Is IP/patent law a "unique" field in terms of pay?

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LegalBiology

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Is IP/patent law a "unique" field in terms of pay?

Postby LegalBiology » Wed May 30, 2018 8:01 pm

So I am relatively new to being pre-law and have discovered some things about making money in law. It seems like if you want to make great money staring out (160K+) you should go for "biglaw" and have to go to a top 14 law school, or be top 10% in your class/work locally at a top ~30 or get lucky. But does this also apply to patent/IP law?

In other words, are IP lawyers more in demand such that one could start out making 140-180K from any law school and not working in a "biglaw" firm, assuming they had a bachelor's degree in a hard science?

or, if I want to have the high salary in patent law, should I still expect to have to graduate from a top 14 school just like everyone else?

JosefK

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Re: Is IP/patent law a "unique" field in terms of pay?

Postby JosefK » Wed May 30, 2018 8:53 pm

From the tone of your post I'm not sure you've really given enough thought to what it is lawyers do v. other career paths you could take with your science background and I would encourage you to do so. Money is not everything.

To your IP question - first and foremost IP is a huge field, and most of it does not require a technical degree. It encompasses trademarks and branding (don't need a technical degree), transactions (again no technical degree needed), and copyright (again, no technical degree). For these areas, a technical degree may be a small plus, but the school you go to is much more important.

Patent prosecution and patent litigation are the exceptions where a technical degree is useful or required (because of patent bar eligibility). Frankly, patent lit you don't need much technical background either - I know plenty of successful patent litigators with English backgrounds who do district court motion practice and avoid the PTAB. A bachelors is usually fine for patent lit. BUT about 5-10% of every law school is people with BS degrees that would be patent bar eligible (or something around that). So you may get a bump relative to your classmates, but having a BS isn't going to suddenly make you have offers from Tulane that normally only Harvard kids would get. More likely, instead of needing to be top 30% for biglaw at your school maybe you only need top 50% with a technical degree. It's a slight boost and nothing more.

You must have a strong technical background for patent prosecution. EE/CS can get away with a bachelors and get into patent pros, but those days may be numbered given the continued devaluing of those inventions by the judiciary (rightly or wrongly is a question people over on patentlyo.com, an excellent patent blog, debate constantly). If, as I suspect from your user name, you are getting a life sciences bachelors degree, you must have a PhD. At a bare minimum, you should have a masters degree in engineering (e.g., Bio undergrad, BME Masters) but even that is not necessarily enough.

The thing about pay is somewhat moot - biglaw is lockstep, maybe smaller IP firms pay better than smaller general firms, but I can't speak to that as I am in biglaw IP.

tl;dr - high pay is based more or less on whether you get biglaw. Go to the best school you get into, preferably in the T13/14, because unless you have a CS/EE degree or PhD in a life sciences field your technical background will only be a slight boost.

LegalBiology

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Re: Is IP/patent law a "unique" field in terms of pay?

Postby LegalBiology » Wed May 30, 2018 9:09 pm

JosefK wrote:From the tone of your post I'm not sure you've really given enough thought to what it is lawyers do v. other career paths you could take with your science background and I would encourage you to do so. Money is not everything.

To your IP question - first and foremost IP is a huge field, and most of it does not require a technical degree. It encompasses trademarks and branding (don't need a technical degree), transactions (again no technical degree needed), and copyright (again, no technical degree). For these areas, a technical degree may be a small plus, but the school you go to is much more important.

Patent prosecution and patent litigation are the exceptions where a technical degree is useful or required (because of patent bar eligibility). Frankly, patent lit you don't need much technical background either - I know plenty of successful patent litigators with English backgrounds who do district court motion practice and avoid the PTAB. A bachelors is usually fine for patent lit. BUT about 5-10% of every law school is people with BS degrees that would be patent bar eligible (or something around that). So you may get a bump relative to your classmates, but having a BS isn't going to suddenly make you have offers from Tulane that normally only Harvard kids would get. More likely, instead of needing to be top 30% for biglaw at your school maybe you only need top 50% with a technical degree. It's a slight boost and nothing more.

