What Is an Intellectual Property Attorney? Complete Guide

Updated June 24, 2022

Legal professionals can specialize in a variety of law types. Some attorneys decide to go into intellectual property (IP) law, where they work to protect the rights of new inventions and created materials. Learning more about what an IP lawyer does, their average salary and the job requirements could help you decide if this is a good specialty for your legal career. In this article, we define what an IP attorney is and answer some common questions about the career to help you determine if it's the right path for you.

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What is an IP attorney?

An IP attorney is a lagal professional who practices intellectual property law, which ensures companies and individuals have ownership rights over their invented or created materials. IP law includes six different areas:

  • Patent law: Patents protect rights to new inventions, technologies, computer programs or certain industrial processes. Patent laws can write these documents or negotiate cases involving patents.

  • Copyright law: Copyrights protect creative authors' rights and determine who can control and use a property. Artists, photographers, musicians and writers use copyrights and copyright lawyers to protect their creative work.

  • Trademark law: Trademark law protects slogans, logos and business names. Trademark lawyers create and file paperwork to protect these symbols. They can also file lawsuits or reach negotiations to help their clients secure trademark rights.

  • Licensing: Licensing allows someone other than the property owner to use a created good for a set fee. For example, if a movie producer wants to use a musician's song in their soundtrack, the producer needs to have a license granting them this permission. License laws help draft and negotiate these documents.

  • Trade secret law: Trade secret laws protect companies to own certain formulas or methods of production. In this law specialty, attorneys work to register these processes.

  • Unfair competition: Competition laws ensure companies produce and trade goods fairly. A competition lawyer may defend customers or companies.

What does an IP attorney do?

An IP attorney works to protect intellectual properties. Their responsibilities may include:

  • Advising clients on legal rights and actions involving intellectual property

  • Representing clients in the courtroom

  • Consulting legal clients and advising them on certain IP documents, such as patents or licenses

  • Reviewing and creating important legal documents, including patents and trademark papers

  • Drafting new contracts or licensing agreements

  • Conducting research and interviews to help with court cases or legal proceedings

  • Collaborating with trademark and patent offices

  • Negotiating legal settlements and filing lawsuits

  • Transferring ownership rights of intellectual property

Average salary for an IP attorney

The national average salary for one type of IP attorney, a patent attorney, is $150,802 per year. The salary for an IP attorney varies depending on their area of focus, geographical location and level of experience. This career often has additional benefits such as health insurance, stock options and commuter assistance.

Requirements to become an IP attorney

IP attorneys must meet certain requirements before they can practice law. These requirements vary depending on location and the type of IP law, but they typically include the following:

Bachelor's degree in relevant field

IP lawyers must first earn their bachelor's degree. Some IP attorneys, such as those in copywriting or trade secret, can study general topics before entering law school. Many IP attorneys, such as patent lawyers or trademark attorneys, review highly detailed material about specialized topics. For these roles, they must have an undergraduate degree in a relevant technical field. For example, if a patent lawyer wants to create patents for new computers, they will need to have an undergraduate degree in computer science. These technical majors can include:

  • Engineering

  • Computer science

  • Software design

  • Mathematics

  • Biology

  • Physics

  • Chemistry

The Law School Admissions Test (LSAT)

After earning their undergraduate degrees, IP attorneys must take the LSAT and receive a high score before applying to law school programs. This test assesses the candidate's analytical reasoning skills and legal knowledge.

Read more: How to Answer Analytical Questions and the LSAT

A law degree

To become an IP attorney, professionals need to attend law school and earn a Juris Doctor degree. This degree takes three years to complete. During their first year, law students study general law concepts. In their second and third years, they can focus on specialized areas. IP lawyers may choose to study patent law or trade laws depending on their interests and career goals.

Read more: 7 Steps to Law School: Pre-Law Requirements

The state bar examination

After graduating from law school, graduates can take their state's bar examination. This test will vary depending on the location, but it typically involves multiple days of verbal and written assessments. Bar examiners review the assessments and determine if the candidate passed.

Law license

With a passing bar exam, lawyers can earn their law license to become practicing attorneys. The state licenses will review a candidate's bar exam, educational experience and character references before approving a law license.

U.S. Patent and Trademark Office registration

Most IP attorneys will work with patents and trademarks and need to register with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). To register, licensed attorneys must complete an application, provide evidence of their undergraduate studies in a relevant field and then pass the USPTO exam. If an IP attorney focuses on copyrights or trade secrets, they may not need to register with the USPTO.

Important skills for an IP attorney

In order to be successful, IP attorneys should have the following skills:


IP attorneys need strong communication skills to talk to clients, judges and other lawyers. Clear communication can help lawyers advise clients and explain legal concepts. If an IP lawyer works in a courtroom, they may also need to develop strong negotiation skills to help them reach legal agreements and settlements.


IP lawyers manage many types of paperwork and written documents. Strong organizational skills can help lawyers file and access all documents. This can keep client information secure. IP attorneys can also use organizational skills to manage their schedules and multiple clients.

Attention to detail

Accuracy is very important in IP law because all patents and contrast need to be correct to protect clients' rights. IP attorneys need to review and edit all paperwork to ensure the information is correct. Detail-orientation can help lawyers when producing and revising materials.


IP attorneys produce a lot of written documents. Depending on their area, they may write patents, trademark documents or licensing contracts. Researching, outline, drafting and grammar skills can help lawyers produce strong, clear content.

Analytical reasoning

In IP law, attorneys look at a lot of information and analyze it to reach conclusions. Strong analytic skills can help them reach decisions and solve problems for their clients.

Read more: Analytical Skills: Definitions and Examples

Technical knowledge

IP lawyers work with complicated material for specialized topics. They need technical knowledge and understandings of these fields to succeed. For example, an IP lawyer who creates patents for a biotech company will need to have a background in biology or chemistry. They need to analyze and discuss scientific tables, diagrams and spreadsheets in order to produce the patents.

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Work environment for IP attorneys

IP attorneys can work in several environments. Some law firms hire IP lawyers to specialize in patents or licensing cases. These lawyers can specialize in one or multiple types of IP law. Some lawyers work to become partners or business owners for their law firms.

Companies that produce or invent new materials may choose to hire an in-house IP attorney. This means the lawyer works for the company and serves as the legal advisor for the patent or copyrighting process. Companies that may hire in-house attorneys may include:

  • Software companies

  • Technology producers

  • Pharmaceutical production companies

  • Book publishers

  • Record labels

  • Universities' research or development departments

Some IP attorneys work for the local or federal governments. They may write trade laws for the government or local communication agencies. They may also choose to work for the USPTO and help examine trademarks and patents to ensure they comply with local laws.

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