Intellectual property lawyers are in ever greater demand, because of both their technical expertise and legal skills. The shift to remote working because of the pandemic, as well as the emergence of new fields of innovation such as artificial intelligence, have boosted the appeal of patent attorneys in particular.
In addition, the dealmaking taking place in the corporate and bioscience sectors have fueled demand for IP lawyers, at a time when such lawyers are having to navigate challenges including net zero deadlines, geopolitical tensions between US-China and the conflict in Ukraine.
Part of the challenge is that, while demand for such services is high and growing, awareness about IP law on law school campuses remains low. Several leading schools run LL.M. degree programs in IP and patent law, as well as the related field of information technology law, but these professions still fly under the radar, to an extent.
Raising the profile of these professions matters to law schools. “The demand for lawyers with strong skills and knowledge in both intellectual property and information law is increasing,” says Greg Vetter, Associate Dean and Professor at University of Houston Law Center. “This increase is due to the increasing importance of all types of technology in our daily lives, but in particular information technology.”
AI, for one, continues to revolutionize areas such as the discovery of medicines and the law is struggling to keep pace with this technological change. Part of the problem is that patent law is not property equipped to deal with the challenge of the fourth industrial revolution. So lawyers are needed to shape a new regime for a new age.
Lucrative practice areas
“There are many lucrative practice alternatives, from patent law with its emphasis on engineering and a STEM background, to new areas such as privacy and data protection, growing with the growth of information devices and the ‘internet of things’,” says Vetter.
There is a war for legal talent and intellectual property lawyers are among the most sought-after on the job market, which is being reflected in the increasing generous pay packages offered to the top recruits.
But the technical expertise and legal training required is in short supply. “LL.M. programs provide knowledge and skills in additional topic areas; many law graduates, whether from U.S. or other schools, don’t have a chance to take a sufficient quantity of courses in intellectual property and information law,” Vetter says.
His institution is one of a number, though, that run an Intellectual Property & Information Law LL.M. Other options exist at University of California, Berkeley Law, as well as University of Edinburgh the Turin School of Development in Europe.
“Our program offers either a concentration in IP out of our generalized American Law Program or a specific LL.M. in IP degree,” says Maureen Tracy, Director of the American Law Program at Boston University School of Law. “Both programs allow students an opportunity to get practice-ready skills and deepen their knowledge in the field.”
Many of BU’s graduates return to their home counties to work at major law firms and IP companies. “IP in other parts of the world is not nearly as developed as it is in the US, so our graduates are eager to deepen their understanding to make an impact in this space when they return home and they have gone onto work for some of the largest and most prestigious companies and law firms,” Tracy says.
Many apply to the law school with candid and often deeply painful stories in which their IP rights had been infringed or they have seen the impact culturally living in an environment where these rights aren’t protected. “Many of our students see this field as both an important and interesting path that is in its infancy in many parts of the world,” adds Tracy.
A dynamic, fast-growing field
Any dynamic, fast-growing field will always be attractive to relatively young and hungry lawyers eager to make a name for themselves. But technology and IP law in particular seem to strike a chord with students perhaps because technology is such an integral part of their daily lives and experiences, says David Tan, Deputy Director of the Centre for Technology, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence & the Law (Centre for TRAIL) at the NUS Faculty of Law in Singapore.
“For instance, copyright issues permeate their consumption of content online, content regulation addresses issues of what users can or cannot say on social media platforms, while issues of privacy and security are always just lying under the surface of their online dealings,” he says. “These links serve to make IP and technology law a field that is both personal and personable, which helps to attract enthusiasm from students.”
Alumni of NUS Law’s LL.M. program in Intellectual Property and Technology Law (IPTL) have found employment in a range of positions across the legal and technological industries.
“Some of our alumni have gone on to work for tech giants like Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Alibaba, whereas others return to the professional sector where their IP and technology knowledge can be put to good use to help clients who encounter such concerns in their businesses,” says Tan.
He adds that, to succeed in this field, students need “a good understanding of both law and technology so that any regulation of the technology sector is correctly balanced between protecting the interests of consumers, and ensuring that technology continues to have breathing room to innovate and grow for the benefit of society”.