What does a career in intellectual property look like?

Shared with permission from The Law Society. Originally posted here.

It started with an off-hand question: ‘Is anyone else having problems hiring senior Intellectual Property lawyers? There appears to be a shortage…’

This led to a very interesting discussion amongst the Law Society’s Intellectual Property Law Committee (IPLC) members about the challenges various members were facing hiring IP lawyers – ranging from seniority to regional to awareness issues. Perhaps it was just a dip at that particular time of the year, perhaps not. More importantly, it then led to a more engaging discussion about the role of IP, and therefore IP lawyers, in today’s world.

What do we mean by that? In today’s world, everything is now digitized. Increasingly, IP is manifesting itself in more ways than in it has historically. For instance, running an online business involves so many aspects of IP: trade marks (domain names, branding, product names, slogans, counterfeits); design rights (products); copyright (photographs, social media posts, re-tweets, content) to name a few and that’s before you even begin to peel back the layers and examine the IP that exists in the underlying computer programmes and code that run the digital economy.

IP exists therefore both in the traditional model it used to exist (the more visual, tangible elements such as ‘branding’ and ‘content’) as well as in the underlying technology. This has led to a need for more legal advice, and therefore, more lawyers who have expertise in IP.

Careers in IP come in all shapes and sizes. You could take the traditional route of qualifying within a firm and practising within the IP department of that firm focusing on a mixture of contentious and/or non-contentious IP issues; or you could work as an in-house counsel in a variety of industries, from media and publishing houses to pharmaceutical companies, retail brands or social media companies. There are also roles in government, such as at the Intellectual Property Office. In fact, the in-house opportunities for a commercial IP lawyer seem endless.

What you are probably thinking as you read this is: ‘This is all well and good, but how do you get a job in IP?’ We thought that we would start by posing that question to lawyers who are already practising in the field of IP, and to ask them to share their experiences.

Our first interviewee is Madeleine Richards, head of legal & business affairs at ITV.
Madeleine Richards

1) What is your current role, and how does IP feature in this role?

I am head of legal and business affairs looking after entertainment and comedy programming at ITV. I work in the channels team or what is known in the industry as ‘ITV Network’, working for television commissioners to bring in a range of programming that fills our schedule. I work on negotiating rights agreements for programmes including our big entertainment hits like I’m A Celebrity, The Voice, Love Island, X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent amongst many others.

2) When did you first become interested in IP?

Before I became a television lawyer I worked for several years in television production working in the script team. This work made me very conscious of the layers of ownership and copyright contained within each creative work. As I became more aware of the value of these individual works of copyright and more drawn to the business side of the television industry my interest in IP law developed.

3) Can you share your career journey?

After several years working in television I enrolled to study a postgraduate diploma in law. Once I completed my LPC I did my training contract at Olswang (now part of CMS) where I focused on media/IP seats. On qualification I went to Endemol (now part of the Endemol Shine Group) working in digital IP before joining ITV as a legal advisor. In the early years there was an experience gap in digital IP and I spent a lot of time supporting the new technology and new exploitation teams working on a very wide range of licensing and IP issues. I then moved on to my current role supporting the programme commissioning team and bringing in rights from TV Producers for onward distribution across our business.

4) What other routes into IP have you seen others take?

I have seen colleagues throughout my career take a wide range of routes. I have met people who have like myself had industry experience in creative sectors and then retrained as lawyers. I have also seen lawyers who have taken a more traditional route and then either qualified into a specialist media/IP team or more general commercial/corporate team and who have later transferred into the media industry going on to become successful media/IP lawyers.

There are also increasingly a number of options for those starting out at a more junior paralegal level in the media industry to either go on and study law and then apply their earlier experience towards legal qualification or there are some larger media companies that offer opportunities for law graduates to train in-house in their legal teams.

5) What do you love about IP/your job?

How enjoyable and stimulating it has been and the variety of work I have had across my career. I have worked on toy and gaming infringements, had to ad lib on presentation of court documents to a high court judge, sent out amusing cease and desist letters and had the good fortune and opportunity to negotiate both on high profile matters as well as smaller but nevertheless humorous matters.

I also enjoy enormously working with creative clients and the fact that one week I may be involved in trying to understand how a computer system works and several weeks later may be trying to work out if there are trade mark issues in a television programme.

6) What advice would you give to someone interested in developing a career in IP?

Be persistent and look hard for the right opportunities. If you have a fundamental interest in IP then feed it with information. I did additional specialist modules and dissertations in media and intellectual property law during my legal study and focused a lot of my attention on making sure I built a strong understanding of the principles of IP. I have had the good fortune to work in an IP heavy industry and with some excellent specialists.

I have also invested a lot of time in developing an understanding of the digital and media industry in which I work. I’d recommend seeking out the law firms that offer IP and media seats and then pushing to do a placement in one. Failing which focus your energies on getting work experience in IP heavy industries or specialising in other commercial law that could later be transferrable into an IP focused role.

Written by: Karmen Koh Allen and Madeleine Richards.

Karmen Koh Allen and Madeleine Richards are both members of the Law Society’s Intellectual Property Law Committee (IPLC). The IPLC would welcome any feedback, questions or comments on the above article. Please get in touch with us via Gurdas Sually, policy assistant, at gurdas.sually@lawsociety.org.uk .


Back to News & Events