The steady rise in IP disputes in recent years has seen a slew of young IP lawyers keen on specialising in patent litigation, but is there the demand?
Yes, says Stuart Greenland of First Counsel, who comments that there is “always a steady demand for lawyers with ideally two to four years’ PQE”.
James Franklin, manager at Robert Walters, says firms are also regularly recruiting for mid-to-senior level associates with four to eight years’ PQE. Additional qualifications are normally part of the course, he notes, adding that “a science, maths or engineering background is usually required, with firms typically looking for academics at undergraduate level and beyond in these disciplines”.
When weighing up the pros and cons of joining an IP boutique over a full-service firm it is vital to think about what you want, says RebeccaRogers, manager at Shilton Sharpe Quarry.
“It’s very much a matter of personal choice,” she says. “The pros of joining an IP boutique are that your practice area is the driving force of the firm whereas at a larger, full-service firm the profile of the IP department internally may be lower and investment in the area not as high a priority.”
Each option offers different opportunities, agree Greenland and Franklin.
“With a full-service firm there’s more structure, career progression potential and generally better remuneration,” says Greenland, who is also quick to point out that although “IP boutiques offer more freedom and client contact, a more ad hoc approach to staff and career development doesn’t work for everyone”.
Franklin recognises that “in an IP boutique you’ll tend to specialise quickly in one area and have less exposure to other matters. However, this is compensated for by the increased client contact most lawyers crave.”
Although it can be exceptionally hard to break into patent litigation from a general contentious background, Franklin advises lawyers who wish to specialise to “start in a large firm and try to gain exposure to patent litigation, then specialise further”.
While in-house opportunities in this field can be hard to come by, there are certain sectors that are more prone to IP/trademark issues, comments Laila Martin, manager at Shilton Sharpe Quarry.
“We’ve seen recruitment within fast-moving consumer goods, pharma and manufacturing,” she says. “If you have a trademark qualification, this will make you more attractive to potential employers.”
As for wider opportunities, there are plenty, notes Franklin.
“Outside London, the best opportunities are in the larger firms that take on IP work in regional offices - in places such as Birmingham, Manchester and the South West. Overseas, we have seen a number of private practice opportunities in Amsterdam and have also seen a high volume of in-house opportunities in Switzerland, particularly in technology and pharmaceutical companies.”
The number of patents jobs on offer (as of 1 February)
16% of job alert users on TheLawyer.com are looking for IP-related roles