Guide to Intellectual Property Law

By: Harrison Barnes

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Probably the hottest practice group in all respects for the past several years has been intellectual property law. However, many attorneys have little idea (1) what the definition of intellectual property law is, (2) why intellectual property is so popular, and (3) the four types of intellectual property attorneys and what area is the most marketable. The purpose of this article is to answer the question ”What is IP law?” and these other two questions.

A. What is the definition of Intellectual Property Law?

1. Intellectual Property is a Term Encompassing Several Different Fields

On a daily basis, attorneys call us and say they want to do intellectual property law. We are always interested in talking to an attorney with experience in intellectual property law because it is, generally speaking, one of hottest practice areas in the United States. Most sophisticated firms in every market that we serve have an interest in intellectual property attorneys with certain backgrounds. However, "intellectual property law" is a very general term. There are many types of intellectual property law, and many areas of intellectual property law are not hot at all. To define what intellectual property law means and what’s hot and what’s not is very important to our discussion.

One of the most amusing facets of intellectual property law to us is that unless someone is practicing it, or quite familiar with it, he/she is unlikely to have a good idea about what the meaning of intellectual property law is. We have found that there is a bit of confusion with respect to what it really means to be an intellectual property lawyer.

Recently, one of our recruiters received a call from the Managing Partner of a well-known law firm. This Managing Partner had been practicing law in excess of two decades and was very well known in a practice area other than intellectual property. This a rough approximation of what this conversation went like:

Similarly, each and every day we receive calls from associates who say something like the following to us: "I am currently a litigator; however, I went to X Law School, which is ranked very highly in intellectual property law. I want to join a firm where I can do more intellectual property law." When this same associate is asked what kind of intellectual property law he/she would like to do, he/she inevitably replies, "What do you mean?" At that we point we guess that the caller really doesn’t know what the answer to this question is: what do intellectual property attorneys do?

If you are already an intellectual property attorney, you can appreciate how humorous these conversations are when someone asks (after a while): what is an intellectual property lawyer anyway? At the end of this article, if you currently know little about intellectual property law, you will understand why these exchanges are so humorous.

2. What Intellectual Property Attorneys Do

The term "intellectual property" is used in its general sense to describe:

A product of the intellect that has commercial value, including copyrighted property such as literary or artistic works, and ideational property, such as patents, appellations of origin, business methods, and industrial processes. (The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Copyright© 2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by the Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.)

Intellectual property examples include music, books, movies, artwork, product names, logos, slogans and packaging, inventions that qualify for patent protection, and information that is kept secret and not commonly known. Over the past 200 years, a variety of laws have developed within the United States to give intellectual works the same protections that real estate or other forms of property enjoy under the law. Indeed, intellectual property can be bought or sold just like a house or a car. Intellectual property types can even be leased out.