Background

What is Intellectual Property Law?
Intellectual Property law deals with laws to protect and enforce rights of the creators and owners of inventions, writing, music, designs and other works, known as the "intellectual property." There are several areas of intellectual property including copyright, trademarks, patents, and trade secrets.

Copyright law protects the rights of creators in their works in fine arts, publishing, entertainment, and computer software. The laws protect the owner of the work if others copy, present, or display the owners work without permission.

Trademark law protects a word, phrase, symbol or design that is used by an entity to identify its product or service. Examples are Dunkin Donuts orange and pink sausage style lettering, Apple's apple logo, and Adidas' three stripes. Trademark owners can prevent others from using their marks, or marks which are confusingly similar so that consumers would not be able to identify the source. Federal and state laws govern trademarks but the Lanham Act is the primary source of trademark protection. These laws protect against infringement and dilution. Rights in trademarks are gained by being the first to use a trademark in commerce or being the first to register the mark with the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

Patent law grants protection for new inventions which can be products, processes or designs and provides a mechanism for protection of the invention.The patent law promotes the sharing of new developments with others to foster innovation. The patent owner has the right to protect others from producing, using, distributing or importing the protected item. Essentially the patent is a property right that can be licensed, sold, mortgaged or assigned.

Trade secrets are business practices, formulas, designs or processes used in a business, designed specifically to provide a competitive advantage to a business. These trade secrets would not be otherwise known to an "outsider" of the business. An example of this is the formula for Coca Cola. Trade secrets are protected without registration and appropriate steps should be taken by the owner to maintain confidentiality.

What do Intellectual Property lawyers do?
The three broadest segments of an intellectual property practice are counseling, protecting and enforcing. Client counseling centers around how best to protect the intellectual property that the client has or would like to develop. In trademark law, the lawyer will conduct searches on trademarks proposed by the client and counsel the client with respect to availability. In cases where a client has already invested time, energy and money, and a prior use in a similar industry is found, discussions with a client might include modifying or even abandoning the client's mark. In the case of patent counseling, the lawyer must have a technical background in order to best understand the client's patent and to assess its validity or likelihood of patent infringement.

Protection of intellectual property involves registering the trademark, patent or copyright to obtain the greatest rights available for the client's asset. In the case of a trademark or patent, the process involves preparing and filing an application with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) and responding to actions issues by the PTO until the trademark is registered or patent issues.

Finally, enforcement of intellectual property involves protecting the owner of the intellectual property against infringing uses. This can lead to litigation in federal court.

Other components of practice may include licensing, due diligence in connection with mergers or acquisitions, and developing strategies for international and domestic intellectual property protection, Skills that are helpful for lawyers in the IP area are communication skills-both written and oral, negotiation skills, and business acumen. Intellectual property law frequently has domestic and international considerations.

What to do if you're interested in pursuing a career in Intellectual Property Law

Georgetown Law Courses/Clinics

  • Intellectual Property Legislative Process Seminar
  • Intellectual Property in World Trade
  • Law of Advertising
  • Trademark Prosecution
  • Patent Prosecution and Enforcement Seminar
  • Advanced Copyright Law Seminar
  • Advanced Patent Law Seminar
  • Antitrust and Intellectual Property Seminar
  • Biotechnology and Patent Law Seminar
  • Computer Crime Seminar
  • Copyright Law: Advanced
  • Intellectual Property and Computer Software Seminar
  • Intellectual Property in World Trade
  • Intellectual Property Litigation: Pretrial Skills
  • Patent Trial Practice
  • Antitrust and Intellectual Property Seminar
  • Patent Licensing Seminar

Other courses may include general coursework in litigation, administrative and constitutional law and we refer you to the curriculum guide for further details.

Georgetown Law Student Groups

  • Student Intellectual Property Law Association (SIPLA)

Relevant Bar Associations

Most state bar associations will also have an intellectual property section and a list is also maintained on the AIPLA website.

Where it's Hot
Patent law is hot almost everywhere with a particularly strong market in California and DC where many boutique firms are located. Wherever there are large corporations centered on manufacturing, pharmaceutical development or any type of production and innovation, there will be an attendant need for legal patent support. Certain types of technical degrees are in stronger demand and these include electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, biotech engineering and computer engineering.