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How to become an Intellectual Property Lawyer

Intellectual Property law is now considered a “hot” practice group because of the speed at which the Internet and technology is advancing in the Information Age. In recent years, there has been much publicity about the unlawful copying and distribution of intellectual property on the Internet. It is very important for online businesses to protect their most valuable asset, their intellectual property. Businesses need to make sure their employees are educated against the misuse of IP as well as protecting their IP from appropriation by third parties. Intellectual property lawyers are professionals who are trained and licensed in the practise of intellectual property law, including the commercialisation and protection of IP and also the prosecution of IP infringement.

For those who are considering a career in IP law, the following questions are relevant:

  • What is IP law?
  • What do IP lawyers do?
  • What qualifications are required?
  • What other career options are available for IP lawyers?

Definition of IP law

In accordance with Article 2(viii) of the Convention Establishing the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), which Australia has ratified, IP includes the rights relating to:

  • literary, artistic and scientific works,
  • performances of performing artists, phonograms, and broadcasts,
  • inventions in all fields of human endeavor,
  • scientific discoveries,
  • industrial designs,
  • trademarks, service marks, and commercial names and designations,
  • protection against unfair competition,

and all other rights resulting from intellectual activity in the industrial, scientific, literary or artistic fields.

IP is associated with creativity and the inventiveness in the products and services we use in our everyday lives. It is found in books, movies, music, logos, inventions, slogans and formulas. IP law is a broad field that deals with products of the intellect and it encompasses multifarious (often complex) regimes. These regimes include but are not limited to copyright, designs law, trade marks, patents, circuit layouts, plant variety rights/plant breeder’s rights, domain names, common law passing off, and breach of confidence/trade secrets.

What IP lawyers do

The work of IP lawyers is constantly evolving. IP law has in recent years needed to evolve with major social and technological changes such as the emergence of computer apps, cloud computing, drones, artificial intelligence, 3D printing and data analytics. This presents new challenges to IP lawyers in an environment of rapidly changing law and emerging technologies.

In general, IP lawyers often engage in the following areas of work:

  • Trade marks
  • Copyright
  • Designs
  • Patents
  • Confidential information and trade secrets
  • IP strategy and portfolio management
  • IP litigation and enforcement
  • Commercialisation (e.g technology licensing, research and development agreements, assignment of IP rights, distribution, and outsourcing contracts)

Qualifications of IP lawyers

First, a law degree! To become a lawyer in Australia one needs to complete a bachelor’s or juris doctor’s degree in law and fulfils the admission requirements. A basic foundation of IP law is important but not compulsory. IP lawyers with an extra technical degree (in engineering, biology, chemistry, physics) have an advantage as they can be qualified to practise as patent attorneys later on.

One of the reasons it is challenging for law graduates to kick-start their career in IP law is because as lawyers they are still required to understand basic principles of legal practice to best assist their clients.

Therefore, many IP lawyers begin their career in commercial and other areas of law to learn the general framework and different types of legal issues and broaden their overall legal skills. Since licensing and commercial contracts form a significant part of IP law, IP practice is integrated with corporate practice in many law firms. For this reason, starting a legal career with a focus on corporate or commercial transactions is an advantage for aspiring IP lawyers.

Second, a lawyer needs to be a person of good character, that is, for IP lawyers, they must not have committed any offences in the last five years. This ensures that people who register in this field (as patent and trade marks attorneys) will be responsible with their power and operate within the rules of their practice once registered.

Finally, a passion for IP law. Like many other careers, successful IP lawyers are incredibly progressive and passionate about what they do. IP becomes more complex as innovations and creations evolve, which requires IP lawyers to be commercially minded and have an appetite for technical (and fun!) stuff in order to work with highly qualified clients including engineers, IT and computer experts, designers, and artists.

Other career options for IP lawyers

A career in IP law offers flexibility as there are many fields in which you can apply your skills. This includes working as a solicitor, an IP barrister, in the corporate sector, policy maker or government regulator, academia, working for IP Australia and more. You can also work as a registered trade mark attorney or registered patent attorney.

To become a registered patent attorney in Australia, you must:

  • Be a resident of Australia;
  • hold a degree, diploma, advanced diploma or graduate diploma recognised under the Australian Qualification Framework;
  • pass the examinations in at least 9 prescribed courses OR an accredited course that meets the requirements for Registration;
  • have experience in employment with patent related work for at least two consecutive years or for a total of two years within a five year time period; and
  • submit a statement of skill written by a registered patent attorney with a registration of at least 5 years.

To register as a Trade Mark Attorney, you must:

  • have a degree or post-graduate qualification, and
  • pass examinations in four prescribed subject groups.

Another career option is to work as an IP Portfolio Manager, Brand Protection Manager, or In-House Counsel (e.g. such as Nike, an in-house lawyer who acts only for Nike and is employed by them).

In short, for those who value innovation and creativity, IP law is a rewarding and exciting career choice. It’s a long road but it’s worth it!

Please call us on 1300 776 614 for a chat about your legal requirements.
Disclaimer. The material in this post represents general information only and should not be taken to be legal advice.

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