About Intellectual Property Law

The practice of intellectual property law — consisting largely of the law of trademarks, copyrights, and patents — has grown dramatically in recent years, spurred in large part by technology and the global economy. Intellectual property refers to creations of the mind: inventions, literary and artistic works, and symbols, names, images, and designs used in commerce.

  • Trademark law encompasses both registered and unregistered marks that identify goods as well as services or organizations, and includes words, images, shapes, sounds and smells.
  • Copyright law provides protection to those who create literary, musical and dramatic works, pictorial, sculptural and audiovisual works, and other kinds of works of authorship, including computer programs. The owner of a copyright has the exclusive right to reproduce and distribute copies of the copyrighted work, and to prepare derivative works (adaptations, translations, etc.) based on the copyrighted work. 
  • Patent law, which protects inventions, conventionally is subdivided by technology, such as biotechnology, chemistry, electronics and computers.  Practice in this area is often divided between prosecution or the acquisition of rights — which requires a lawyer to have passed the Patent Bar Exam — and enforcement, including litigation, alternative dispute resolution and licensing.

A common question from students interested in the intellectual property law field is whether one must have a degree in science or engineering in order to be an intellectual property lawyer. While there are specific science or engineering requirements to sit for the patent bar exam (a requirement to do patent prosecutions), no special undergraduate degree is required to do trademarks, patent litigation, or copyright law.

The intellectual property law field is a popular area and jobs are at a premium. Attorneys specializing in intellectual property often work for large law firms or in boutique firms that specialize in intellectual property law. Increasingly, intellectual property jobs are found in corporations as part of an in-house legal staff and at research universities.

Courses

Learn more about core/foundation courses, recommended courses, and enrichment courses. 

Note: Whether a particular course is scheduled depends on faculty availability and student demand. ○ View the Course Descriptions for more information about each course and when it's offered.

Core/Foundation Courses

These are the basic courses for the specialty. An employer is likely to expect a student interested in the specialty to take at least two of the following:

  • Copyright Law
  • Patent Law
  • Trademarks
    OR
  • Introduction to Intellectual Property Law
    (This course serves two primary functions. First, the course serves as an introduction to intellectual property law for students investigating an interest in the practice area and those only interested in a general overview of the area. Second, the course serves as an opportunity for students with a specific interest in one IP area to gain exposure to the entire field if their schedules preclude them from taking the other courses.)

Recommended Courses

Students interested in this practice area should consider including one or more of the following courses as electives.

Enrichment Courses

These courses deepen or broaden the skills and substantive information that a lawyer in this field needs.

Curriculum Questions

For particular Intellectual Property curriculum questions, contact Pilar N. Ossorio, Professor of Law and Bioethics.

Clinics, Internships & Externships

Law and Entrepreneurship Clinic

The Law and Entrepreneurship Clinic is a two-semester transactional course providing students the opportunity to work with startup businesses and entrepreneurial clients. Legal issues include creating and maintaining the corporate entity, providing basic legal advice on contracts, intellectual property, employer-employee matters, tax, and other issues facing the startup business. Experienced business law and corporate attorneys provide guidance and supervision.

Learn more about the Law and Entrepreneurship Clinic »

Corporate Legal Department Externships

Second and third year students with an interest in intellectual property law can obtain hands-on experience in the corporate legal department of local companies such as Promega, or by working for a government agency or nonprofit organization that handles intellectual property matters.

Contact Erin McBride, Externship Director, at erin.mcbride@wisc.edu, with questions about the Law Externship course.

Learn more about Corporate Legal Department Externships »

Student Organizations & Related Activities

Good oral and written communication skills are critical to this specialty, and activities that enhance and promote these skills are important for students interested in IP practice.

For a full list of student organizations at UW Law, view the Student Organizations, Journals, & Activities.

Faculty

Here are some of the faculty who teach or have an interest in this practice area:

In addition to our full-time faculty, the Law School's adjunct faculty members — prominent practicing lawyers and judges — bring their specialized knowledge and experience to the classroom. Filter by "Adjunct" in the Law School Directory for a full list.

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