You must have a strong technical background for patent prosecution. EE/CS can get away with a bachelors and get into patent pros, but those days may be numbered given the continued devaluing of those inventions by the judiciary (rightly or wrongly is a question people over on patentlyo.com, an excellent patent blog, debate constantly). If, as I suspect from your user name, you are getting a life sciences bachelors degree, you must have a PhD. At a bare minimum, you should have a masters degree in engineering (e.g., Bio undergrad, BME Masters) but even that is not necessarily enough.

The thing about pay is somewhat moot - biglaw is lockstep, maybe smaller IP firms pay better than smaller general firms, but I can't speak to that as I am in biglaw IP.

tl;dr - high pay is based more or less on whether you get biglaw. Go to the best school you get into, preferably in the T13/14, because unless you have a CS/EE degree or PhD in a life sciences field your technical background will only be a slight boost.


Hi, thanks for your response. As for your comment on the judiciary, I think I have read some other stuff on TLS about that. Could you (or anyone) elaborate and explain to me what the courts did and how it affects patent prosecution as you say?

JosefK

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Re: Is IP/patent law a "unique" field in terms of pay?

Postby JosefK » Wed May 30, 2018 9:23 pm

I was being a bit dramatic above, but in the Supreme Court's Alice and Mayo decisions, it made it significantly more difficult to get software / business method claims as well as analytical method/diagnostic claims. Certainly, claims are still granted in all of those areas, and at least for diagnostic claims some judges have pushed back on portions of the Supreme Court's rulings. I'd recommend reading the decisions and commentary / academic scholarship on them if you're interested. Basically, because it's harder to get those types of patents and they are easier to invalidate, one would expect fewer jobs in those technical areas.

Staddle

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Re: Is IP/patent law a "unique" field in terms of pay?

Postby Staddle » Tue Jun 19, 2018 11:11 pm

I have spent 30 plus years in Biglaw, most of that in patent litigation. There was a time in the late 1990s and early 2000s when there were not enough junior lawyers with engineering and science degrees. As a result, Biglaw paid premiums to associates with such degrees and cut slack regarding law school records. The days of the premiums are long gone. There may still be a little bit of a trade off for a junior lawyer who has great technical credentials and very good but not excellent law school credentials, but the slack given is very slight.
I agree with a prior poster that the rules are a little different for lawyers that want to do patent law in the life sciences. A masters or preferably a PhD is highly desired for lawyers who want to do patent prosecution or opinion work. It is not necessary for patent litigation

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totesTheGoat

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Re: Is IP/patent law a "unique" field in terms of pay?

Postby totesTheGoat » Wed Jun 20, 2018 8:38 am

JosefK wrote: Basically, because it's harder to get those types of patents and they are easier to invalidate, one would expect fewer jobs in those technical areas.


Focusing on prep and pros (since that's where I have experience), it's a separation of the chaff and the wheat. At my company, we're moving away from the patent as commodity model (and it seems that most of the industry is moving that way). We want quality assets. That means firing counsel who can't adapt to Alice and Williamson, don't understand the tech well, or half-ass their work.

Point being that there are still plenty of opportunities for EE/CS patent attorneys, but I get the sense that there's very little patience for sub-par work unlike in the recent past.

kellyjohnson

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Re: Is IP/patent law a "unique" field in terms of pay?

Postby kellyjohnson » Wed Jun 20, 2018 11:46 am

Staddle wrote: There may still be a little bit of a trade off for a junior lawyer who has great technical credentials and very good but not excellent law school credentials, but the slack given is very slight.


Except that for patent pros there is a not small number of people who first worked as agents at firms, and then had the firms pay for them to go to night school. You can find a fair amount of patent prosecutors at either well respected boutiques or big firms that attended some shitty ranked night school. (This path generally requires a PhD, although maybe in EE/CS a masters would cut it). Also there are some schools, like Franklin Pierce, that have very good networks in IP field, and whose alumni tend to do very well compared to its general ranking.

but I get the sense that there's very little patience for sub-par work unlike in the recent past.

