Any questions?

A post from our student blogger Catie

If I have learned anything from the MSPL, that lesson would be to always ask questions. Whether we’re in class, speaking to an inventor, or listening to a presentation from a guest speaker, we are individually expected to have at least one question to ask. It may on a surface level seem irritating or may feel like you’re only doing it for the participation points, but it really does serve good purpose. Asking questions shows your professor, inventor, or guest that you are attentively listening to what he or she is saying. It shows that you are invested and interested in the overall message of their speech and would like to know more. A question can enhance the knowledge gained by the audience or may clarify a foggy understanding of part of the content that perhaps other people were wondering as well.

Those are all good purposes for any individual to frequently ask questions, but those of us in patent law know that we have to become pros at mastering it like an art form. For a patent agent, asking questions is not just courtesy; it is our job. In order to do his or her job effectively, a patent agent must ask the right questions of inventors in order to fully understand the invention in all aspects. This is way more difficult than it sounds, as we are pushed to not only ask all the right guiding questions, but we are encouraged to avoid “yes” or “no” questions in order to elicit the most honest and complete responses. Also, regarding interactions with both inventors and the USPTO, patent agents should always pose questions so that they may refrain from accepting everything at face value. Part of the job of a patent agent is to argue, so learning to constantly have questions provides great training for the career.

To some, this may seem like an easy task. However, the MSPL has made me push myself to break out of my own mold. I have always been the kind of person to never ask questions, unless I REALLY had a burning question. I’m a “head nodder”, so I figured that my body language and silence were signs to the person speaking that I understood what was going on. It was somewhat of an annoyance to me to be so strongly encouraged to speak more, and it still takes a lot for me to compose thoughtful, genuine questions to ask on such a frequent basis. That being said, I think that I’ve learned from it, and I am seeing changes in myself. I think it was most obvious to me while I was at mass in Notre Dame’s beautiful Basilica for Ash Wednesday service, and I had to stop myself from raising my hand to ask a question during the homily! Clearly, the habit of asking questions is slowly becoming instilled in me as a subconscious act.

To conclude, the students of the MSPL are learning an incredibly important skill of persistently asking questions, but are also training to master what questions to ask and when to ask them. I am seeing myself develop these skills, and I am subsequently gaining an understanding of how these skills will make me a better patent professional when I am working in the field!

Decoding the matrix

A post from our student blogger Roberto

As an undergraduate I remember waking up one morning and everything changed.  Before that day I remember straining my brain each second trying to memorize every piece of information my teachers went over in class.  When the time came to prepare for the test I would work through the notes and redo all the practice problems hoping to just re-learn all those examples from class.  Then exam day would come and the questions would be different. As a result, I would be forced to exercise my creative knowledge on test day.  As if those tests weren’t hard enough I would later learn that this method of studying made them far more difficult than they had to be.

As I said, there was a day when this all changed.  Maybe it was a result of staying up all night in computer lab trying to figure out which sign change I needed to make in order for my code to work but one morning I woke up and everything was different.  It was almost a matrix-like moment, for all of my Keanu Reeves fans out there.  Rather than furiously copying down everything I saw on the chalk board I was found myself taking very few notes.  I had finally connected the dots, I had begun to piece the concepts together.  I actually began to look at problems and see the numbers and underlying concepts behind what was going on.  I would take pieces from my other classes and use them to predict what the teacher would say next.  Before long I had unlocked a whole new level of learning and understanding.

When I was going through bootcamp here in the MSPL I realized that I had to become a student of something entirely different than the engineering coursework I was used too.  My reset button had been pressed and back again were the days of tirelessly scribbling notes I would probably never make sense of.  Initially, it was a bit of transition for me going from engineering to law.  I was not used to analyzing words so carefully nor was I accustomed to memorizing statutes and laws.  While I knew all of our classes had been carefully interwoven together it was hard for me to see the common thread at first.  Each time our professors lectured or we listened to guest speakers I was amazed at the level of knowledge they possessed of the law.  They spoke about the law so fluently and eloquently it was as if I was in a foreign country.

After a while the hard work in the classes started to pay off.  I began to put the pieces together and I started to truly understand, rather than memorize, concepts.  While I was studying for the patent bar I began to realize the true intent of the system and that answers to questions would always flow from that understanding.  It was a really great to feel like I understood what patent law was about and what the goal of it was.  The closest comparison I can make is that when you were young your parents instilled in you a sense of right and wrong, a moral compass.  At first, it was difficult to differentiate right from wrong and we would often pay for the price for it.  After a while though we began to trust our moral compass and simply ask ourselves what would be the right thing to do.  Rather than memorizing rules we relied upon our understanding of much larger concepts.

