Intellectual Property Law

Career Path Introduction

Today, intellectual property (IP) is often the most important asset for a business, whether it's a small startup or a large multinational corporation. A musician needs help stopping infringement of copies of her music online. A biotech company needs protection for its newly developed biosimilar treatment. A fashion company needs assistance stopping counterfeits of its clothing lines. These are all a part of IP law.

Intellectual property refers to creations of the human mind that have commercial worth and that may entitle the creator to a patent, copyright, trademark, trade secret, or other property right depending on the type of the underlying subject matter. Nearly every business must, at some point, consider pursuing IP protection for their trademarks, works of expression, and innovative products and methods.

The fast-developing advances of technology make the practice of intellectual property today one of the most exciting and stimulating areas for lawyers to specialize in. Lawyers who practice in intellectual property help entities to protect their intellectual property and to enforce their rights against unauthorized uses, such as counterfeits of famous trademarked goods and infringing versions of patented inventions or copyrighted works.

As a form of intangible property, intellectual property gives the owner a right to exclude others from certain uses of the property. In addition, IP lawyers help businesses and individuals defend themselves against other IP owners' claims of infringement. IP attorneys also help negotiate licensing agreements, as well as the acquisition of intellectual property.

IP lawyers practice in law firms (including large and medium-sized law firms, smaller boutique IP firms, and solo practices), in-house practices of corporate law departments, the legal departments of large research universities, government agencies such as the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office, and, in some instances, nonprofits that specialize in issues related to intellectual property. In a typical day, IP attorneys may represent clients in federal and state court or before the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and International Trade Commission. They may draft licensing and purchase agreements. They may write briefs, take depositions, interview witnesses or appear in court. They may advise clients on strategies to grow the value of their IP portfolios.

IP attorneys typically specialize in one or two areas of intellectual property, although some attorneys take on a broader range of IP cases. The three primary areas of practice are: (1) patents (utility), (2) copyright, and (3) trademarks. Design patents and trade secrets are also important areas of IP practice.

Patent attorneys concentrate on protecting inventions. Many patent attorneys have undergraduate and often advanced degrees in the sciences, computer science, or engineering. In order to practice before the U.S. Patent Office (USPTO) and prosecute utility patent applications, individuals must have an undergraduate degree with a major in one of the sciences (Category A) designated by the USPTO or in another subject (Category B) with sufficient hours of study in the sciences. For more information, visit

However, a science degree is not required for attorneys who want to litigate patent cases in court. While a science or technical background is often helpful, a number of patent litigators have no formal science degree. Patent attorneys represent clients from various industries, ranging from biotechnology and bioscience, pharmaceuticals and nanotechnology to software development, medical devices, automotive and electronics.

Copyright attorneys deal with cases involving the protection of works of expression, including films, books, music and computer programs. Copyright attorneys represent clients in publishing, fine arts, music, television, film and entertainment, as well as tech companies and Internet service providers that must handle notices of infringement from copyright holders under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. No science background is required.

Trademark attorneys protect the marks of a company's identity, including its name, visual identity, and associated phrases and slogans. Trademark practice typically involves filing for registrations of trademarks in the U.S. Trademark Office and other countries, policing unauthorized third-party uses of a client's trademarks that might be infringing, and litigating trademark infringement claims in court. No science background is required.

Two other areas of IP practice are also important. Design patents involve protection of designs of items, especially commercial products. Attorneys file for design patents with the Patent Office. Attorneys who file for design patents must also pass the patent bar and fulfill the requisite science background discussed above for utility patents. Trade secrets involve protection under state law for secret formulas, recipes, processes, and other know-how. Trade secrets often relate to inventions, the same subject matter as the patent system.

IP lawyers benefit from strong writing, speaking and interpersonal skills; strong negotiating skills; and a substantive understanding of both business and technology. During law school, students who wish to become IP lawyers can gain valuable experience as judicial clerks, as externs and part-time clerks at IP law firms, as research assistants to their IP professors, and as students in the Patent Clinic or the Entrepreneurial Law Clinic.

Students with science backgrounds also may work as patent agents at small or large law firms. At Chicago-Kent, students also can compete on interscholastic moot court teams and edit the student-run Chicago-Kent Journal of Intellectual Property.

Chicago-Kent offers a J.D. Certificate in Intellectual Property Law requiring concentrated IP course work culminating in a practical "Capstone Experience" in which students apply their knowledge to a problem-solving simulation or an actual case.

>> Learn about the certificate program curriculum and requirements.

>> View J.D. courses relating to intellectual property law.

Related: Chicago-Kent also offers an LL.M. in International Intellectual Property Law and is home to IIT's Master of Intellectual Property Management and Markets program, which offers both on-campus and online degree options.

>> Visit the J.D. Certificate Program in Intellectual Property Law faculty page to learn about Chicago-Kent faculty who teach courses relating to this area of law.

Academic Centers and Institutes

The Center for Design, Law & Technology (c∆) fosters research that examines a range of topics related to design, including legal protections of design in the United States and internationally, creativity and innovation in design, and design thinking and problem solving.

The Center for Empirical Studies of Intellectual Property promotes the application of quantitative and qualitative social science methods to studying important questions about innovation and creativity. It is the first academic center of its kind at an American law school.

Student Organizations

The Intellectual Property Law Society coordinates closely with Chicago-Kent's IP program and with local IP practitioners to provide its members with a practical perspective on the practice of IP law.

The Chicago-Kent Journal of Intellectual Property presents articles that analyze the fundamental issues affecting intellectual property rights; the changing climate of different areas of intellectual property, especially related to advances in technology; and issues surrounding recent judicial opinions and how they may affect the future of IP rights.

The Art and Cultural Property Law Society promotes the study of art, museum, and cultural heritage law and prepares students for practice in these fields by organizing networking, speaking, and informational events with practicing attorneys and other professionals; providing informational resources to students; and enhancing the student experience by encouraging creative expression and making art more accessible to the law school community.

Related Organizations and Programs

Chicago-Kent is a co-sponsor of the Chicago Intellectual Property Colloquium, a series of presentations by IP scholars from around the country about their works in progress. Students may apply to participate in the discussions as Colloquium Fellows.

Chicago-Kent is a founding member of the Chicago Intellectual Property Alliance and has close working ties with the Intellectual Property Law Association of Chicago.