As the US-China trade war makes IP theft an important global trade concern, lawyers who are experts in this niche are in vogue.
The trade war—which has seen the US levy tariffs on Chinese technology industries over their alleged theft of IP in the US—illustrates the risks that companies face as intellectual property becomes a political battle ground.
“Lawyers with specialist intellectual property knowledge are in demand,” says Uma Suthersanen, professor of IP law at Queen Mary, University of London.
This is one of a growing number of law schools that have responded to the surge in demand for IP lawyers by establishing niche LL.M. courses in the field.
Corporations are also engaged in wars over patents and royalties for lucrative technology. This year, for instance, Apple sued Qualcomm for up to $27bn in damages for overcharged chip royalties — one of a number of massive US corporate lawsuits over IP in recent years.
In a digital economy, protecting knowledge from infringement has become crucial to corporations’ ability to sustain their success.
“Those with comparative knowledge are in higher demand as the emphasis shifts from national to international litigation and business advice,” says Suthersanen. She notes that a $1bn Apple and Samsung patent case in 2012, was multi-jurisdictional and involved related claims such as trade secrets and designs.
“As the global economy grows, so does the need for experts in IP,” says Ann Bartow, director of the Center for Intellectual Property at Franklin Pierce School of Law in the US.
Demand for IP modules growing at many law schools
With such bright employment prospects, it’s easy to see why demand for IP modules at many law schools, including Franklin Pierce, is growing. “As technology changes, so do the needs of our students and employers. Now, students are interested in blockchain technology and data privacy,” says Bartow.
This prompted the school to launch a specialized JD in intellectual property, technology and information law in 2019 that is taught online and offline — the first of its kind in the US, according to Bartow. The school also offers an LL.M. in IP law.
In addition to this, there are LL.M.s in IP on offer at King’s College in London, New York University’s School of Law, UCLA in California, plus UPenn and Duke Law Schools in the US.
Many are practical in their teaching. Students at Franklin Pierce can participate in legal clinics, practicing IP law under the supervision of faculty. This includes the International Technology Transfer Institute, where students help protect innovations in science and technology; and the Intellectual Property and Transaction Clinic, where students help businesses with their IP strategy, as well as transactions and licensing.
“Students contribute to scientific breakthroughs and help clients turn their dreams into business ventures,” says Bartow.
Post-LL.M. career opportunities in IP law
Many lawyers are looking to move into the IP field — in the US, the number making lateral shifts into IP has grown by more than 40 percent since 2017, according to Val Myteberi, associate dean for graduate and international programs at Cardozo School of Law.
“Factors including a boom in the creative industries, the globalization and digitalization of trade, as well as a global push to protect IP rights, have created the ideal conditions for secure and lucrative [IP law] jobs,” she says
Graduates of Cardozo’s LL.M. in IP law have been hired by Google in Germany, Morgan Stanley in Tokyo, as well as IBM and Universal Music in New York City, to work for in-house counsel teams. They also work in boutique law firms that specialize in IP.
“Companies and law firms are increasingly seeking candidates who can combine IP skills and transactional knowledge, such as drafting licensing agreements,” says Myteberi.
There are also job opportunities for IP lawyers at government agencies and non-profit firms, according to Bartow at Franklin Pierce School of Law.
At Boston University School of Law, IP is a popular field — more than half of all LL.M. students at the school, who may specialize in another field, still take at least one IP class.
Riccardi says this reflects the importance of technology-based businesses to the global economy. “Lawyers with expertise in technology law — including data privacy, cybersecurity, compliance and fintech — are sought after because of the high stakes involved in leveraging and protecting a company’s intangible assets, including its ideas and information.”
Roughly 90 percent of applications to the school’s dedicated IP LL.M. are from foreign lawyers. “It provides them with knowledge that is useful to their practice back home, such as cross-border technology-related deals and licensing matters,” says John Riccardi, assistant dean for graduate and international programs.
The program includes foundational courses in US copyright, trademark, patents and trade secrets. “US doctrine has had a huge influence on the development of intellectual property protections in other countries,” says Riccardi.
Students can also take hands-on, skills-based seminars in IP licensing, commerce, cloud technology et al, as well as classes in negotiation and transactional contract drafting, building skills that are transferable to IP law.
All these classes are taught by accomplished practitioners from law firms and in-house legal departments, he adds. With IP a growing focus for corporates, it seems likely that more practitioners will be signing up to educate the next generation of IP lawyers — for the world is going to need much more of them.