How to Become an Intellectual Property Lawyer: A Step-by-Step Guide

  • Patents, trademarks, copyrights and trade secrets all fall under intellectual property law.
  • A bachelor’s degree and passing the bar test are requirements for becoming an intellectual property attorney
  • Unlike an intellectual property attorney, an intellectual property lawyer hasn’t passed the Bar Exam.
  • An intellectual property agent only has a Patent Bar certification, whereas an intellectual property attorney has gone through law school.

Intellectual property (IP) law is a rapidly growing field that deals with the legal aspects of protecting intellectual creations such as inventions, designs and artistic works. As an IP lawyer, you can help clients navigate the complex world of IP law and protect their creations from others.

intellectual property

According to an American Bar Association report on diversity in patent law, there has been a steady rise in demand for intellectual property lawyers—currently reaching over 47,000. Patents, trademarks, copyrights, trade secrets and unfair competition are only a few of the legal issues covered by intellectual property law. As such, this branch holds great importance for various sectors, such as science, education and even the government as a whole.

If you want to become an IP lawyer, attorney or agent, this step-by-step guide will provide the information you need to get started. So, let’s descend the path to becoming an intellectual property lawyer!

Education and Training

If you want to become an intellectual property lawyer, you must first take the LSAT and get admitted into law school. After graduating and receiving your LLB, you can start obtaining real-life experience through internships or clerkships and claim this title. However, if you want to become an intellectual property attorney and practice intellectual property law, you will also have to pass the bar exam.

Let’s go through each step and see what education and training you need in detail to become an IP lawyer and attorney.

Undergraduate Degree

The first step in becoming an intellectual property lawyer or attorney is earning an undergraduate degree. For this, you will need to attend law school. The common law system requires students to go through 3 years full-time or 5 years part-time to get an LLB degree.

Law School

When it comes to attending law school and becoming an intellectual property attorney later on, you will need to be careful about the school you choose and the coursework regarding intellectual property law.

Choosing a Law School

When selecting a law school, consider its standing, location and cost. Look for institutions that provide skilled faculty and many opportunities for practical knowledge.

The top law schools for intellectual property law ranked by U.S. News & World Report include Berkley, Stanford University, and New York University. These are listed based on things like course offerings, faculty specialization and job placement rates.

Coursework in Intellectual Property Law

Aside from the school’s standing, you should also note its courses and classes. Law courses regarding intellectual property law should include trade secrets, copyrights, patents and trademarks. If possible, see whether the school offers some extra activities like moot courts connected to IP.

Internships and Clerkships

Internships and Clerkships

Many students, during or after obtaining their LLB, start gathering practical experience through internships or clerkships. Those who want to pursue a career in intellectual property should, naturally, apply to law firms or businesses with IP divisions.

This is especially important if you want to become an intellectual property attorney. Why? Below are two main benefits you can get by going through internships and clerkships.

Gaining Experience in Intellectual Property Law

Going through an internship while studying or a clerkship after you get your legal degree is an excellent way to start your career after university. Both options allow you to get knowledge from accomplished experts in the area.

You can find internships and clerkships by searching employment boards, visiting career centers in law schools, or going to conferences and seminars to hear from professionals.

Building a Professional Network

Another benefit of going through internships and clerkships is the ability to create a network of people working in the same field as you. However, aside from these, building this network also entails maintaining contacts with mentors and colleagues from law school and earlier clerkships or internships. After all, these contacts may aid your future job search and referrals.

Licensing and Certification

If you aim to become an IP lawyer, going through law school and getting a clerkship (or internship during it) will be enough. But if you want a career as an IP attorney or agent, you’ll need to go a step further.

Unlike the former, an intellectual property agent is someone who hasn’t gone through law school—they only need to pass the Patent Bar exam. But if you want to be an intellectual property attorney, then you will need to go through law school and pass the State Bar Exam and Patent Bar exam.

Let’s explore the difference between these two exams.

State Bar Exam

bar exam reviewing

If you want to go through the State Bar Exam, you’re aiming for a career as an intellectual property attorney. The test covers a range of legal subjects, so once you obtain the license, you can practice law in all fields. Note that each state has its own standards and exam methodology.

Eligibility and Application Process

To take the state bar exam, you must finish law school and meet other requirements, like passing a character and fitness evaluation, as well as paying some fees. Most states have online applications you must fill out and register.

Exam Content and Structure

The State Bar Exam for an IP attorney is divided into two sections: a written examination and a performance text. It typically lasts two or three days and covers a variety of legal issues. You must get a minimum mark established by the state bar association in order to pass.

Patent Bar Exam

The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) reported that, in recent years, the number of patent applications globally has climbed by more than 5% yearly. This inadvertently means that the number of patent agents and attorneys is rising.

One must pass the Patent Bar Exam to qualify as a registered patent agent or attorney. It is governed by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). The Patent Bar Exam is different from the State Bar Exam, as it is solely concentrated on patent law. Nonetheless, both IP attorneys and agents need to take it.

Eligibility and Application Process

Unlike the State Bar Exam, for the Patent Bar Exam, you don’t need to go through law school. You still, however, need to have the proper knowledge in the field you plan on using your patent license, as well as fulfill additional standards, such as passing a background and moral check.

You need to apply to the USPTO Director in writing by submitting an application form supplied by the Office of Enrollment and Discipline (OED). You will also need to send it with supporting materials, including transcripts and degree documentation. The good news is that this test can be taken anytime.

Exam Content and Structure

The test is normally given over the course of six hours and consists of 100 multiple-choice questions. The first 50 questions have 3h time span and another 3 after for the next 50. Candidates need to have a score of at least 70% to pass.