For my news tidbit of the week I (regrettably) once again turn our attention to the Seattle Seahawks and their running back Marshawn Lynch.  As many who follow the NFL know, star NFL players are required to be available for public media interviews after games or at league scheduled events.  Many stars, including Aaron Rodgers, Jordy Nelson, Eddie Lacy and Randall Cobb, rarely make headlines for these interviews.  Some players however have utilized the venue to air grievances with coaches, opposing players or teammates.  Lynch made headlines this season not for what he said, but what he did not say.  After refusing to answer questions from the media during the majority of the season, and being subsequently fined by the NFL, Lynch decided to answer all media questions with the simple word “yeah”.    The next week Lynch answered all questions with “Nope” and over the next few weeks all questions were answered with “Thank you for asking”, “I appreciate it” or “I’m thankful”.  Many wondered what Lynch would say during “media week”, which is the week before the Superbowl.  Rather than answering questions with one of his already coined responses or not answering at all, this time Lynch responded to every single question with a variant of “I’m just here so I won’t get fined”.  Now, a few weeks after that now famous interview, Lynch is attempting to file a U.S. trademark on the phrase.  Presumably, Lynch intends on reproducing his famous line on his own personal brand of clothing.  As you may know, this trademark would allow him to stop others from reproducing that phrase. While Lynch’s series of interviews will go down in sports lore it is awesome to see intellectual property coming into play and I am excited to see what he does with the phrase.

When in San Fran

The MSPL shading the San Francisco sun in their new sunglasses after visiting law firms during the day

The MSPL shading the San Francisco sun in their new sunglasses after visiting law firms during the day

A post from our student blogger Catie

The MSPL’s week in San Francisco has come and gone, and it was quite an experience! I’m still trying to comprehend all of the adventures, stress, and valuable lessons that we took in during the week. By the end, we were all exhausted and ready to get home, especially because winter weather kept us in Chicago for an extra night. Nonetheless, it was a week for which I am incredibly grateful. I could write a blog post about each day of the trip, but I’ll just provide an overview for the sake of brevity.

We arrived in beautiful San Francisco with a turbulent plane landing on a rainy Sunday. We visited the scenic Half Moon Bay and walked around the adjacent town. This would actually turn out to be the only day that we would do any site-seeing, as we were constantly on the go for the rest of the daytime hours of the week. Monday through Friday, we conjoined bright and early looking professional in our business clothes, and the program directors drove us “ducklings” all around San Francisco and San Jose to visit various law firms and companies to learn what kind of different paths can be taken in the career of patent law. This was beneficial in two ways: the MSPL’ers could interview these patent law professionals to gain an honest view into what patent law careers are like, and Notre Dame could begin forming connections out in California to facilitate the hopeful beginning of a Notre Dame satellite MSPL program out west.

This trip was inspired by the Notre Dame initiative to begin a satellite campus in California. As we learned during the trip, California is bursting with innovation, start-up companies, and venture capitalists. The Silicon Valley is soon to house the newest satellite USPTO office, which will inevitably make it an epicenter for patent law and intellectual property. Therefore, the MSPL presence and networking in California will likely (and hopefully) be a fruitful interaction in the future!

Over the week, we visited with many IP professionals, probably about half of which were Notre Dame alumni. We listened intently as they described their own paths that brought them into field. They told us about the ups and downs that they experienced in their careers thus far, and we asked them as many questions as possible to gain all the knowledge that we could from them.

Numerous speakers left us with the two same sentiments: 1) it is incredibly important to make sure that we are doing what we love while surrounded by people with which we feel accepted, and 2) in our careers, we should continuously ask ourselves “What are the bigger problems that need to be resolved?” instead of “What endeavors will earn the most money?”. In short: it is of highest importance to enjoy what you do while also working hard and striving to make a difference. I found this advice very fitting, as I believe it flawlessly matches the vision and mission of Notre Dame.

There are high expectations for Notre Dame students, and as much as that fact may be intimidating, it is always so comforting to firsthand see how the notorious Notre Dame Family not only supports you, but genuinely believes in you. Although working in San Francisco is not necessarily in my master plan, visiting the area was an amazingly eye-opening and welcoming experience, and I strongly believe that some members of my “patent family” will excel there in the upcoming years.

Speaking of the “patent family” that the bloggers like to speak of, I’m sure you’re wondering how we survived a solid week of “family togetherness”. We definitely became a little sick of being around each other around midweek, and we were definitely ready to go home to our own rooms and sleep in our own beds by the end. That being said, I think we learned a lot together as well as learned a lot about each other, and I think it ultimately made us better friends. We spent every evening going out to dinner as a group, and a few of us took every opportunity that we could to explore San Francisco together in the evening. Overall, the trip was incredibly exhausting, but I don’t think that any of us are ever going to forget this incredible experience or the people that we spent it with. If anyone is considering the MSPL or any other Notre Dame program, I think you will find that it will be the best decision of your life!

