Helping younger IP professionals and practitioners
I’m starting a new series of posts dedicated to helping IP professionals. My hope is that these articles will help IP attorneys train themselves not only to excel in their profession, but also to have a more enjoyable career. I have had the privilege of practicing patent and trademark law since 1999. Things were a little different back then. We didn’t have Dropbox, cloud docketing, blogs or so many of the IP resources we take for granted today.
To learn the practice of intellectual property law, I basically had to apprentice under IP lawyers who were masters of their craft. I am deeply grateful for the IP attorneys who taught me so much during my newbie years. You really do learn the most by doing, and by watching others practicing their profession.
I am now at a stage in my career where I have some experience and a little bit of bandwidth to help younger/youngish practitioners who may need a little guidance in their IP career. Though I am not your mentor / life coach / counselor, I would like to pass along wisdom and experiences in my journey as an IP attorney. My hope is that you will find something useful to apply in your own journey.
If any advice is unhelpful or irrelevant, simply disregard it. If you do find something useful, feel free to shoot me an email. It’s satisfying to know that others are being helped.
IP Prosecution or Litigation?
There is so much to talk about. Perhaps a good place to start is by considering the possible career path goals and then working backwards from your goal. For example, you can choose to focus on:
- filing patents (patent prosecution) and trademarks (trademark prosecution); or
- litigating patents and trademarks.
I believe it’s quite challenging to do both IP prosecution and litigation, although it can be done especially if you belong to a small or midsize firm. Straddling both can be daunting because IP litigation, particularly patent litigation, can take so much of your time and energy that you will have little bandwidth for prosecution. When you’re dealing with an upcoming preliminary injunction hearing in a patent infringement case outside of your state, you’re not going to have any mental capacity to deal with patent Office Actions until the hearing is over.
At my firm, for example, we focus primarily on patent applications and trademark filings, both in the US and internationally. We also handle TTAB trademark oppositions and cancellations. TTAB cases are generally a kinder, gentler form of IP litigation that would not require as much devotion as a federal court infringement case.
Within the broad categories of prosecution and litigation, there are niches. Under patent prosecution, for example, do you have a particular technical expertise or job experience from a prior career that would help you stand out in a certain field?
If you are non-technical, you still have many options. You can do trademark prosecution, copyright prosecution and/or all types IP litigation. Some of the best patent litigators I’ve come across were not necessarily technical. Good IP litigators have, among other things, the skill of persuasion. If you have possess that skill both in writing and in speech, perhaps IP litigation is for you (if you don’t mind the long hours, travel and overall stress). Obviously, I don’t do much IP litigation anymore, except for TTAB cases.
IP training involves working on your business
Being a business owner has forced me to grow in many ways beyond legal and technical skills. To grow your career, you have to be thinking about marketing. Even if you are an associate in a firm without any clients of your own (yet), you should think of your career as a business. As the owner of your business, take time to evaluate where you are and where you would like to go.
Time permitting, I’ll try to delve into topics that relate more to business development. As an introvert, I hated networking. But I have found that there are certain ways to genuinely network (hope you don’t mind split infinitives) with folks that fit my personality .
I might occasionally touch on off-topic lifestyle issues, such as trimming down your work hours where possible to take care of your family and health.
I read somewhere that most lawyers hate their jobs and would gladly switch to a different career if given the opportunity. If you feel like you should make the switch, go for it!
Other attorneys may find that new opportunities may be hard to encounter or engender. What if you can make the IP legal profession more rewarding? A wise man once said each person should make the most of the situation in which they’re placed. (1 Corinthians 7:17). The practice of IP law can often feel stressful and lonely. Let’s see how we can make it better.