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Intellectual Property Law: What do Intellectual Property Lawyers do?

Intellectual Property law (or IP law) protects creations made by businesses or individuals.

Due to the nature of the work involved, intellectual property lawyers are likely to work for companies in the technology, life sciences, media and IT sectors where intellectual property is fundamental to a company’s business strategies.

Read on to find out more about this fascinating area of legal practice.

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What is Intellectual Property?

Intellectual property is a unique and physical creation, not just an idea. For example, an idea for an environmentally friendly plastic is not intellectual property, however, once this concept materialises into a physical form, it may be considered as such.

Intellectual property can be separated into various categories such as trademarks, copyrights, patents and design rights.

In a world that highly values innovation and where ideas develop quickly, it is important for both businesses and individuals to protect their creations from others who try to profit from them.

What is Intellectual Property Law?

Intellectual property law is a specialist area of property law that governs the ownership of creative property. The law encompasses a broad range of legal disciplines including tort, contract and competition law.

This subject is both contentious and non-contentious. Clients who bring forward IP cases seek commercial advice concerning protection of their product designs, advertising and licencing among others. They may also need litigation support if someone is stealing their intellectual property or infringing on their rights.

Why is Intellectual Property Law Important?

Intellectual property is an important asset in any company, especially if the nature of the company’s work is inventive.

The technology and life sciences sectors, for example, are innovating rapidly, and key players in these fields are focusing on investing in research and new products. Intellectual property law protects these products and is therefore fundamental to support a company’s continued growth.

Technology and the age of the internet have sparked numerous problems for establishing IP rights. Websites illegally streaming films, TV and music are everywhere and artists are just now finding that their intellectual property rights have been infringed online.

Globalisation and cross-border disputes over intellectual property rights make this area of law even more complex, especially with the difficulties in enforcing penalties to those infringing another’s IP rights across two or more jurisdictions.

Brexit also introduces some interesting questions concerning trademark law. Where UK businesses have opted for the EU trademark (as this is much broader in scope), they may now need to reapply for the UK trademark, which is likely to cause disputes arising over trademark conflicts.

What are Intellectual Property Rights?

Intellectual property rights can be separated into rights that must be registered and rights that are automatically protected. Registered rights require applying to the relevant official body. In the UK, it’s the Intellectual Property Office.

The benefit of registering your rights over your intellectual property is that this provides a much clearer position over any dispute relating to another using your IP without your permission. Examples of intellectual property that have to be registered include inventions under patents and trademarks for companies.

Unregistered rights offer automatic protection of the property. IP eligible for automatic protection include unregistered design rights and confidential information, among others.

What do Intellectual Property Lawyers do?

Intellectual Property Lawyers work closely with businesses, guiding them through the process of acquiring, protecting and using intellectual property such as patents and copyrights.

This may involve assisting your client with selecting product names and shapes, registering a trademark, taking your client through the patenting process and advising on the most commercially viable option to bring their product to market.

For this reason, intellectual property lawyers need to have creative minds and be comfortable dealing with complex and technically demanding subjects. They may also be brought into contractual work, working on IP-based acquisitions or offering IP expertise in business transactions and licensing deals.

Litigation also plays a big part in the work intellectual property lawyers do because naturally, disputes will advise. Whether that’s objecting to new trademark applications that may damage your branding or suing those who are copying your intellectual property.

Aspiring IP lawyers should expect to be working on many projects at once, all with their own technical specialties and complexities. Depending on the firm and the department size and structure, you might be working in a highly specialist area such as copyright litigation, or elsewhere. You may be expected to work in numerous areas at once.

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Intellectual Property Lawyer Salary

Below are approximate salaries to expect working in the field.

*Values have been taken from various websites detailing salary expectations in the UK for patent lawyers and IP solicitors and are only an estimate.

Barristers can potentially earn more than solicitors. Having said that, it is important to note that barristers’ income is less stable than a solicitor’s due to the fact that barristers are self-employed and have no guaranteed income. Barristers are also more likely to specialise in a particular area of IP law.

Intellectual Property Law Firms

Bristows boasts offices in both London and Brussels (where it’s headquartered). The firm has advised on the patenting of the first electrical telegraph and has provided legal advice to the UK’s genome sequencing project.

DLA Piper has an enormous international reach, and trainees can expect to experience a variety of work. There are offices all over the UK, so you don’t necessarily have to work in London.

Burges Salmon is a big player in Bristol, offering commercially salient advice to high profile global brands. With offices in London and Edinburgh too.

Intellectual Property Law Books:

Below are some reading suggestions if you want to do some further research:

NameAuthorPrice (approximate)
Intellectual Property LawLionel Bently, Brad Sherman, Dev Gangjee, Phillip Johnson£45
A History of Intellectual Property in 50 Objects (Hardback)Claudy Op Den Kamp and Dan Hunter£25
Information Doesn’t Want to Be Free: Laws for the Internet AgeCory Doctorow£10
The Economist Guide to Intellectual Property: What it is, How to protect it, How to exploit itStephen Johnson£15
Contemporary Intellectual Property: Law and PolicyAbbe Brown, Smita Kheria and Jane Cornwell and Marta Iljadica£35

Words: Freya Oldaker

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