The Intricacies of Intellectual Property Law

Intellectual property law offers many exciting challenges for attorneys who want to work with creative professionals and businesses. Attorneys who have the necessary education may have the opportunity to protect these professionals’ intellectual property by filing legal documents, defending their rights in court, or drafting effective contracts. Discover the intricacies of intellectual property law to decide whether pursuing this focus could be a smart step forward in a rewarding legal career.

What Does Intellectual Property Law Protect?

According to the American Intellectual Property Law Association (AIPLA), intellectual property covers patents, copyrights, and trademarks. It can also cover trade secrets, which are defined by the Uniform Trade Secrets Act (“UTSA”) as information (which could include a formula, device, method, pattern, technique, process or other item) that:

  • Derives actual or potential value from being confidential or not easily ascertainable. This value is economic in nature.
  • Is subject to reasonable efforts to maintain secrecy.

The AIPLA notes that trade secret laws vary by state. Depending on where he or she is licensed, an intellectual property lawyer may need additional training to protect trade secrets.The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) elaborates on the categories of intellectual property:


A copyrighted work must exist in a physical medium. For instance, a writer can copyright a book as long as it has been printed, either electronically or physically, in its final format. Copyrights can also protect other works of art.Creators can register their copyrights with the United States Copyright Office. While this step is not required to protect intellectual property, it can give creators more power to defend the rights to their work.


According to the USPTO, three types of patents exist:

  • Design patents protect the physical manifestation of a product, such as its unique ornamentation or shape.
  • Utility patents protect a product’s usefulness or functionality, such as the unique way in which a vacuum creates suction.
  • Plant patents protect discovered or asexually reproduced plants.


A trademark may be a word, a phrase, a design, or a symbol that identifies the source of the goods or services, according to the USPTO. Trademark symbols may appear after a company’s logo, tagline, or symbol.

Creators must register patents and trademarks with the USPTO. Otherwise, creators will face difficulty enforcing their ownership in a legal context. The USPTO investigates patents and trademarks to determine whether another individual or organization has already registered something similar. The USPTO can deny an application if the patent or trademark is not sufficiently unique.

Who Needs Intellectual Property Attorneys?

Intellectual property attorneys may have the ability to represent individual creators or businesses. These legal professionals can also work in their home countries or abroad.

The University of Southern California Online Master of Laws (LL.M.) degree program allows attorneys from other countries to learn United States law while simultaneously earning a business law certificate. The program takes just three semesters, and it can open doors to new career opportunities in intellectual property law or other disciplines. Getting an LL.M online could allow legal professionals to continue practicing law while working toward an advanced degree.

How Does Intellectual Property Law Work Across Borders?

In some cases, businesses and individuals can protect their intellectual property on a global scale, but the USPTO only has jurisdiction over the United States. To help their clients obtain patents in other countries, intellectual property attorneys should familiarize themselves with relevant laws of other nations. Similarly, international lawyers may pursue an LL.M in the United States in order to protect their clients’ intellectual property rights in multiple countries.

Intellectual property attorneys, as well as individuals and businesses, can register patents, trademarks, and copyrights in multiple countries simultaneously. However, the USPTO recommends working with legal counsel to create an intellectual property rights protection strategy. The USPTO also offers the following advice:

  • Consider notifying Customs and Border Protection of any U.S.-registered intellectual property.
  • Use detailed language to describe intellectual property so that no misunderstandings arise.
  • Know which countries have frequent intellectual property rights violations.
  • Conduct research into potentially lucrative foreign markets.

According to, businesses must go through several steps to ensure intellectual property protection. While businesses and individuals can approach these tasks on their own, they may need an attorney to prevent mistakes and to hasten the process. Legal assistance may include the following:

  • Conducting an audit to determine whether a trademark or patent is protectible
  • Filing extensive paperwork that builds an effective case for protectable intellectual property
  • Determining the owner of the intellectual property in cases of joint intellectual property ownership
  • Defending patent or trademark rights in domestic or foreign courts

How Can Legal Professionals Pursue a Career in Intellectual Property Law?

Attorneys who want to concentrate on intellectual property law may need advanced education to ensure that they are capable of protecting their clients’ work. Legal professionals who want to practice in the United States and who already have a law degree in another country, such as an LL.B, may have the opportunity to obtain an LL.M at USC.

After completing an LL.M degree, legal professionals may wish to consider taking the California Bar Exam. About 70 percent of LL.M graduates take this next step, which may allow the practice of intellectual property law in the state of California. For legal professionals interested in practicing intellectual property law in the United States, an LL.M online degree from the Gould School of Law could pave the way toward a rewarding career.


What is IP Law?

Intellectual Property (IP) Policy

The Fundamentals of Intellectual Property for the Entrepreneur

What is Intellectual Property Law?

Protecting Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) Overseas

Understanding Intellectual Property Rights

Uniform Trade Secrets Act (UTSA)