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Intellectual Property Field Grows
A recent survey of 200 attorneys suggests IP opportunities for paralegals.
By D.L. Hawley

January/February 2000 Issue

Intellectual property is the fastest growing field of law, according to a survey commissioned by The Affiliates, a company that provides temporary and full-time attorneys, paralegals and legal support personnel to law firms.

Conducted by an independent research company that randomly contacted 200 attorneys from the 1,200 largest law firms across the country, the survey was released in September 1999.

When asked which area of law was growing the fastest, 58 percent of the respondents said intellectual property (IP), which also topped the list in a similar survey two years ago. According to U.S. court records, IP suits have been rising across the country. Civil copyright, patent and trademark suits together rose 2.5 percent between 1994 and 1998.

“As greater numbers of new products and services are introduced, intellectual property protection has become critical for both companies and individuals,” said Kathleen Call, executive director of The Affiliates. “Many law firms are creating separate IP teams, and start-up companies are forming internal legal departments with IP teams.”

The growth in the number of IP teams presents exciting opportunities for paralegals, according to Patricia Gardner, an IP paralegal at Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner in Palo Alto, Calif.

There are a variety of ways a paralegal can be a member of an IP team, according to Gardner. IP has three elements: patent, trademark and copyright.

For each of these, there are two practice areas including prosecution, which is the preparation and filing of applications to register IP rights, and litigation, which is the defense of IP rights using the court system.

In the prosecution area, paralegals are used most often in the area of trademarks where research on the history of existing and pre-owned trademarks is important, according to Gardner.

On the litigation side, the biggest area for paralegals is in the area of patents.

“Patent infringement cases are seriously document intensive,” Gardner said. “A small case could involve 200,000 pieces of paper, and a large case could involve a million pieces of paper. A paralegal is a critical member of the team and is important to coordinate … and track all the documents, since it is critical to be able to know how the whole ties together and to be able to find any document as it is needed.”

Two factors of IP litigation make paralegals an essential part of any IP team, according to Gardner. First, most cases are so document intensive that paralegals are essential for keeping track of and organizing the documents. Second, many cases are now fast-tracked by the courts, leaving less time to prepare the material and making paralegals absolutely vital to getting a case together.

The Affiliates’ survey shows that the future looks good for any paralegal thinking of getting onto an IP team. Technology increases every day in every area of life, and all these new inventions need IP protection. Defending IP infringement will grow along with new developments.

So, how can paralegals make the switch to IP?

“A lot of IP firms think paralegals have to have IP experience,” Gardner said, adding, “but research is research.

“A paralegal who has solid skills doing research, organization and handling documents just needs to learn the different agencies. You can sell yourself as having a solid set of skills and convince the IP attorney you are adaptable enough to take these skills and make them fit what they are needed for.

“On the other hand, it probably wouldn’t hurt to take an IP course so you can understand the basic concepts and different procedures for filing to give yourself a jump-start.”

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Updated 09/30/04
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