Intellectual Property Lawyer  What They Do

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dotWhen farmers plant seeds in their fields, they own the crops that grow. They can later sell (or choose not to sell) them. In other words, they have the right to reap what they sow.

Similarly, those who create artistic works or industrial products have the exclusive right to profit from the fruits of their labors, unless they choose to sell or give away those rights.

It's the work of intellectual property (IP) lawyers to guard these rights. They help people and businesses protect the ownership of their creative efforts.

dotIt's much easier to protect the ownership of physical property than intellectual property. Intellectual property is easily copied and distributed. The Internet makes it especially easy to violate intellectual property rights.

"The number of materials posted online makes it really easy to copy and paste material, so that's always a concern," says IP lawyer Darryl Bilodeau.

Although new technology makes copyright infringement easier than ever, it can also help catch infringers. One example is new software that helps people find unauthorized uses of their photographs.

"It doesn't just look at the file names (which are easily changed), it actually looks at the physical image and compares it [with your original]," says Bilodeau. "So, for example, if you even crop the picture so it's just a portion of a bigger image, it can even detect that. It's physically examining the image."

dotIP lawyers work with patents, trademarks, copyrights and even trade secrets. They not only protect the product, but the idea of a product. Their work may even lead them into industrial design, geographic origin symbols or plant varieties.

IP lawyers work with two main categories: industrial property and copyright. Industrial property includes patents (inventions), trademarks (such as the Nike swoosh) and industrial designs. Meanwhile, copyright covers artistic works such as books, plays, movies, musical recordings and photographs.

Intellectual property lawyers specializing in scientific fields are in demand. One hot area is protecting the patents of biotech and pharmaceutical companies. A technical background is vital for lawyers specializing in patents.

"The patent agent must know the technology as well as the inventor in order to draft the patent application," says Bilodeau.

dotPeople with certain kinds of special needs may still be able to do this job. You need intellectual and communication skills in this profession. Problems with physical mobility should therefore not be a major limitation. Braille and other resources may also help those with related special needs overcome some of the challenges of the job.

At a Glance

Work with patents, trademarks and copyrights

  • This field of law is increasingly complex and technical
  • Most of IP lawyers work in big cities
  • You need to go to law school -- consider a scientific focus