Intellectual property (IP) law is designed to protect the rights of people with intangible assets, such as writing, music, drawings, paintings, films and trade secrets. Accordingly, IP lawyers assist clients with asserting ownership of their assets using patents, copyrights, trademarks, licensing agreements, and more. In addition, they represent clients upon whose intellectual property other parties have infringed. Occasionally these cases - such as the dispute between Apple and Samsung - generate enormous publicity, with vast amounts of money at stake. While many IP lawyers are generalists, some specialise in specific areas of intellectual property law, such as patent litigation or trademark registration.
Intellectual property is a burgeoning field of the law, with some of its central challenges - such as the control of online piracy and the enforcement of international patents - still (at least partially) unresolved, requiring lawyers to apply existing laws in novel ways while advocating for appropriate legislation and improved enforcement.
Fortunately, this makes IP law a stimulating specialisation, in which graduates can expect to work with a range of clients, some of whom may be household names. It can also be satisfying to work with new businesses to protect their IP and ensure they can make an impact in the marketplace.
A large part of being an IP lawyer involves managing client expectations. This can be particularly difficult when you receive an outcome that your client finds unsatisfactory - for them, there are often large investments of time and money and stake, not to mention potential future revenue. IP lawyers must also be prepared to commit to rigorous continuing professional development so they can stay abreast of any chances to relevant domestic and international laws.
IP law is a complex and dynamic field that many graduates enter only after completing a relevant postgraduate degree, such as a Masters of Intellectual Property Law. Thereafter, their experience will depend on the specifics of their early career choices. For example, intellectual property lawyers in private firms can expect a high degree of professional supervision, especially if assigned to sensitive cases. Alternatively, graduates may choose to work in the public sector for organizations such as IP Australia, a government agency that oversees the administration of Australian intellectual property laws, enforcing trademarks, patents, designs and plant breeder’s rights. Here, they are likely to require less supervision, insofar as most available positions will require them to have amassed experience in previous IP-related roles.
Intellectual property lawyers may choose to apply their skills at a specialist firm, in the IP department of a large general law firm, or in-house for a company that requires frequent IP advice. This last category includes a broad range of potential employers, from movie production houses to pharmaceutical manufacturers. Generally, graduates will begin their IP careers by working closely with associates or partners on smaller cases before moving on to more complex challenges. In terms of selecting a specialisation, the good news is that the complexities of intellectual property law mean that areas of expertise continue to multiply.