Go time!

A post from student blogger Brittany

As I progress in the MSPL program the realization of sitting for the Patent Bar Exam looms over my head like a dark cloud that I can’t get away from. Recently, our cohort had the pleasure of speaking with a former MSPL student that gave us great insight into how she prepared for the exam and the job search. She emphasized to us that we should take the Patent Bar prior to applying for jobs because in addition to the MSPL curriculum, it makes us that much more competitive. That meeting kicked the entire cohort into high gear as an email requesting study groups quickly followed. It is great to be surrounded by a group of people that push me to do my best and support one another. In addition to the study groups, I have decided to maintain a daily study schedule because I know there is no way in hell I can study for the exam in one week and expect to pass as did the former MSLP student above. Referring to my last blog post, you all know I have a few issues with time management so I would end up pulling my hair out if I only gave myself a week.

In addition to the study material that was so graciously bestowed upon us prior to fall break *insert side-eye*, the Patent Law and Prosecution course has been extremely helpful for preparing for the exam as well. During every class we have sample bar exam questions and the midterm consisted primarily of MPEP questions. You don’t know what the MPEP at this point and you should be rather grateful for that, but if you want to be a patent practitioner it will be your go-to guide for all things patent law.

So all in all, I’m pretty happy that winter is coming so that I can hibernate at home or in the library in order to get some effective studying completed and pass the bar before I start applying for jobs next semester. I can only hope that my frustrations during this time do not rear their ugly heads in my upcoming blog posts but just remember THIS TOO SHALL PASS.

Claims = Weird

water_glassA post from student blogger Nicole

There comes a time in the semester when you start to write claims.  When I started to write mine it was weird.  That’s the best way I can put it.  Weird.  The teachers warn you of its sorcery, but you don’t think about it until it’s time to write them.  It’s like thinking from a different part of your brain.  The part where you look at something as its pieces instead of as a whole.  We all view everything as the bigger picture.  Let’s take a lanyard, for example.  You just see it as something that goes around your neck or is attached to your car keys.  But really look at it.  Are there designs?  Are there different materials?  How are the materials attached to each other?  What is the structure of it, how do the parts interact with each other?  Here is an example of a lanyard connector claim: a coupling portion extending from the distal end of the lanyard connector body to thereby allow selective attachment of an attachment to the lanyard connector.  Weird right?  Who knew you would ever have to explain something that way.  This is the beginning of working out a new muscle.  It’s going to be tough at first, but it will get better.  I hope.  I’m just kidding, I know it will get better.  All the teachers are more than willing to help you get through it, but not just get thought it, understand it.  Hopefully we will be able to write claims as easily as writing our names.

A good way to start writing a claim would be to write a picture claim.  This is describing every part of the invention.  You actually write all the details of the invention and all the parts of it working together as a whole.  You want to make a list of all the nouns and then describe how they work together.  It is important to describe how everything interacts with each other.  Yes, again it will be weird, but you get the hang of it.  Don’t worry if you’re slow at it because that’s exactly how I am.

Once the picture claim is written you will prune and distill it to become the broad claim.  This is getting rid of anything that is unnecessary and making things more general.  You want your claims to cover as much as possible so that nobody can find a way around your invention.  Nobody wants their patent to be Swiss cheese.

Well I hope you enjoyed my crash course about claims and that I didn’t scare you away!  When you finally end up writing claims the first thought will be, “this is weird”.  Yes I realize I’ve said weird a bunch of times, probably too many, but it’s the perfect fit.

Fear and loathing in South Bend

A post from student blogger Josh

Well, it’s that time of the semester again, where we’re all either studying for midterms or putting a truly epic effort into procrastination. Since I’m currently participating in the later of those two options, I figured I should post something about things you can do other than study that will assist you in life as a graduate student.

1). Read a book. The book doesn’t have to be a technical manual, and it doesn’t have to pertain to patent law in any way. While this will absolutely not help you to pass your exams, reading well – written texts is a great way to improve your writing skills. If you intend to be a patent agent, those skills come in handy every day. While there’s the foreign land of patent applications, where regular English doesn’t apply, patent agents are also in constant correspondence with clients and attorneys. Learning to communicate concisely and effectively in written form is important for many facets of your career. I’m currently avoiding studying by burying my nose in Hunter S. Thomson’s “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas”. While I initially intended to write this post in Thomson’s style as an exercise, I’ve found that (given Notre Dame’s zero tolerance policy for certain behaviors) this would be an unwise idea. However, I do fear and loath midterms, so the title will remain.

2). Figure out the rest of your life. I just discovered that my apartment has been 65 Fahrenheit for the past week because apparently, one has to turn on the heater via the thermostat control panel. Now that things are toasty and warm here, I’ve also cleaned my dishes, restocked the kitchen, and swept/scrubbed every hard surface and carpet available. Did this help me study? No. But it had to be done at some point, and now I feel like less of a frozen slob.

3). Write a blog post. If you’re fortunate enough to get the digital media fellowship that MSPL offers, take it. The tuition discount is worth it, and sometimes it helps to take a break from the more rigorous MSPL material by just writing about the program.

4). Read publications on Patently0, IP Law 360, and other groups that discuss intellectual property law. These offer new ways of thinking about the law, and also make great references for in class discussions. Plus, while you’ll never be tested on this material, having an understanding of current topics in IP is critical to practicing patent law as a professional.