A nation of innovation

A post from our student blogger Roberto

This past week members of the program went to California to meet companies and law firms involved with intellectual property.  On the plane ride over it hit me just how cool this trip really was.  I mean, we were going to the epicenter of the technology scene in the United States.  What’s more, we actually would get to see how some of the companies and firms worked.  Wow.  That is truly an amazing opportunity.  As the son of an entrepreneur it was really cool getting to visit the area where so many companies were founded.  And what was at the core of many of these companies? Tons and tons of crucially important intellectual property.  Without intellectual property many of these startups would have been swallowed up by a competitor with more resources smothering innovation. Thankfully, patents protect the blood, sweat, and tears these inventors and entrepreneurs have poured into their efforts.  As these inventors know too well, the patent system truly is remarkable.  It arms David against Goliath and allows for the little guys to sometimes come out on top.  This shakes up the game and constantly brings new ideas to the table by facilitating competition and eliminating monopolies.

On our trip, many of the firms we went to have represented some very prestigious clients such as Facebook, Oracle, Uber, and Twitter. Each firm was unique in both its operating style and its employee culture giving us insight into many different environments.  We also had the opportunity to speak with in-house counsel at Qualcomm, eBay, Intuitive Surgical and Stryker.  We even had the unique opportunity of touring the Qualcomm facilities as well as participating in a live demonstration of the DaVinci robot.

One of the things that stood out to me throughout all of our visits was just how different the atmosphere in Silicon Valley was compared to anything I had ever seen.  From the corner street cafés to the corporate headquarters of the most successful companies, there was a real entrepreneurial spirit that permeated the entire region. Everyone we met was talking about startups, innovation and the next best thing. Being from the Midwest, this was strikingly different from what I was used to. Where I come from people pride themselves on hard work and the fruits of their labor in a very different way.  Rather than focusing on radical changes like those in the Valley, I was used to incremental changes in historically successful products.  The differences in mentalities may seem minor but it was, in fact, a very striking difference.   After thinking about this for a while on the ride home, I realized it just gives me another reason to be proud to have chosen to work in the Midwest as a patent agent. In some small way I will be helping to change not only the world but my home as well.  While all of my classmates can say that, I am excited to be a difference maker in a region that needs them.  While many young patent agents are understandably attracted to the flurry activity going on in the Valley I knew it just wasn’t for me.  By staying in the Midwest maybe I could help bring some of that spirit and energy back home.  Who knows, maybe I could help start the next Valley.  In the end, we all need to decide what is most important to us as we start our careers.  Working as a patent agent has many rewards and thankfully there are many jobs and career paths to choose from. For me, going home and working hard to make it an even better place is what is most important to me.

Legalese, please

A post from our student blogger Megan

For the last several weeks during class it has been brought to my attention that lawyers speak their own language.  At some point, halfway through law school, I became submerged into what a layperson would call “legalese.” Sidepoint:  I never knew what a “layperson” (someone who is not a member of a given profession, such as law or medicine) was until law school.  Res ipsa loquitur, injunction, arbitration, certiorari, intestate, sanction, estoppel, and venue are just a few of the words that lawyers tend to use without much thought.  Patent law is even more specialized. The word “patent” itself is derived from Latin and literally means open, evident or exposed. I am guilty of throwing these words into things I write and, worst of all, things I say on an everyday basis. I have peppered more than one phrase with a “summons and complaint” and added a generous helping of “damages” to other conversations without thinking whether my readers and listeners even know what I’m talking about. But is this necessary?  Why don’t lawyers just write and speak simply without using legalese?

We have to consider the origins of law in order to properly answer this question.  While we do not know exactly when laws were developed and where, there is evidence of legal doctrines popping up around China in approximately 2500 B.C. during the rule of Baron Yu. Apparently, Yu drew a line on some sort of grid and criminals were deported to one side while everyone else lived on the other.  Fast forward to 399 B.C. to when a vote by 501 people sentenced a well-known philosopher to death: the trial of Socrates. And most everyone knows that each continent, country, province and state creates, implements, and punishes under its own laws. The notion of specific language that denotes the use of legal terms is likely as old as law itself.  As society continued to develop, new laws were created which in turn became more and more complex, reflecting the advancement of civilization. During the 1600’s it was a known fact that attorneys had to speak French, Latin, and English. Most places have their own words and meanings ascribed to their legal systems—this is likely where much of our legalese stems from.

