Careers in intellectual property in India

I am providing here some guidelines and information for young people pursuing careers in IPR to help them plan their careers.

Here are different roles that people in the IPR (Intellectual Property Rights) field (with emphasis on patents) play:

  1. Drafting (here, building a rapport with inventors, understanding inventions and prior art in detail, building strong “story lines”, strategizing protection strategy, articulating inventions and understanding nuances of language is very important)
  2. Filing, Prosecution
  3. Litigation
  4. Teaching/ training, awareness, popular writing
  5. Research, policy, philosophy, advocacy
  6. Running in-house IP offices within organisations (including developing efficient and transparent procedures, building awareness and momentum, mobilising resources etc)
  7. Literature search and reports; informatics
  8. Analytics and strategy
  9. Administering patent portfolios (focuses more on meeting legal requirements and costs)
  10. Strategic management of patent portfolios (focuses more on aligning portfolios and organisational strategic objectives)
  11. IP/ technology assessment and marketing
  12. IP/technology transfer/ commercialisation with an emphasis on structuring deals, developing commercialisation models, negotiations
  13. IP related agreements including those related to collaborative research, ownership, administration, exploitation, transfer etc
  14. Examiners and other roles in the Indian Patent Office
  15. The IP-IT interface: Software platforms for data and flow management

One person could be doing one or more of the roles above. In the Indian context, mosts Indian institutions are novices to the field of IPR and so role specialisation is rare. Very often, one person has to carry out several of the tasks above.

Roles can emphasise interaction with different communities:

  • Inventor facing roles  (ex: 1, 6, 7, 13)
  • Client/ licensor facing roles (ex: 11, 12, 13)
  • Examiner/ Indian Patent Office facing roles (ex: 2)
  • Top management facing roles (ex: 5, 6, 8, 9, 10, 12, 13, 15)
  • Student/ scholarly community facing roles (ex: 4, 5)

If you are in each of these roles, it is important that you build credibility with the community you are facing and you understand the thought process of the community you are facing (and show empathy).

Different roles require different strengths:

  • Depth in science and technology (ex: 1, 7, 8, 10, 11, 12)
  • Understanding of the law and implications (ex: all roles)
  • Training in law (ex: mainly 3, 13 but also 4, 5)
  • Understanding of business planning, finance, strategy (ex: 6, 8, 10, 12)
  • Marketing skills and orientation (ex: 11, 12)
  • Excellent communication skills in English (ex: 1, 4, 5, 8, 11, 12, 13)
  • Negotiation skills (ex: 12, 13, 6, 2)
  • IT skills (ex: 15 and sometimes 8)

A couple of observations: It is clear that the field is multidisciplinary and often you need to be multi-dimensional to succeed. It is also clear that some roles are more specialised (and hence less commoditized).

So how should you prepare for a career in IP?

  • Understand your strengths and weaknesses. Understand your motivations and orientation. Do not try to get into something where you are weak and have no or weak intentions to build as a strength. For ex, with weak or poor communication skills, it is hard to be good at drafting. For ex, with a poor grounding in science, it is hard to take up roles requiring an in depth understanding of the invention and prior art.
  • Unfortunately, there is no simple recipe. Your preparation depends a lot on which roles you wish to emphasise. If you still need a simple answer, I suggest start with a basic recipe of a grounding in science/ engineering  and strong communication skills, and then add to that an understanding of IP law and/or business.  A general rule I recommend —- seek out good programs and not the easiest to join (which by being easy get commoditized).
  • This is one field where mere academic preparation is not enough —- experience and self-learning is essential. I always recommend self-learning by compiling and studying classic cases in detail including the original patents, the case papers, news articles etc. This is one of the best ways of learning in this field — second only to learning from somebody with experience or in an organisation with considerable volume and variety, both of which are in short supply in India.