On the job in intellectual property law

Ivy Keane studies Law/Economics at Australian National University and is now a lawyer in Ashurst's Intellectual Property practice.
Jaymes Carr
Jaymes Carr
Team GradAustralia
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What’s your job title?

I’m a lawyer in Ashurst's Intellectual Property practice area.

Where did you study?

I studied Law/Economics at Australian National University and I graduated at the end of 2015.

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Darwin in the Northern Territory.  I went to high school at Kormilda College, where I did the International Baccalaureate, for which I completed an extended essay in biology on the habitats of sand bubbler crabs.

Over the summers of 2010-2011 and 2011-2012, I undertook summer clerkships with the Northern Territory Department of Justice in their Commercial Law division. I subsequently spent a semester studying overseas at the Copenhagen Business School in 2013, as part of my Bachelor of Economics at Australian National University.  Before starting my exchange semester I spent a month travelling, road-tripping and free-camping around Spain.

I completed my law honours thesis on the judicial politics of the Philippine Supreme Court in 2015. Before starting at Ashurst, I worked in the in-house legal team of the Commonwealth Superannuation Corporation, reporting to the General Counsel.

How did you get to your current job and for how long have you had it?

I joined Ashurst as a graduate in their Melbourne office at the start of 2016. I rotated through the competition team, the intellectual property team and the corporate transactions team. I formally settled in the IP team as a lawyer in March 2017.

Can you tell us a little bit about your employer?

Ashurst is a global law firm, whose IP practice area advises corporate and government clients on how to protect and exploit their IP. My role as a junior lawyer is to assist my supervising partners and senior associates in the provision of this advice.

What does a typical day look like for you?

The work of an IP lawyer can be incredibly varied, which to a large extent reflects the nature and value of the IP rights involved.  For example, our large clients will often own global trademark portfolios. The work we do to help them manage their portfolios generally involves smaller and more discrete tasks such as trademark registrations, renewals, oppositions, searches and reporting on potential trademark infringements. This work tends to appear in high volumes with a quick turnaround time, so, as a junior lawyer, you often work with either a partner or a senior associate. 

By contrast, most of our patent work involves representing clients in Australian Federal Court proceedings, which often form a small part of a larger global patent dispute.  These matters are significantly larger in scale, and the trial team generally involves multiple junior lawyers, one or two senior associates, a supervising partner and several barristers. 

As a junior lawyer, the work you do varies depending on what stage the dispute is at. Previously, I have prepared first drafts of affidavits, court books, and research memos for counsel on points of law,. I’ve also reviewed the claims of the patent in suit against its overseas counterparts, sat in on calls with overseas clients, checked transcripts, and chalked up a lot of steps on my fitness tracker running back to print last minute authorities.

Could someone with a different background do your job?

Yes. Beyond the legal qualification, there is no particular background that is a prerequisite for working as an IP lawyer. Given that we do a lot of pharmaceutical patent work, a person with a scientific background may find the specifics of the pharmaceutical inventions easier to understand. However, in our team we have a diverse group of lawyers with both science and non-science backgrounds. 

The most important quality to have as an IP lawyer is an inquisitive mind and an interest in learning. There is a lot of self-directed learning, not only to keep up to date with developments in all areas of IP law, but also to understand the nature of the inventions or the nature of the industry in which your client operates. 

It also helps if you think creatively. With trademark matters, you’ll benefit from the ability to develop creative arguments to either oppose or defend a trademark, or even to think creatively about what a similar mark may look or sound like when you're doing your initial trademark searches.

With patent matters, an interest in semantics is often beneficial.  A patent dispute may come down to the interpretation of one or two words in a patent specification. The team will then engage in long and heated discussions about the meaning of such words in a particular context.

Other key skills include an attention to detail and efficient legal  researching skills (the latter being something Ashurst has extensive training on if your time at university has failed you).

What’s the coolest thing about your job?

The coolest thing about my job is definitely learning about new technologies and being able to work on large-scale patent trials.  I had a great moment during my grad rotation where I was sitting in court listening to the other side's closing submissions.  I was emailing the senior associate some possible counter points. One of these rebuttals made its way into our closing submissions and listening to it being articulated by our barrister was awesome.

What are the limitations of your job?

It depends on the nature of the matter at hand.  With larger matters, there tend to be more levels of supervision and less responsibility.  However, what I've found is that you will often get a chance to have a first go at either preparing the advice, or drafting the affidavit.  This becomes a great learning experience, providing an opportunity for you to extend yourself without the fear that a mistake will have devastating consequences.

During a trial, you will often need to work a few weekends.  For example, last year we had a trial that started on a Monday and we needed to do quite a bit of preparation on the Sunday beforehand, and also on the weekend during the trial.

The biggest limitation may be that IP is a specialised area of law, and while I will learn a lot of general skills, they may not be as general or as commercial as the skills I would learn if I was in, for example, the commercial transactions or disputes teams.

Which three pieces of advice would you give your university self?

  • Follow the kind of work that makes your eyes light up with excitement when you discuss it with other people (provided it isn’t confidential).
  • Try and find a team or workplace that has an inclusive culture and cares about your professional development.
  • Meet as many people as you can at university and learn about their passions.

 Learn more about working in this field, jump to private legal practice or the Intellectual property law overview.