So is there any problem with throwing a few legalese terms like “shall” and “heretowith” into writing and speaking as a way to honor our long legal heritage?  Well, no, unless you are one of the thousands of plain English proponents out there.  I recently joined the Plain Language Advocates forum on LinkedIn. There are a lot of interesting posts on this site including one article that talks about how using big words reduces credibility.  One person in the group also suggested a “death row” for words that are no longer a part of common usage. There is another side to this argument, though. Contracts and License Agreements are packed with heavy legalese. Any corporate law attorney will tell you that the End User License Agreement on that new program you just installed is set up to protect “somebody.”  That “somebody” is the person or company that developed the software. Legal language in this case can be a powerful warning to would-be copiers and people who intend to misuse.

To sum it all up, language is a living, breathing, evolving creature. Legalese, if it still exists, will likely look radically different 100 years from now. So go ahead, throw some bailment or some bylaws into your word soup when you are writing and talking. Just be prepared to flat out explain why you are using them in the first place and get ready to define these terms to your audience

Tough love and a “little” exercise

A post from our student blogger Catie

We’re already three weeks into our second semester in the MSPL and life is eventful. We have all new classes, an outside patent attorney to provide guidance as we draft the patent application for our capstones, and we leave for San Francisco next week! It feels as though the only things that haven’t changed from last semester to now are that time definitely flies, and we remain perpetually busy.

Although we are finding our rhythm in completing assignments and staying on-task for our new schedule of classes, we are all finding that earning that ‘A’ that we all want on our assignments is not quite as simple as last semester. This is not to say that last semester was easy by any means; our patent law classes from last semester focused on learning the fundamentals of patent law, searching, and drafting, and we learned so much and worked incredibly hard to tie it all together during our technical presentations for the rest of the semester. Our patent classes from this semester are less connected to our capstone projects and focus more on the office work and skills that we must be equipped with once we land a job in the field.

We have learned quickly that we will not earn high scores on our assignments for this semester by simply completing a task; we must have every tiny detail correct and self-review our work constantly to make sure our work is nearly flawless. Trust me: we have all bemoaned this standard to which we will be held, but our professors have been clear in explaining to us why this is. They tell us that, yes, we will all make silly, rookie mistakes when we enter our first job. It will happen and it will be expected.

However, in patent law where you record your own hours and bill by the hours of work you have performed, any mistake that you make must be fixed, and that is time and money that your employer must pay for. An office action can be returned to you for any miniscule mistake, and your employer will not be happy that they have to pay you to fix something that maybe could have been avoided had you had the prior experience in filing the document or had checked it over one last time. Our professors have doled out tons of ‘tough love’ on our assignments so far, knowing that we would make these common mistakes, because it acts as a learning experience for us to make sure that we remember our frustrations now and don’t make the same silly mistakes when we have to bill for it in a real job.

On another note, we had a night of team building exercises and dinner with Dean Crawford in preparation for our fast-approaching San Francisco trip. We were told to arrive in workout clothes, as the team building exercises would include “some light exercise”. Either we are all out of shape or we got a little too into the competition aspect, because we all had a good sweat going by the end. This was followed up by a fantastic dinner with fun conversation and great people. As it has been mentioned before in the blog, we are really like a family in the MSPL. We thoroughly enjoy each other’s company and we go through the struggles of failing and learning together as nascent patent agents. We also joked at dinner about how our professors and program directors are like our parents: they may come down pretty hard on us at times, but they only do it because they care about us and want to help us be the best that we can be. I could not be any more excited to experience the innovative world of San Francisco with such wonderful people. See you on the flip side, South Bend!

The (r)Evolution of an invention

A post from our student blogger Megan

The evolution of the wheel (Photo credit:

The evolution of the wheel (Photo credit:

If you have been following the MSPL blog in any depth this school year then you know that we have been working with scientists, engineers, mathematicians and other Notre Dame faculty to draft patent applications on their inventive creations.  This is our thesis project.  In December, we presented our findings and initial patent application claim drafts to our faculty advisors and inventors.  Now we are on the path to drafting the finalized version of the patent application that covers our respective technology.  This might seem simple, I mean, it is just filling out an application you say, right? No.  In fact, the art of claim drafting and task of completing a patent application are a little daunting.  But the end product is within sight and we are looking forward to achieving this goal.

