What is Intellectual Property Law?

The U.S. Constitution authorizes Congress to protect intellectual property—the fruits of mental labor. Article One includes this statement of purpose: “…To promote the Progress of Science and the useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.” As a new lawyer, what career opportunities might intellectual property law present for you?

Intellectual Property Law Basics:

The basic areas of federal IP Law include:


Patents are legal protections granted for tangible inventions. Administered by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), a patent grants “the right to exclude others” from using or selling the protected invention for a specific period of time.


Copyrights are legal protections for “original works of authorship” such as literature, music, pictures, graphics, sound recordings, architectural works and other artistic expressions.


Trademarks are legal protections that safeguard the names, phrases, logos and symbols that identify the producer of specific goods and/or services.

In addition to these constitutionally derived federal protections, each state has its own law to protect “trade secrets” — the proprietary recipes, formulas and methods that provide a competitive edge in the marketplace. Taken together, the federal and state IP laws are complex enough; but when one adds an international dimension this playing field affords a career of infinitely interesting challenges.

What does an IP Law Attorney Do?

Within this legal framework, intellectual property lawyers work to protect client interests and to enforce the applicable laws. Technological advances, globalization and the rise of cyber-crime all have served to make IP law a dynamic and complex arena.

The Future for IP Lawyers

IP law is generally seen as a dynamic practice area—one that promises steady growth during the years ahead. In recent years the market for IP jobs has been strong, both for in-house counsel and in Big Law—and these opportunities continue to expand.

This dynamic market isn’t popular with everyone, however. Pessimistic IP law practitioners voice concerns about the commoditization of these legal services—where routine matters are inexpensively processed via artificial intelligence templates. Cost-conscious clients are watching their IP law expenses and asking “Why can’t you provide these services at a lower rate?”

As the need for IP law specialists grows, the market will favor practitioners with understanding of international IP laws. Likewise, technological skills will be an increasingly important capability.

Intellectual Property Law Resources

IP Law is an area where an attorney’s deep understanding of another field can result in a powerful career combination. So consider your experience, training, and undergraduate coursework—and your language skills. You may have the ingredients for an attractive IP law brand.

Want to learn more about IP law? You may enjoy viewing the American Bar Association’s video series “IP Is All Around Us”. Current videos in this series include:

  • The laboratories of Eli Lilly’s ImClone Systems;
  • Historical archives of AT&T;
  • The stadium of the New York Red Bulls soccer team;
  • The cellars of City Winery in New York City; and
  • The home of Julie Gold, Grammy-award winning songwriter of “From A Distance” (as performed by Bette Midler).

Or visit these links:

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