From time to time (and even currently) questions are posted about these fields of law. Answers are given; sometimes accurate, sometimes not so accurate.
With the agreement of our Mod, Concerneddad, I have offered to post this basic overview of these areas of law, as a "pin". While I am hoping to avoid repeated reposting of the same questions, I know that its bound to happen anyway. So I'm requesting that anyone who sees a new posting of questions already addressed here direct the poster to this thread.
First, a summary of my own background. I am an attorney actively engaged in patent and other intellectual property law, and have practiced in these fields for longer than most posters on this board have been alive. The majority of my current practice is patent law, but my work has included trademarks, trade secrets, unfair competition and a little copyright law. I have been an in-house attorney and at law firms. I am not a litigator, but I have worked on several major litigation teams.
This post is aimed at providing information rather than opinions (even mine), so I will do my best to differentiate any of my opinions from facts by labeling them as such. If anyone sees a factual error in my posting, let me know. If you disagree with any of my opinions, well, you are entitled to your opinion; however, your opinion may or may not be as valid as mine.
I will NOT be covering law school admissions, law school rankings, the LSAT and the like. My experience with these is too far in the past to be useful today. However, if you want to be a patent lawyer, or any type of lawyer, and want to do best for yourself, in my opinion
you should try to get into the best law school that will admit you and challenge you and that you can afford. "Afford" is a subjective judgment on which I will not venture an opinion.
So, here we go.
is the area of law dealing with patents, which are Federal or foreign government grants of certain rights in inventions. Patents are a form of property that exists solely because of legislation. Work in patent law includes working with inventors or their employers, drafting (writing) patent applications, prosecuting them through one or more patent offices (corresponding with patent examiners, changing or amending patent applications, and arguing why the invention is patentable), evaluating the strength or nature of patents of your client or of someone else (for example in investigating patents of a company that is to be acquired or evaluating a proposed product of your client for possible infringement of patents of others), and drafting and negotiating patent licenses and other patent-related agreements.
INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY LAW
is a term that includes areas of law that relate to intellectual property, i.e. non-physical property that is a result of some mental activity. It includes patent law, trademark law, copyright law, trade secret law and unfair competition law. Intellectual property law can overlap with other areas of law, such as antitrust law and entertainment law.
involves issues around items such as names or other designations for products or services, logos, and domain names. It includes some matters relating to advertising, for example comparative advertising, to counterfeiting of products and to Internet-related issues such as banner ads, meta-tagging and rights to domain names.
involves rights in literary, musical and other artistic fields, and designs. Copyrights are vital in the advertising, entertainment and publishing fields, and are included in practically all contracts in these fields.
TRADE SECRET LAW
involves rights in technical and business confidential information or "know-how".
Attorneys practicing in trademarks, copyrights and trade secrets primarily will be helping clients establish rights in these fields via reviewing and registering trademarks or copyrights, evaluating rights of others in these fields that may affect their client's business, helping clients design procedures for protecting these rights and drafting or negotiating agreements that involve these rights, such as licenses.
takes place in all the above areas, for patent, trademark or copyright infringement or ownership of these rights, allegations of unfair competition in numerous ways, breach of licenses and other contracts and misappropriation or theft of trade secrets. Patent litigation is almost always conducted in federal courts in the U.S.; the others may be in Federal or state courts.
REQUIREMENTS FOR PRACTICING IN THESE FIELDS: No special education or training is required to practice in trademark, copyright, trade secret or unfair competition law, or to engage in litigation in these fields or in patent litigation.
However, if you are working in these fields, as in any other field of law, Bar regulations require that you only carry out work that you are competent to do. In addition, while no specific education or training is required to engage in patent litigation, a scientific background usually helps you better understand any technology that may be involved.
PATENT LAW: To act as a patent attorney, or to call yourself one, you must be registered to practice before the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO)
. This is a requirement if you are drafting or prosecuting patent applications in the U.S. Registration is attained by passing an examination given by the USPTO, but eligibility to take that examination is limited to people having certain technical or scientific education or alternately who meet certain other requirements. Rather than my attempting to list them all, please check the USPTO website at
It is not necessary to have attended law school in order to take the USPTO examination. It may be taken without ever having gone to law school or while you are in law school. If you are not an attorney, that is, you have not been admitted to a state bar (or the D.C. bar), and you pass the examination, you will become a Registered Patent Agent and may draft or prosecute patent applications on behalf of others (clients). You may give an opinion as to whether an invention appears to be patentable. However, you must be an attorney to give an opinion about an issued patent.
When applying for your first position as a patent attorney, it is a distinct plus if you have already taken and passed the USPTO examination.
A question that is often asked is whether a particular scientific background or degree is more suitable for patent law, or whether one would be more likely to lead to a higher paying job than another. In my opinion
this is a question that has no definite answer, especially when asked by someone just beginning college. There are opportunities to be a patent attorney in all of the fields listed in the USPTO registration requirements, and the opportunities in a given field vary widely with time, as well as with the economy. If you are beginning your college career, no-one can reasonably predict what opportunities will exist seven or eight years later, or what fields of technology will be "hot" when you will have finished both college and law school. In addition, you may change your mind about becoming a patent attorney in favor of some other career that you discover. You therefore should major in a subject that interests you and in which you can do well.
Some websites that have more information were posted by Hazmat and are
which is from the American Bar Association's Section of Intellectual Property Law, and
which was posted by a partner in an IP law firm. Note that this website contains information that is 5-10 years old and is out of date on some specifics, especially regarding the USPTO examination. However, it is fine on general matters such as what the practice of IP law involves, and how at least some employers look at one's qualifications.