Yes, I think this is why there are a lot of complaints on certain forums about the recent decisions.

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totesTheGoat

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Re: Is IP/patent law a "unique" field in terms of pay?

Postby totesTheGoat » Wed Jun 20, 2018 12:35 pm

kellyjohnson wrote:Except that for patent pros there is a not small number of people who first worked as agents at firms, and then had the firms pay for them to go to night school. You can find a fair amount of patent prosecutors at either well respected boutiques or big firms that attended some shitty ranked night school. (This path generally requires a PhD, although maybe in EE/CS a masters would cut it).


Most of the folks I knew that got hired into those types of positions (myself included) only had a BS in EE or CS. The supply of candidates with MSEE or MSCS + JD is extremely low, and I don't know that it is seen as all that valuable (besides as a general indication of additional experience and diligence) unless it's in some highly sought after field (semiconductor design, advanced AI, etc).

LegalBiology

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Re: Is IP/patent law a "unique" field in terms of pay?

Postby LegalBiology » Wed Jun 20, 2018 1:39 pm

totesTheGoat wrote:
kellyjohnson wrote:Except that for patent pros there is a not small number of people who first worked as agents at firms, and then had the firms pay for them to go to night school. You can find a fair amount of patent prosecutors at either well respected boutiques or big firms that attended some shitty ranked night school. (This path generally requires a PhD, although maybe in EE/CS a masters would cut it).


Most of the folks I knew that got hired into those types of positions (myself included) only had a BS in EE or CS. The supply of candidates with MSEE or MSCS + JD is extremely low, and I don't know that it is seen as all that valuable (besides as a general indication of additional experience and diligence) unless it's in some highly sought after field (semiconductor design, advanced AI, etc).


my bachelor's degree is in chemistry from a top 20 (and i did well), will that mean much?

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totesTheGoat

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Re: Is IP/patent law a "unique" field in terms of pay?

Postby totesTheGoat » Wed Jun 20, 2018 2:58 pm

LegalBiology wrote:my bachelor's degree is in chemistry from a top 20 (and i did well), will that mean much?


Life sciences (including chemistry, bio, etc.) pretty much require a MS or PhD to do patent prosecution. Only for the computer/tech related arts is the graduate degree optional. Patent lit is, of course, a whole different conversation.

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Re: Is IP/patent law a "unique" field in terms of pay?

Postby Staddle » Wed Jun 20, 2018 6:28 pm

LegalBiology wrote:
totesTheGoat wrote:
kellyjohnson wrote:Except that for patent pros there is a not small number of people who first worked as agents at firms, and then had the firms pay for them to go to night school. You can find a fair amount of patent prosecutors at either well respected boutiques or big firms that attended some shitty ranked night school. (This path generally requires a PhD, although maybe in EE/CS a masters would cut it).


Most of the folks I knew that got hired into those types of positions (myself included) only had a BS in EE or CS. The supply of candidates with MSEE or MSCS + JD is extremely low, and I don't know that it is seen as all that valuable (besides as a general indication of additional experience and diligence) unless it's in some highly sought after field (semiconductor design, advanced AI, etc).


my bachelor's degree is in chemistry from a top 20 (and i did well), will that mean much?


My experience is heavy on the litigation side. Assuming a candidate can write (a significant assumption, as many STEM graduates are not good writers) I like hiring junior lawyers who have done well in science or engineering because it shows success in an intellectually rigorous discipline. In addition, an undergrad chemistry degree may be attractive to a firm that has an active Hatch Wagman practice (branded companies trying to keep generics off the market). But law school and law school performance will be by far the most important criteria.

Staddle

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Re: Is IP/patent law a "unique" field in terms of pay?

Postby Staddle » Wed Jun 20, 2018 6:31 pm

Waxman not Wagman



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