Interview with MSPL professor, Mike Wack

Professor Mike Wack

Professor Mike Wack

A post from our student blogger Megan

After a few weeks of winter break the Notre Dame MSPL students have returned to lovely South Bend, Indiana.  Strike “lovely.”  If you know anything about the Great Lakes region, where Notre Dame is located, you know that January is not the most pleasant month of the year for this area.  In fact, it is quite snowy…and cold…and at times…miserable.  But as we return, we have started to reflect on last semester and how far we’ve come.  We have had some great opportunities and have created some lasting memories with one another.  One particular conversation I had with another MSPL’er was about our Patent Law and Prosecution professor last semester.  Professor Mike Wack—we both agreed—would have banished our January glums with his “aloha.”  Aloha means “hello” and “goodbye,” but if you’ve ever visited Hawaii you know that aloha extends far beyond greetings—it is a way of life.  The dictionary defines aloha as “friendly,” “hospitable,” and “welcoming.”  These are three words that can certainly be applied to the environment that Professor Wack created for his students in his patent prosecution class.

Mike Wack epitomizeed aloha by wearing one of his forty-six Hawaiian shirts each week to class.  Professor Wack’s spirit of aloha went far beyond his shirts, though.  Each Monday afternoon the MSPL students were greeted with Professor Wack’s laid-back, conversational approach to learning how to prosecute patents.  Professor Wack is an incredibly astute engineer and patent law professional; he is detail-oriented, grades tough but fair, and has high expectations for his students.  Attending his class, though, was a lot of fun.  He took time to answer every question thoroughly and concisely.

When it snowed twelve inches in one day last November, Mike Wack still wore a Hawaiian shirt to class.  It’s nice to know that even though there may be a blizzard outside, we have professors like Mike Wack.  Mike’s aloha has inspired us to learn.  He has deep roots in the Notre Dame system and is part of a truly fascinating legacy with the University.  The following is a brief discussion with Professor Wack, who you will see, is a pretty cool guy with aloha spirit that is quite contagious.

Please discuss your background.  You are a teacher, engineer, and a licensed, practicing patent agent—why did you choose this particular career path?

I began a career in medical device product development as soon as I got out of graduate school, and did that for twenty-one years.  It was a fantastic, rewarding occupation … I was able to design and develop devices and instruments used on many individuals.  During that time, I became very interested in the intellectual property side of things and I took it as a challenge to design around competitive IP.  I was able to take and pass the Patent Bar Exam, and then find a position in the same industry as a patent agent.  I can still work with and mentor development engineers, while at the same time protecting our intellectual property.  The best of both worlds!

Please discuss your associations with the University of Notre Dame and why you decided to teach patent prosecution at this university.

I have a very long association with ND!  My great-uncle, Fr. Ed Keller, was a world-famous economist who taught there.  My grandfather lived where Eddy Commons is now (at one time Knute Rockne lived across the street), and taught German there.  My father graduated from there in 1950, along with a brother and several uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews.  Two of my brothers are Holy Cross priests and attended the seminary there.  And finally, two of my children currently are undergraduates there.  I grew up in South Bend, and spent a lot of time on campus.  True story: I came very close to being born in the stadium during a home game.  Notre Dame is in my DNA!

My son saw a flyer about the MSPL program in his e-mail, and forwarded it to me.  I immediately contacted Karen Deak, and we got it worked out.  It is really a dream for me to be able to teach at Notre Dame and follow in my relatives’ footsteps.

What surprises you about patent law?

I guess the biggest surprise to me is how important every single word can be in a patent application.  Each word’s meaning can be argued throughout the prosecution, and then again post-issuance.  It makes me be really vigilant when I handle applications!

You often times stress to your students the importance of preparing for the USPTO Examination, commonly known as the “patent bar.”  Please recount your personal experience with this test.

The first time I took the Examination, I was really confident and told my wife during the lunch break how well I thought I was doing.  After I finished the afternoon session, I couldn’t believe I had scored a 64 and therefore did not pass!  When I called my wife on the way home, at first she didn’t believe me.  Then, she hurried outside to pick up the “Congratulation!” signs from the front yard and cancel her planned celebration (she told me this later).  I was initially pretty discouraged, but I studied for several weeks and then re-took and passed the Exam.  By the time I was finished studying, I’m pretty sure most of my children knew what a 102 rejection was!

What is the most important piece of advice that you would give to a newly licensed patent agent or attorney?

Look outside the art field of the invention!  I have found a lot of relevant art in fields that on the surface appeared to have nothing to do with what I was searching.  It is also a good way to help development engineers find ideas if they are stuck.

In your opinion, what is your greatest accomplishment in your career thus far?

Strangely enough, the first two years and my last two years.  The first two years I developed custom implants for people with serious bone deficiencies or deformities, and it was extremely rewarding for me to be able to help them lead pain-free and functional lives.  In my last two years I hope I have been able to not only teach students patent law, but also pass on some of my “life’s lessons” and help them become better people as well.

Please discuss your personal “fashion” choices.

I am well-known for my Aloha shirts … I have 46 of them!  I wear a different shirt for each class, and I hope the students enjoy my brightening their day a little.  Some of them wonder what I wear to work every day, and I tell them “Aloha shirt and jeans!”

What’s next for you; will you continue to teach as well as practice at Biomet, Inc.?

I hope to continue teaching the MSPL Patent law & Prosecution class.  As far as my “other” life, I hope to continue to work as a patent agent for Biomet since I love working with medical devices.  I am also starting a patent searching business (Blue Jay IP, LLC) with the eventual goal of doing that full-time.  Finally, my wife and I want to be involved with as many philanthropic activities as possible: God has blessed us immeasurably, and we want to help others share in our fortunes!

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