Career Paths in Intellectual Property Law

For people who are interested in managing and preserving intellectual property rights, careers as intellectual property lawyers, attorneys or agents are what they should go for. Usually, these people tend to work for private law firms. However, there are other career paths in IP law.

Law Firms

Law companies can specialize in a variety of legal disciplines, including intellectual property. LLCs, corporations, and partnerships are some of the numerous ways that law firms can be organized. In general, we can distinguish between small and large ones.

Large vs. Small Firms

In general, small legal companies frequently provide a more laid-back, familial, and collaborative work culture. On the other hand, large law firms may have a more competitive, fast-paced and high-pressure work atmosphere.

Small legal companies may give greater practical experience and direct customer contact, but large law firms provide more chances for professional growth as an intellectual property attorney.

Practice Areas Within Intellectual Property Law

It’s valuable to note that IP law entails several areas. As we mentioned at the start, parts of intellectual property include:

  • Patens
  • Copyrights
  • Trademarks
  • Trade secrets

In-House Counsel

Another option for IP lawyers is to operate in-house. This means they’ll represent businesses rather than law firms.

In-house lawyers give legal counsel, control legal risks, examine and negotiate contracts, deal with disputes and sometimes even participate in strategic decision-making. While in-house counsel can save money and provide specialized knowledge, controlling conflicts of interest and upholding the attorney-client privilege can be difficult.

Government Agencies

Government agencies are established by federal, state or municipal governments to perform certain tasks or offer particular services to the general public. IP lawyers and attorneys can find a job here as well. They could oversee and uphold legal requirements, render public services, carry out legal proceedings, manage foreign affairs or carry out research and development.

Academia and Research Institutions

Institutions for research and instruction in various subjects are known as academic institutions. They deliver instruction, participate in policy and advocacy activities, carry out research and innovation and foster cooperation. An IP lawyer is best suited for this job as it won’t require any court hearings but will need their previous legal knowledge.

Skills and Qualities of Successful Intellectual Property Lawyers

Successful intellectual property attorneys are endowed with a certain set of abilities and traits that make it possible for them to counsel clients effectively on IP-related issues. Below, we’ll go through the most important ones.

Strong Analytical and Communication Skills

IP attorneys need to have excellent analytical abilities to examine intricate legal data and see possible hazards and possibilities. They also require great communication skills to forge bonds with customers and represent them in court. These abilities aid intellectual property lawyers in efficiently defending the intellectual property rights of their clients.

Creativity and Problem-Solving Abilities

To develop novel methods, foresee possible problems, and handle challenging legal and commercial situations, intellectual property lawyers need to be creative and have problem-solving skills. To effectively defend their client’s rights, they must think creatively and solve challenging legal problems.

Technical Knowledge and Aptitude

IP attorneys must possess the expertise to comprehend the technical aspects of their client’s intellectual property, collaborate with engineers and inventors and offer reliable legal counsel. An IP lawyer must also understand complicated material, recognize the problems and effectively communicate them to stakeholders who aren’t versed in them.

Attention to Detail and Organizational Skills

To spot possible problems and handle vast volumes of complicated material, intellectual property lawyers need to pay close attention to detail. They also need to be extremely organized in order to efficiently manage their workload, set priorities and fulfill deadlines.

Salary and Job Outlook

Following the growing significance of intellectual property, more people turn to some of the before-mentioned career options. But how much do these job posts offer, money-wise?

Average Salaries for Intellectual Property Lawyers

Intellectual property law is one of the most profitable practice areas for attorneys, according to the National Association for Law Placement (NALP), with typical earnings ranging from $150,000 to $190,000. The typical annual income for an IP attorney is $172,020. However, this varies, as IP attorneys working for big companies could get paid more.

Job Growth and Market Demand

While job growth for attorneys as a whole is anticipated to increase by 10% by 2031, intellectual property lawyers have a developing field with promising employment opportunities. Because of the growing significance of preserving intellectual property rights, the IP market needs more intellectual property attorneys.

Factors Affecting Salary and Job Prospects

As we mentioned, some IP lawyers and attorneys may make more money than others. This is because of several reasons, such as the following:

  • More experience
  • Live in big cities
  • Woking for huge law firms or significant enterprises
  • Work in a more demanding IP field, such as patents

Professional Development and Continuing Education

It’s critical to keep up with the most recent legislation and trends since IP law is always evolving. This is where ongoing education and professional development come into play.

Continuing Legal Education (CLE)

An IP attorney, like all others, is obligated to go through several hours of CLE each year to keep their right to practice law. CLE programs are provided by a variety of institutions, including bar associations, law schools, and commercial businesses.

Professional Associations and Networking Opportunities

To interact with people in their area, share ideas, and remain up to date, intellectual property lawyers should take advantage of professional groups and networking opportunities. For example, the American Intellectual Property Law Association (AIPLA) provides access to such educational opportunities, publications and job postings.

Specialized Certifications and Advanced Degrees

As an IP attorney, you can obtain further knowledge and abilities in a specific field of IP law with the use of specialized certificates and graduate degrees. An LL.M. or S.J.D. in IP law are two examples, as well as the Certified Licensing Professional (CLP) designation. These certifications can broaden work opportunities and set attorneys apart from their peers.


The subject of intellectual property law is broad and dynamic. If you want to work as an attorney in this field, note that you’ll need to go through several steps. Check whether you can take the State Bar Exam or Patent Bar Exam and what opportunities these certifications will open for you.

Intellectual property is growing in significance, spreading its grasp through all fields. In fact, the overall economic growth—both micro and macro—is closely related and can depend on intellectual property rights.

So if you want to start walking this path, make sure you check if you fulfill all the requirements and possess all the abilities of an intellectual property lawyer!

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