One of the most challenging aspects of completing a patent application is how to capture the essence of an ever-changing underlying invention.  Let me explain what I mean.  I am fortunate enough to work with two incredibly bright, visionary biochemists and two brilliant, keenly astute engineers. The invention that these four faculty members supplied to me in August was a curious drawing of several component lab parts strung together that they said would change the face of cancer diagnostics.  I diligently visited each inventor’s lab for a total of twelve times to have the essentials of this apparatus explained to me.  When December rolled around, I had crafted a forty-five minute oral presentation that, I thought, tied my inventors’ ideas neatly together with the patent concepts we had been learning in the MSPL.  Despite a few random butterflies, I was confident about my knowledge of the science and engineering principles, as well as the legal concepts that I needed to discuss.  The words flowed like liquid gold from my mouth until I was stopped by one of the biochemists.  It seemed that I had not perfectly captured the essence of this invention after all.  My faculty advisors discussed with each other, and with me, what the bare bones of their concept was and I left satisfied with my performance but also with a feeling of slight uncertainty:  according to my inventors, the invention that they envisioned had changed since August.

Two weeks into January I have now received more updated drawings of my inventors’ concept.  These drawings are a world away from the originals that I was handed at the start of the school year.  The idea is still the same, though. And although this means revamping my patent application-completion-strategy, this is the single most exciting thing that could have happened to me.  You see, I’ve gotten to witness the creative genius of four talented inventors. I’ve also learned firsthand that inventive concept is not static, it is dynamic and evolving; one idea leads to an even better one. This has taught me patience and has ignited yet another deep level of fascination with the most basic understanding of how things work.

An idea that begins small will probably evolve.  In patent law you have to just sit back, relax, and go with your inventors’ lab flow. Inventing is a mutable concept: one drawing leads to a plethora of new thoughts.  You have to be ready, as a patent agent or attorney, to revise and rework your patent application to match what your inventor needs to patent. In the end, this tiny little lab evolution of one little idea just might be the next big revolution in science and engineering.

Team players

A post from our student blogger Roberto

This year students in the MSPL will have the amazing opportunity to travel to California.  On the trip students will visit many different companies with in-house counsel, such as E-Bay and Qualcomm, as well as distinguished law firms.  A large focus will be on exposing students to different working environments, different working team styles and various career paths.  As a patent agent it is crucial to be a team player and to understand the dynamic of the team you are working for as well.  Visiting companies and firms in California will give MSPL students their first experiences in some of these different team styles.  This will help them understand what to look for and the types of questions to ask as they are deciding where they would like to start their careers after graduation.

In anticipation of the trip MSPL students attended an emotional intelligence workshop.  Don’t worry, when I first heard that I had no idea what it was either.  Essentially, students participated in various team building activities aimed at helping them develop their interpersonal and team oriented skills.  Though often overlooked, these skills will be utilized just as often as any technical skills in the real world.  In fact, one of the major components of typical interviews is an evaluation of how a candidate would fit in with the current team structure and environment.

The past weeks assignments have continued the focus on preparation for life after graduation.  In our prosecution class we recently worked through an assignment where several changes to the claims of a patent application and abstract needed to be formally submitted to the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USTPO).  What you may not realize is that there is an entire standard for how to submit these changes that includes underlining, strikethroughs and status identifiers that must be used by patent practitioners.  While at first glance these standards, which are outlined in the lengthy manual of patent examining procedure (MPEP), may seem unnecessarily complicated they actually are quite practical.  Just like any standard, these rules ensure that patent examiners only have to learn one editing convention.  This increases the efficiency of the examiner and speeds up the entire patent process.  Which is important considering the patent system is currently backlogged by about 590,000 applications.

One of the many benefits of becoming a patent agent is just how closely knit the relatively small community is.  The patent law community is also pretty active, producing many blogs and forums for sharing news on relevant court decisions as well as educational pieces and other interesting stories.  By far the biggest news of this past week was the Super Bowl between the Seahawks and Patriots.  To my surprise, one of the intellectual property news sources I follow, IPWatchdog, published an article entitled “Seattle Football and the Twelfth Man Trademark”.  The title of the article interested me not only because of the sports nature of the content, but also because we have recently spent some time learning about trademarks in our classes.  While I won’t give away the entire article I will say it is an awesome read.  For those who do not know, the Seattle Seahawks stadium is shaped in a way that funnels the noise from its 67,000 fans as efficiently as possible to the players on the field.  This design creates the illusion that opposing teams are facing a “12th man” in the fans noise.  As such, Seattle has launched new marketing strategies exploiting the“12th man” moniker.  Unfortunately for Seattle, the “12th man” was trademarked by Texas A&M University back in the 1980s.  As one may guess, litigation and subsequent settlement has occurred and now Seattle pays regular licensing fees to Texas A&M to use their trademark.  For a complete and much better written story please read the article via the link above.