Intellectual property lawyers are in high demand with many types of employers. You'll find IP lawyers in major corporations, law firms, universities, and government agencies. IP lawyers may also own their own businesses. The main employer of IP attorneys, however, is the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), which is part of the Department of Commerce. The USPTO employs lawyers as trademark examiners, patent examiners, and more. Other departments in the government that employ IP lawyers include the Departments of Defense, Interior, Justice, and Energy. IP lawyers can also find employment in the United States Copyright Office.
Although IP lawyers are in high demand all over the country, most work in large cities where the major corporations are headquartered. Other hot spots for IP lawyers include Washington, D.C., because of the government agencies located there, and Silicon Valley, California, because of its concentration of information technology-related firms.
As in any area of law, internships and clerkships are usually the path to a quality job. For those interested in patent law specifically, applying for a clerkship in the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Court in Washington, D.C., is a great way to gain experience. To apply for an unpaid, part-time internship during law school or soon after graduation, you should write directly to the court about six months in advance. Applicants can also search OSCAR, the Online System for Clerkship Application and Review (https://oscar.uscourts.gov) for available clerkships and clerkship information. To gain a full-time, paid clerkship position, law students should inquire sometime before the end of their second year. You can also apply for clerkships and internships with law firms. Another way to break into the IP law field is to get a job at the USPTO. Working directly with patents will put you in a better position for an IP job later in your career.
Most IP lawyers start out with internships and clerkships at firms or courts. In law firms, IP lawyers begin as low-rung associates and then advance as their experience and track records allow. Associates with successful reputations and many years of experience can become partners in the law firm. IP lawyers who work for universities may advance from assisting scientific and engineering groups to becoming professors of IP law. Whether in corporations, government agencies, or law firms, most IP lawyers, like other types of lawyers, are given more high-profile cases and more important clients as they become more experienced.
If interested in science- and technology-related intellectual property law, join a school or community organization that focuses on engineering or computing.
Contact intellectual property law firms to request an information interview.
Read and examine patent and trademark applications on the United States Patent and Trademark Office Web site (http://www.uspto.gov).