Intellectual Property II
The second intellectual property course builds upon the first class in the series, concentrating on IP infringement and patent law. Law professors introduce case studies and discuss industries to help students discover the intersection of patent and copyright laws. Lastly, professors teach the substantive rules relating to trademark law. Practical exercises may include:
- Defining the details a company must go over with exiting employees leaving for a competitor
- Completing a memorandum about the patentability of an enzyme and its manufacture
- Drafting client letters about rights and remedies under trade secret law
- Preparing for client meetings regarding a potential patent
- Writing a memorandum to general counsel about a misappropriation claim
Learn More About Intellectual Property Law
Explore the intellectual property section on state bar association websites or visit the American Intellectual Property Law Association for more intellectual property law information. You can also speak with advisors at law school to learn about the opportunities available to students wanting to specialize in intellectual law. Discover the possibilities available to you with an online Juris Doctor (JD) degree from the St. Francis School of Law.