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In-House IP Lawyers Can Code Their Way Into New Gig

Caroline Spiezio Law.com

In-house intellectual property lawyers have long been expected to know how to write and communicate well, in addition to having a deep knowledge of the IP field. But now, it looks like it might be smart to add a new skill set to their toolbox.

Carol Warren Simon, an in-house legal recruiter at Major, Lindsey & Africa’s Bay Area office, says she’s also seen an increased demand for in-house IP lawyers with substantial coding experience. She’s noticed a specific need for lawyers with knowledge of open-source projects.

She described what an appealing candidate would look like: “It’s a lawyer who probably has previous programming experience, and is very familiar, very familiar, with open source, at a level substantially deeper than most attorneys.”

She says the need for open-source expertise is actually driving the need for programming experience, in many cases. In open-source projects, original source code is made freely accessible online. People outside of the company can collaborate and edit the original code to develop the project further, which is helpful, but can sometimes lead to legal confusion over who gets credit for what.

“It’s not as much about protection because open source by definition is not protected,” she said. “It has to do with efficiency, being more efficient within internal corporate departments, not having to keep going back and forth.”

Warren Simon also says she’s seen an increased demand for IP lawyers who can manage a company’s existing patents and figure out how to monetize what’s already there, rather than a lawyer who can just constantly produce new patents without analyzing their value.

“IP can be expensive. Maintaining a portfolio of patents is expensive for a company,” she said. “So companies are increasingly looking at what they have with a critical eye—’Do I really need this patent and what am I supposed to be doing with this patent, other than paying to keep it in a portfolio year in and year out?’”

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