Intellectual Property AttorneyJob Description, Salary, Career Path, and Trends

An intellectual property attorney handles cases related to property that results from mental efforts and intellectual labor, such as inventions, logos, and works of art. Intellectual property attorneys deal with patents, trademarks, and copyrights for these three types of intellectual property. Some intellectual property attorneys also deal with issues involving trade secrets — the formulas, patterns, and devices companies use to make their products.

Intellectual property attorneys draft, negotiate, interpret, and advise clients on agreements and contracts related to intellectual property (IP). Some of these topics include license agreements, non-disclosure agreements, manufacturing agreements, and supply agreements. Intellectual property attorneys who work for a particular company also may review company inventions and innovations to determine whether they can be patented. They would also draft and file the paperwork necessary to obtain patents for those inventions. Also, intellectual property attorneys assist with franchising, distribution, and technology transfers.

Sample job description

Intellectual property attorneys work to protect the rights of both companies and individuals over their created material. This is an important role because they assist in protecting both products and inventions from being profited upon by other parties. Intellectual property can take the form of copyrights, patents, design rights, and trademarks. An effective intellectual property attorney is creative and capable of dealing with complex subject matter, so a broad base of technical knowledge in specialized topics is critical for career success. [Your Company Name] is hiring experienced intellectual property attorneys to take our business above and beyond. If you have experience in creating patents, licensing trademarks, and licensing agreements, an intellectual property attorney position at our company could be a good fit for you. 

Typical duties and responsibilities

  • Draft and manage agreements involving IP, including license agreements, manufacturing agreements, and supply agreements
  • Advise and counsel clients on matters related to intellectual property, including patents, trademarks, and copyrights
  • Draft, file and prosecute patent applications on behalf of clients

Education and experience

This position requires a Juris Doctorate as well as a license to practice law in the state where the candidate will work. Employers recommend candidates take college courses in science, engineering, and technology-related subjects. Candidates also need a passing grade on the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) registration examination and admission to the Patent Bar.

Required skills and qualifications

  • Written and verbal communication skills
  • Knowledge of U.S. patent laws
  • Research skills
  • Analytical thinking
  • Expertise in negotiation

Preferred qualifications

  • Exceptionally analytical 
  • Excellent communication skills
  • J.D. and certifications on top of it
  • Great interpersonal skills
  • 3+ years working in a law firm

Average salary and compensation

The average salary for an intellectual property attorney is $130,000 in the United States. Position salary will vary based on experience, education, company size, industry, and market.

LocationSalary LowSalary High
Phoenix, Arizona$129,300$174,900
Los Angeles, California$145,850$197,350
Denver, Colorado$121,550$164,450
Washington, DC$148,050$200,350
Miami, Florida$121,000$163,700
Orlando, Florida$111,600$151,000
Tampa, Florida$112,700$152,500
Atlanta, Georgia$118,250$159,950
Chicago, Illinois$135,900$183,900
Boston, Massachusetts$146,950$198,850
Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota$117,150$158,450
New York City, New York$154,700$209,300
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania$125,950$170,450
Dallas, Texas$122,650$165,950
Houston, Texas$121,550$164,450
Seattle, Washington$141,450$191,350
National Average$110,500$149,500

Typical work environment

Most intellectual property attorneys work in offices, libraries, or courtrooms at desks. Long hours are typical for intellectual property attorneys (35% report working more than 50 hours a week), because a lot of time spent on the work is conducted outside of the parameters of normal business hours, such as research or preparing briefs for cases. Lawyers working on salary, however, may enjoy the perks of prearranged work schedules. 

Typical hours

The work hours in an office setting for an intellectual property attorney are usually from 9 AM to 5 PM. However, many attorneys work more than 40 hours a week, especially when nearing deadlines or preparing for court proceedings.

Available certifications

Although being an intellectual property lawyer requires years of formal academic rigor, many institutions offer different certifications to help in the process. Check out the following:

  • Certificate in Patent Law. The Certificate in Patent Law can be taken fully online and is designed to introduce students to all aspects of property law, such as patent, copyright, trademark, and trade secrets. The certificate involves three courses: Introduction to Intellectual Property, Patent Law, Patent Preparation & Prosecution. It is offered by Campbell University’s Norman Adrian Wiggins School of Law. Earning a Certificate in Patent Law can be a valuable next step towards becoming an effective intellectual property attorney.

Career path

Intellectual property attorneys must have a Juris Doctorate from an accredited law school and a license to practice law in the state where they work. They will also need to be admitted to the Patent Bar. A bachelor’s degree is required to pursue a J.D. degree. College coursework in subjects like science, engineering, and other technology subjects is preferred.

Most attorneys start in law firms as associates, then progress on either a partner or non-partner track, leading to positions as partners, senior attorneys, or of counsel. Corporations can also employ some intellectual property attorneys, engineering and technology firms, or media companies.

US, Bureau of Labor Statistics’ job outlook

SOC Code: 23-1011

2020 Employment804,200
Projected Employment in 2030876,578
Projected 2020-2030 Percentage Shift 9% increase
Projected 2020-2030 Numeric Shift71,500 increase

Intellectual property is incredibly valuable to companies. Since there are always new developments in science and technology, the need for intellectual property attorneys who specialize in those topics is increasing. Even in times of economic uncertainty, people keep imagining, creating, and inventing, so the need for intellectual property attorneys tends to be unaffected by economic twists and turns.

According to the career planning website The Balance Careers, the internet’s prevalence in daily life has led to a growth in intellectual property crimes such as internet piracy and cybersquatting, which is the act of registering a domain on the internet to profit from the goodwill of someone else’s trademark. Intellectual property attorneys working in the field say other trademark issues could have major impacts on IP law. For example, an upcoming U.S. Supreme Court decision involves whether adding “.com” to a generic mark constitutes a trademark, and another Supreme Court case concerns the ability to copyright a software interface. 

Sample interview questions

  • Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?
  • Where do you see yourself in ten years?
  • Tell me about a complex legal issue you’ve worked on and explain how you dealt with it.
  • Have you ever worked on a case that produced ethical qualms for you? How did you approach it? What did you learn from it?
  • How do you handle a disagreement with a superior over a legal matter? 
  • Can you elaborate on a situation in which you were unsuccessful? How did you approach it?
  • What interests you most about working as a part of the justice system?
  • What is your biggest weakness when it comes to the workplace environment?
  • Why do you want to work at this law firm?
  • How do you find a balance between work and home life?
  • Why have you chosen to pursue a career in the legal field?
  • Describe any legal papers you’ve written.
  • How do you build trust with your clients?
  • How do you manage a large caseload?
  • What areas of law are you most interested in?

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