A post from our student blogger Catie
The first days of attending a new school are always the hardest. We kicked off our year with what is endearingly referred to as the ‘MSPL Bootcamp’. This is the week before the start of official Notre Dame classes and consists of a crash course in patent law. The name is fairly intimidating, but the boot camp is incredibly helpful. The MSPL directors graciously assume that its candidates, coming from backgrounds of science and engineering, have no prior knowledge of the fundamentals of patent law, and therefore use that time to familiarize us with the basics of patenting a new invention. The week is also a wonderful time to get to know the other MSPL students and faculty, which helps make the first week of regular classes a little less daunting. Everyone in the program got along really well from day one, and it took a huge weight off of our shoulders knowing that we’ll be spending the next year amongst friends!
We took time away from our learning to take a campus tour, watch South Bend’s Silverhawks play, and go on lunch and dinner outings together. This is not to take away from the long hours of lectures, practicing how to search through the Manual of Patent Examining Procedure (MPEP), and taking the dreaded mock Patent Bar Exam. We emerged from Bootcamp exhausted, but well prepared for the subject content of our semester classes. The week was informative while also giving us a fantastic introduction to our new lives at Notre Dame! Here are some of the basic concepts of patent law that we learned during Bootcamp:
A patent does not give its owner the right to make or sell his or her idea. This might make the concept of obtaining a patent null and void, but patents are protective in a different manner. A patent gives the owner exclusionary rights; meaning it prevents others from being able to make or sell the patented idea. Instead of giving a person certain rights (positive rights), it takes away those rights from others (negative rights). Basically, patents prevent others from being able to claim one person’s idea as their own.
The possessions that patents protect are called intellectual property (IP). Intellectual property can be described as a person’s ideas, creations, or inventions. IP is huge in the sciences and engineering, considering that inventors and researchers are constantly developing new, useful ideas for the benefit of the public. All of this work that we are putting into learning how to protect intellectual property is a big deal because it’s a difficult task: we are protecting non-physical property. Think about it this way: if I am trying to profit from selling a product, such as one-of-a-kind Notre Dame sweater, I can give half of my supply to a friend. We can both sell our shares and profit equally because the shares are quantifiable and in limited supply. On the other hand, let’s say that I want to profit from my idea of making Notre Dame sweaters that are manufactured in a way that makes them breathable, but retain 40% more body heat (perfect for fall football). If I tell my friend about this new way to manufacture the sweaters, then there is nothing stopping her from taking my idea and profiting from it on her own. An idea in itself is intangible and cannot be physically contained. Therefore, patents are incredibly important to ‘give credit where credit is due’ for new ideas and inventions.