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Intellectual property law: area of practice

Nick Bolter, head of intellectual property in London at Cooley, explains that IP lawyers tend to maintain a better work/life balance than in other areas of corporate and commercial law.
It’s possible to have clients in a variety of industries, from motor racing to clothing.

Intellectual property (IP) lawyers assist businesses with acquiring, protecting and using IP such as patents, brands, copyright, designs, databases and confidential information. While some lawyers have broad practices covering all aspects of the sector, others specialise in one area such as patent litigation or IP licensing.

Solicitors in this sector assist with licensing and other commercial agreements involving IP and litigation. My practice includes a trademark filing element, meaning that it is very varied. I usually work on between 15 and 30 different matters on any given day. Work in the trademark arena includes: assisting clients with the selection of new product names, registering trademarks, defending or objecting to new trademark applications or suing those who use clients’ trademarks without consent – known as enforcement.

The variety of work and clients in a typical IP practice

The wide variety of work is what makes this area of law so interesting. Many of my clients are household names in the online retail, social media and technology areas and it’s possible to have clients in a variety of industries, from motor racing to clothing. Some matters – for example helping a client select a new name – may only last a week. Others, such as litigation and global trademark filing projects, may last two years or more. Balancing the needs of so many active matters can be challenging – we currently have over 250 active files. IP disputes can be newsworthy, such as litigation between Apple and Samsung, and the sector is continually developing. In addition to the usual developments based on case law, European trademark law is currently being re-written, which will inevitably lead to new work as businesses adapt to the new laws.

Top lawyers in this sector generally act for IP-intensive businesses. Pharmaceutical, consumer electronics and communications businesses that rely heavily on patented technologies and fast-moving consumer goods businesses with large portfolios of trademarks both require frequent assistance from IP lawyers. Clients in the media and film industry often need copyright expertise.

IP lawyers generally maintain a better work/life balance than in other areas of corporate and commercial law. This sector doesn’t tend to involve horrendous hours and we rarely – if ever – work through the night. For trademark lawyers the work rate is fairly constant – we don’t have the peaks and troughs experienced by some lawyers and we don’t have times when work is quiet. I spend about 11 hours each day in the office and, from time to time, work at home in the evenings and at weekends. However, I enjoy the work and still have plenty of time to spend with my family.

As this is a US firm, I spend around five weeks a year working in the United States visiting clients and colleagues in the firm’s offices there. This is a social sector and there are many opportunities to meet lawyers from different firms or companies both in the UK and internationally.

IP law is more resilient than other areas of legal practice

The sector has proved almost recession-proof as many businesses began using IP in more creative and profitable ways during the economic downturn.

What will you do as a trainee solicitor?

The varied nature of the sector means that there is always plenty of interesting work for our trainee solicitors – they are not standing by a photocopier all day or stuck on a document review for weeks. A trainee will usually have overall conduct of some smaller files as well as assisting with all other aspects of the work that we undertake.

The types of law you’ll use as an IP solicitor

  • Intellectual property.
  • Contract.
  • Tort.
  • Competition.

The skills good IP solicitors use...

  • Teamwork.
  • Energy.
  • Enthusiasm.

Nick Bolter is a partner and head of intellectual property in London at Cooley (UK) LLP. He graduated from the University of Edinburgh with an economics degree in 1995.