GPSolo March 2007
Intellectual Property Law
Intellectual property law is currently quite fashionable. It was not always so. Thirty years ago, this field was the redheaded stepchild of the bar, relegated to boutique law firms to which “real” lawyers referred intellectual property matters. Such is no longer the case—many general practice firms have been adding intellectual property law to their fields of expertise.
Intellectual property law includes patents, trademarks, copyrights, trade secrets, licensing, due diligence in transactional practice, and litigation. Not all intellectual property lawyers are patent lawyers. To be a patent prosecutor, you must have a technical degree in a recognized scientific field. This limitation does not, however, apply to other areas of intellectual property practice.
Particularly in the area of patent prosecution, intellectual property practice is intellectually stimulating and, indeed, fun. It is also heavily forms-based, full of traps for the unwary. There are numerous non-extendable deadlines, and a very good calendaring system is essential. Moreover, extreme attention to detail is absolutely necessary for successful intellectual property practice.
Perhaps more than in any other practice area, efficiency is absolutely necessary in intellectual property law. Being a forms-based practice, it is essential that you have in place efficient means of completing such forms, and also of creating forms of your own. It makes no sense to dictate the same enclosure letter each time you send out letters patent. However, the development of such forms for a sole practitioner is relatively easy to accomplish.
In addition to having a commercial trademark and patent calendaring system, I recommend two utilities as essential: Adobe Acrobat in its full version and a voice dictation system such as Dragon NaturallySpeaking. Although I practice without a secretary, I use Dragon NaturallySpeaking to dictate all my patents, e-mail, and letters; I then send drafts to clients using Adobe Acrobat, which enables them to embed their comments directly into the text.
Intellectual property litigation, particularly patent litigation, is a specialized area of litigation. Patent litigation is not for the faint of heart: It can be tremendously expensive and time consuming. However, of all the forms of litigation in which I have been involved (not many, I will confess), patent litigation is the most intellectually stimulating.
Intellectual property law—partiularly patent prosecution—is one area of practice that is not likely to be automated in the near future. Solos and small firms still can do well in this field, and starting salary levels are currently high—a six-figure income in the third year of practice is not unusual.
Daniel S. Coolidge is a recovering large-firm lawyer, now a patent attorney with Coolidge & Graves, PLLC, in Keene, New Hampshire. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.