But more than a century later, women are protecting more than their own assets-they're increasingly looking out for the intellectual property of business owners large and small.
One of the hottest practice groups within law firms today, intellectual property law falls into four basic areas: copyrights, trademarks, patents and publicity rights. With the exception of patent law, which requires a background in science or engineering, no specialized undergraduate degree is required.
Gary Roberts, dean and the Gerald L. Bepko professor of law at Indiana University School of Law Indianapolis, formerly taught sports and intellectual property law at Tulane University. He said that, as women are taking a larger role in law, they are "branching out away from the traditional areas that they were pigeonholed into."
"Just like women have moved away from being teachers and nurses, within the legal profession women are moving away from being divorce lawyers and estate planners," he said. "It's part of women playing greater roles in all areas of the law as they become full and equal members of the profession."
Intellect has real value
With advances in technology driving innovation in telecommunications, biotech and other related fields, companies have a
growing need to protect their inventions from copycats. One of the forces driving the demand for female attorneys in the intellectual property field is the growing number of women-owned startups and inventions created by women.
Daphne Lainson, a Canadian patent attorney, chairs the Women in IP Law group for the American Intellectual Property Law Association, an Arlington, Va.-based bar association promoting the field of IP law. The goal of the committee is to advance women within the profession.
"One way we do that is through networking events and educational components within the events," she said. The group addresses issues such as time management, balancing work and family, and building business skills that help women personally and professionally.
In February, the AIPLA launched its national networking dinners-all on a single night in multiple cities, including Indianapolis. Amie Peele Carter, a partner with Indianapolis law firm Baker & Daniels LLP, attended the local event sponsored by her firm.
The networking event was a great success, Carter said, and the firm plans to sponsor the Indianapolis dinner again in February 2009.
Carter, 38, is one of eight female attorneys on Baker & Daniels' trademark, copyright and eCommerce team. She has worked in IP law since 1996, and during that time she has seen big changes in the law.
"The substantive law is trying to catch up with the technology," she said. "It's always changing and that makes for a very exciting practice." A particular challenge, Carter said, is how to protect copyright in an online environment where works are readily available to copy.
Natalie Dean, an associate with Indianapolis law firm Ice Miller LLP, originally planned to work in health care when she earned a bachelor's degree in biomedical science cum laude from Texas A&M University. She also graduated with honors from the university's research fellowship program, where she conducted graduate-level research in genetics.
"I've always been very interested in health care but ... I'm not very good with the suffering," she admitted. She found genetic research fascinating but turned away from it because it didn't offer enough social interaction.
Dean entered the IU School of Law Indianapolis, graduating in 2005. While she didn't know IP law was going to be her career field, "my background fit. It's the best of both worlds for me."
As the only female IP attorney at Ice Miller, the 28-year-old Dean loves the challenges and diverse work. "When you're talking about patents, it's very technical. You have to be able to learn quickly about things that you have little background in."
She also appreciates her firm's nontraditional approach to IP law.
"The traditional way is, if you have a patent attorney, they only handle patents. I get to handle a broad variety of intellectual property areas, including copyright and trademarks. That suits me well because I'm interested in everything."
Julia Gard, a partner with Indianapolis law firm Barnes & Thornburg LLP, agrees. "There are also subtle differences for protection in different fields, so it's important to know those differences when you are working with a client in sports as opposed to pharmaceuticals, for example."
Gard, 41, clerked for an IP firm in Chicago while in law school and "fell in love" with trademark law, because of the focus on client counseling. "I like to keep my clients out of litigation," she said. She handles a lot of Internet domain-name disputes, which can often prove challenging.
One case she handled involved a third party, located outside the United States, who secured the domain name registration www. buydiggvotes.com. Gard's client was digg.com, a site that ranks stories on how many votes they receive. "The third party offered to sell votes to entities that might want to have a top-ranked story on the dig site," Gard said. "He fraudulently obtained user registrations to our client's services in order to promote Web sites chosen by a third party."
At first the party boasted that Gard and her client "would never find him because we were in the wrong hemisphere, but we were able to use the UDRP to force the transfer of the domain to our client ... to quickly and easily shut down the operation." The Uniform Domain-Name Dispute-Resolution Policy is a process established by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers to resolve disputes relating to registration of internet domain names.
Schools respond to field
There are a number of law schools, including IU, now offering classes or concentrations in intellectual property law for undergraduates and working attorneys.
IP law can also be very lucrative said Roberts, of IU. "Much of the wealth that's being generated in our society today is because people own intellectual property of one kind or another. That's attracting women [into IP law] just as much as it is men."