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An in-house patent attorney is a company employee who is tasked with protecting a firm's trademarked products, intellectual property rights and patented goods and services. Some firms enlist the help of independent lawyers when patent related legal situations arise, but large firms that frequently become embroiled in such suits usually employ an in-house patent attorney. Aside from representing the firm in court, these individuals also provide counsel to counsel to company employees on matters related to copyright laws.
Typically, anyone wishing to become an in-house patent attorney must first complete an undergraduate college degree in law or another topic. After successfully completing this program, the student must enroll in a postgraduate course at law school. Generally, these courses are designed to familiarize students with many different aspects of local or national laws although some programs include units that focus solely on patents and copyrights. Having finished the program, a graduate must successfully pass a licensing test which is known in many countries as the bar exam. People who pass this test may seek employment as attorneys.
Large companies often employ several attorneys and each of these professionals may be tasked with handling specific types of legal matters on behalf of the firm. An in-house patent attorney may join a firm as a trainee in which case this individual will spend some time studying legal statutes while receiving on-the-job training from an experienced colleague. The training may last for months or even years, after which the trainee may be tasked with handling copyright issues related to specific product lines.
Manufacturing firms tend to create products that are similar to goods that rival firms have successfully marketed in the recent past. Prior to starting work on new product lines, designers may consult with the in-house patent attorney to ensure that proposed designs do not violate the rival firm's copyright. During the production phase, an attorney may seek legal action against employees or business partners that leak proprietary information about products and services that are under development. When a new product has been completed, a patent agent may enlist the help of the attorney in filing the design with the regional or national copyright office.
Aside from handling disputes related to domestic copyright infringement, an in-house patent attorney must have some knowledge of international trade laws since many instances of copyright infringement involve foreign firms illegally replicating products. In such instances, the firm's lawyers may have to work with foreign-based partner firms to take legal action against the parties that produced the offending goods. Major corporations employ large numbers of these professionals, and some of them are responsible for gathering data while others actually take the stand in court.
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