Intellectual property is an expansive area of law that is well-suited to people who enjoy learning about new technologies, products, and businesses. It enforces the rights held in intangible property, as opposed to real or personal property. Attorneys who prosecute (i.e., “draft”) patent applications must have a science background and must pass the patent bar exam, which is administered by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Lawyers without a science background can still serve as patent litigators, copyright attorneys, trademark attorneys, entertainment attorneys, international IP attorneys, sports agents, and trademark examiners. The practice of IP law may focus on patents, copyrights, trademarks, or trade secrets, or lawyers may work more generally with various types of intellectual property.

A patent is a property right in an invention that prevents anyone other than the owner of the patent from making, using, selling, or importing the invention for a certain period of time. The USPTO awards patents upon application showing that the invention is "new, useful, and nonobvious" and meets certain other criteria. Patent attorneys draft patent applications for their clients, handle patent infringement cases — which are litigated in federal court — and occasionally negotiate and draft licensing agreements.

A copyright is a property right in the original expression of an idea in tangible form, regardless of whether that expression is manifested in visual or performing arts, or another medium. Copyright attorneys counsel artists of all types — from playwrights and painters to choreographers, composers, and architects — regarding their rights in their work. They also negotiate contracts protecting these rights and represent their clients in suits to enforce them.

A trademark is a distinctive word, phrase, symbol, or design used by a company or merchant to identify the origin of a product or service. Trademark attorneys help their clients choose marks that will not violate others' trademark rights, register marks with the USPTO, investigate possible unauthorized uses of trademarks, undertake litigation to stop unauthorized uses of trademarks, defend clients who are accused of infringing on others' trademark rights, and negotiate and draft licenses for the use of trademarks.

A trade secret consists of confidential information that adds economic value to a business by virtue of the fact that only a limited number of people have the information and the owner of the information has taken steps to keep it secret. Attorneys who work with trade secrets advise clients on ways to keep their information confidential, develop strategies to prevent trade secret litigation, and litigate cases in which a trade secret is alleged to have been improperly acquired. In many cases, they file a motion for a restraining order or preliminary injunction to prevent former employees and competitors from misappropriating their clients' trade secrets. They also draft non-compete agreements, non-disclosure agreements, licensing agreements, and other legal documents meant to protect their clients' trade secrets.

Professional Resources

  • Every year, SFIPLA puts on a job fair in San Francisco for its student members. Student members pay an annual fee of $25 and must have an address within the organization's membership area.
  • This is "is a two-day interview program held in Chicago each summer that brings together patent law employers and law students from across the country to interview for summer associate positions and post-graduate employment."