While many may assume that the legal arena is the primary employment venue for IP, this is not the case. Let us examine some of the different positions that comprise this industry and why they are vital to the sector and the global economy.
The IP universe at a glance
In 2020, inventors and organizations filed approximately 275,000 patent applications through the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) system of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). This represented a 4% increase from 2019 despite the large-scale economic disruption of the coronavirus pandemic, continuing an upward trend since 2010. Given its striking resilience, it is reasonable to project this growth in patent submissions will last long into the future. Some of the top inventive categories in which patents were submitted via the PCT framework in 2020 were computer technology, digital communications, electrical machinery, medical technology, transport and measurement (i.e., gauges of speed, temperature, bandwidth and other metrics).
These trends clearly show that, with society and technology advancing rapidly, inventors helping us move forward need the proper IP protection that only professionals in the field have the knowledge and expertise to deliver.
Beyond the legal corner
Since we spend a fair amount of time talking about IP law, one might think the main way of working in IP is as a patent, trademark or copyright attorney. While such figures play major roles (which we will expand upon later in this post), the field is much broader than that.
Ultimately, the IP sector breaks down into understanding and practice. Practice entails appropriate degrees and certifications, whereas understanding requires learning what is necessary for your profession and gaining experience in its execution. For example, if you wanted to be a brand protection specialist, you would likely need considerable knowledge of trademark law in various jurisdictions (and globally, via the WIPO Madrid System). But you could learn these things without attending law school. You might realize you have a specific knack for developing and deploying trademarks while working in marketing, for example, or graphic design. Bottom line: The path to IP careers is by no means clear-cut.
Examiners and engineers
These IP professionals review the particulars of patent, trademark and copyright applications more closely than just about anyone else in the industry - sometimes even closer than lawyers. They often possess backgrounds far removed from the law, namely various specializations of science, engineering and technology. When working for regulatory agencies like the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) or European Patent Office (EPO), their expertise is often essential to determining the eligibility (or lack thereof) of patent protection for inventions and methods of all kinds. They decide whether proposed inventions, techniques or concepts meet the "inventive step" statute and other pertinent legal requirements.
Patent examiners are uniquely qualified to examine patent applications, collecting information from various technical sources to determine the patentability of an invention. Working closely with inventors and lawyers, they often get to see technology advance in front of their eyes.
While examiners and engineers handle similar responsibilities when they work for full-service IP firms like Dennemeyer, they do so on behalf of private clients – and thus have more opportunities to provide hands-on assistance to inventors and organizations. These IP talents can support clients by drawing patent blueprints, creating models, suggesting explanations that improve the likelihood of application approval and much more.
The enforcement side
Brand protection specialists monitor the marketplace to look for possible counterfeits that would damage the salability of their customers' products or act as law enforcement personnel for various government agencies. This is a vital task, as the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) estimated that in 2019, the global trade in fake and pirated products amounted to $464 billion, or around 2.5% of world trade.
Some IP lawyers focus specifically on either the prosecution or defense of IP rights, while others equip themselves to handle either side. Still, others work as consultants on inventors' legal teams without necessarily doing direct courtroom work. The work of an IP lawyer is undeniably complex, though it has been streamlined considerably due to the emergence of various technologies.
In IP, you do not have to have a legal background to succeed: engineers, examiners, programmers and coders are just as welcomed.
IP lawyers must pass specific examinations to practice, and these can vary according to their chosen area of operation. In the United States, for example, would-be patent attorneys must not only succeed on the bar exam in their desired jurisdiction but also pass the "patent bar," whereas those hoping to work in trademarking, copyrighting or other aspects of IP law do not have an additional exam.
With relevant experience or education, you can also work in the IP field as a paralegal. These assistants handle many essential administrative, support and research tasks, and lawyers arguably would barely function without them.
Looking outside the box
The IP world does not just need people directly attached to the legal or even the engineering sector. As noted earlier, marketers and PR professionals could qualify for IP work due to their understanding of branding and organizational identity. Programmers and coders are needed to develop new software tools for more efficient IP management, while creatives ranging from copywriters to graphic designers can supply valuable input for marks or blueprints.
If you want to learn more about the IP industry and the manifold career opportunities it presents, visit our Career page.
The authors contribute to this blog in their personal capacity. The views expressed are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Dennemeyer IP Solutions, Dennemeyer & Associates, or Dennemeyer Consulting.