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Tips for Starting an IP Practice

Update: We created an IP Practice Kit with all you need to know to start and grow your own intellectual property practice. Check it out here.

Just last year alone, the USPTO issued over 300,000 patents to business and inventors and received over 1 million applications for trademarks and patents. Even pop stars are jumping on the bandwagon — Taylor Swift is trying to trademark snippets of her lyrics.

Simply, intellectual practice is booming. As a result, more and more law firms are adding IP as one of their core practices.

As makers of software for IP lawyers, we’re often asked by attorneys how they can start their own IP practice. Even though no two strategies were ever the same, we’ve compiled some universally helpful tips to jumpstart your foray into IP.

  1. Identify your niche. First, identify which area within intellectual property law interests you. Copyright and trademark prosecution do not require additional certification beyond admission into any state bar, but patent prosecution requires patent bar admission. Many IP lawyers begin with trademarks because they are plentiful (400,000+ filings/year) and accessible to all practicing attorneys (not to mention lucrative).

    No matter which aspect you choose, be sure to consider developing a particular niche within copyrights, trademarks, or patents. This will allow you to target your market and become an expert on those issues. 
     
  2. Learn the basics. After identifying your focus, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the fundamental tenants of IP practice. Luckily, there is an abundance of free material available on trademarkspatents, and copyrights, as well as online CLE courses such as LawlineTalks On Law, or Solo Practice University
     
  3. Use the right tools.
     
    • Malpractice insuranceMalpractice insurance is essential for IP lawyers. A missed trademark or patent deadline could result in forfeiture of your clients’ rights and millions of dollars in liability.

      In 2001, a prominent patent prosecution firm missed a filing deadline for a patent term extension by one day. This resulted in the loss of patent rights that would have been extended the life of the patent for an additional four years (and resulted in an additional $2 billion in sales). After over a decade of litigation, the parties just settled in August 2015.
       
    • Docketing. As we mentioned, missing deadlines can be disastrous for an IP practice. It’s easy to manage just a few filings for a few clients when you first start. But as your practice grows, imagine having to track 10s, or even hundreds, of filings, each receiving updates from IP offices at different times, and each with different deadlines. This can be increasingly tedious and prone to mistakes, even for the most organized attorneys.

      Fortunately, a modern docketing software like Alt Legal can automatically update the status of each IP filing, calculate your statutory deadlines, and ensure you never miss a filing.
       
    • Practice management. You will also want to invest in a comprehensive practice management solution to handle your back-office work, like creating new matters, tracking time, generating invoices, and more. Ideal solutions will not only provide enterprise level security but will be cloud-based so you can access your firm wherever you are. Our personal favorite is Clio because of its simple interface and integrations with several other online practice tools.
       
  4. Find clients. Networking and referrals are the tried-and-true methods, but be sure to take advantage of social media as well. Engaging with followers on Twitter can quickly spread awareness about your practice.

    Also, establish yourself as an IP expert through informative blog posts and speaking at events. For example, John L. Welch (author of The TTABlog) and Ron Coleman (author of Likelihood of Confusion) are two successful IP practitioners who have furthered their practices through blogging and Twitter. Finally, curated online marketplaces such as Priori Legal can also help attorneys find prospective clients.

Do you practice IP law? What are some tips you would give to aspiring IP lawyers?

Let us know in the comments.

Update: We created an IP Practice Kit with all you need to know to start and grow your own intellectual property practice. Check it out here.