Intellectual Property (or IP, as they refer to it in trendy legal circles) is the hot field to be in within the legal profession today. The demand for paralegals who understand the ins and outs of patent and copyright law is surging, as are legal actions surrounding the establishment and enforcement of those rights.
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Intellectual property refers to a work or invention that springs from a creative process. It does not cover real or personal property, which have a whole separate body of law governing their ownership and use. Instead, intellectual property revolves around ideas and concepts, discoveries or creations that arise from the power of intellect.
These works and how the law handles them fall into a number of different categories, and are often viewed as completely different specializations within the law:
- Trademarks – Relating to registered graphics or slogans associated with a particular product or company.
- Copyright – Secures ownership of a creative work to ensure that only the creator or licensees can reproduce and distribute the product.
- Trade secrets – Business processes or manufacturing details that are kept secret as a competitive advantage in an industry.
- Patents – Registered processes or inventions that are not allowed to be used by anyone other than the creator without their permission.
Covering each of these specialties, though, is one overarching area of law: intellectual property licensing. After securing the sole right to use a work or process, companies often make money by licensing some of those rights out to others.
The intricacies of contract negotiation and administration in intellectual property licensing agreements calls for the utmost attention to detail and knowledge of the law. This is exactly where paralegals get involved with the process.
IP License Paralegals Need to Be Knowledgable of Both Business and Law
IP licensing is so complex that law firms and paralegals often become highly specialized. Today, these specialties tend to fall into one of three broad categories:
- Trademark licensing
- Copyright licensing
- Technology licensing
In each case, the intellectual property owner will make certain types of rights related to the work available to licensees in exchange for consideration – money. In the simplest case, for example, authors usually accept money from publishers in return for the publisher’s right to reproduce a book or article for publication.
But even this apparently straightforward assignment can become quite complex. Rights can be sliced up and offered at different rates for different purposes; for example, a publisher may purchase the right to be the first to publish a book in a particular country. But a separate publisher could be awarded the right to print in a different country, or to make reprints of the book after the first publication.
In the most complex types of licensing agreement, major corporations may cross-license their respective patents to one another to allow the production of goods that make use of the patented concepts.
In high tech today, establishing a patent portfolio and cross-licensing it is a vital strategic matter necessary for any firm that wants to stay in business and avoid being swamped by licensing fees or sued into oblivion.
Understanding the Business in the Context of the Law
Many paralegals involved in intellectual property licensing work directly for businesses. The responsibilities can be more varied and integrated when working in-house for a corporation than when working for a law firm.
Paralegals have to be familiar with all the different types of licensing rights that can be offered for a particular property, which rights may have already been assigned, and which ones are still available. The implications of such deals involve understanding the markets and the potential licensees, not to mention the contract itself. This means IP paralegals can’t get away with having their noses buried in legal matters—they also have to be conversant in the industry the licenses apply to.
Agreements like this are subject to exhaustive negotiation and paralegals are a vital part of that process. They gather information about the property to be licensed and review similar contracts to help establish common values and ground rules. They are often involved with assisting lawyers in drafting the agreements themselves.
As with all paralegal roles, attention to detail is integral to licensing work. Timelines and documentation are important for substantiating the rights necessary for licensing. Many types of licenses indemnify the license holder from any violations that might be found in the underlying property. This can leave the licensor on the hook in complicated agreements in which a number of works are bundled together.
Contracts Administration: Portfolio IP Licensing Enforcement
Once a licensing agreement has been put in place, though, the paralegal’s job isn’t done. Compliance is a huge component of these agreements. Most agreements include provisions for inspecting or exchanging records to ensure that the licensee is complying with the terms of the agreement and making compensation payments accurately and on-time.
This aspect of IP licensing is also known as contracts administration and represents its own specialization in the legal field. Paralegals working for major licensors of intellectual property rights deal almost exclusively with IP license contract administration. The work is very detail-oriented and requires excellent record-keeping skills.
Depending on the terms and scale of the agreement, a paralegal may be in charge of monitoring contract administration directly, or may oversee a larger team dedicated to the task. If discrepancies are noted, the paralegal can dig into them directly or escalate the matter to any attorney for further review.
Many license agreements also call for royalty collection and distribution. This all has to be documented and performed in accordance with the terms of the agreement. The consequences for violations can be severe.
Becoming an Intellectual Property Licensing Paralegal
There are no particular qualifications required to get into intellectual property licensing, but the segment is sufficiently specialized that some paralegal college programs either offer a particular track in IP law or concentrations in intellectual property.
Having a business background or additional business training can be an advantage in IP licensing, since many of the aspects of licensing have as much to do with business considerations as with legal issues.
The National Federation of Paralegal Associations sponsors an advanced specialty certification on intellectual property through the Advanced Paralegal Institute. The certificate covers all types of IP, from patents to trademarks to copyrighted works.
NALS is another organization with an intellectual property specialty certification option available to practicing paralegals.