5). Learn about the technologies that your professors work closely with. Professor Wack (patent law and prosecution) has spent many years working on patents in biomedical engineering, specifically pertaining to artificial limbs and joints. Being familiar with these technologies gives you as a student a background for better understanding many of the examples used in class. For you automotive people (like me), learn specifically about how the parts of a car actually fit together. Professor McGlynn’s brief examples regarding transfer cases, gearboxes, and differentials that he uses in class are best understood if you actually know what these things are. None of this knowledge is essential to doing well in the courses, but having it certainly never hurts.

6). Know your deadlines. Make a calendar if you have to, but know when you have exams, meetings, and assignments. It’s a lot harder to mess up one of these things if you are well aware of them in advance. Time management doesn’t suddenly stop becoming a necessary skill when you graduate.

7). Have a social life. Make plans to do something fun as soon as your midterms are over. For instance, the Linebacker Inn has $7 pitchers of decent beer on Mondays. If you’re more of a foodie, there are all sorts of places to eat in South Bend, so grab some friends or a special someone and go enjoy a decent meal. See a movie, go dancing, learn to ride a motorcycle, take a road trip… it really doesn’t matter. Do whatever floats your boat, as long as it’s worth waiting for. I highly recommend bringing a friend or two along. Great times, like cheap bottles of wine, are always better when shared.

Look at that. I just burned half an hour. I guess that means I should probably try not to fail my midterms.

A balancing act

sculptureA post from student blogger Brittany

After two solid months into the program I’ve come to the realization that I need to do better with time management. I came in thinking I could say YES to every opportunity presented to me without realizing how much time was actually required for the program itself. When I first saw my schedule and it was just one 2 hour class each day, I was in heaven. It reminded me of undergrad and all the time I would have to get my assignments completed and still have time left to do other things. However, despite the fact that my schedule was seemingly wide open, I underestimated the amount of reading required for my capstone projects…yes PROJECTS and making time for opportunities that would significantly benefit my career development.

Initially I began with one capstone project in the field of biomedical engineering with a new technology that was pretty close to my field of study so it was easier to digest and complete assignments, but my second capstone project has been rather difficult seeing as though the technology is exclusively engineering based with an application to endoscopic surgery. I literally spent an entire evening watching endoscopic surgeries on YouTube and despite how graphic they were: they were particularly helpful for my understanding of the technology.  Conducting expansive research AND understanding the findings for each capstone project necessitates time because there is no way I can or should even want to write specifications and claims for technologies that I don’t understand.

In addition to the requirements of the MSPL program, I am also a member of the Office of Technology Transfer (OTT) Business Competition Team and I work as an Intern at the OTT. I can honestly say I am gaining some invaluable experience that will be applicable to my future as a patent practitioner. Assisting with the development of a business plan for a new biotech company and conducting marketability searches for new technologies allow me opportunities to become familiar with what could potentially happen after a patent is granted.

Despite there being a lot on my plate right now, I want to make sure that I am giving each of my responsibilities my best effort as to get the most enjoyable experience out of such a short time here at ND because it’s already been 2 months but it feels like we just got here.

What is this patent pending you speak of?


A post from student blogger Nicole

Patent pending.  A term that many people have heard before, especially for all the Shark Tank lovers out there.  For those of you that don’t know what it is I will be happy to explain.  Patent pending is the period of time from filing a provisional patent application to the allowance of your nonprovisional patent application.  In the case that you didn’t file a provisional patent application it would be the time from filing a nonprovisional patent application to the allowance of the nonprovisional patent application.  Phew! I think I said patent application too many times!  Let me clear that up even more.  A provisional patent application is an application you can file before the nonprovisional that contains an informal general idea of the invention to get your foot in the door at the patent office.  For example, when you go to file your nonprovisional you are able to say that you had this idea at the time of your provisional filing.  This is important because if someone else goes to patent a similar idea, then you have proof that you had the idea before them.  Also for you Shark Tank lovers, those people file a provisional patent application on their idea just to say that it is patent pending on the show.  An added bonus would be that you are able to say patent pending for the full year of the provisional patent along with the time it takes for the nonprovisional to be granted.  One thing you should know about the provisional patent is that it does not contain any legal status instead it is just a place holder for a future nonprovisional patent.  This nonprovisional that I’ve been mentioning is the formal legal application for obtaining patent rights on a particular invention.

Okay so enough about all this definition mumbo-jumbo.  I wanted to talk about patent pending because I see it everywhere!  It’s on the bottom of drink containers, on cooking utensils, and even on disposable tupperware containers.  I believe it was this MSPL program that opened my eyes to another world. The patent world.  Ever since starting this program I see patent pending on a lot of different items.  It’s funny to think about because now I actually look for patent pending and patent numbers on things that I buy or use.  I get excited to see if something is patent pending or already has a patent.  I actually try to guess what it is that’s unique or separates it from similar items.  Just be ready for this to happen to you when you become a member of the MSPL program.

Speaking of patents, I have a warning for those of you with new ideas.  Don’t listen to those commercials that say they can help you with your invention.  It’s a scam! All they do is get a design patent which only protects the look of your invention and not the invention itself!  I was shocked when I found out about this.  Can people really be that shady?  Well now that you know not to listen to those commercials, just give me a call when I become a patent agent, and I’ll do it the right way.

Resisting temptation

A post from student blogger Josh

“I can resist anything but temptation” – Oscar Wilde

Life is full of tempting things, and since MSPL is part of my life, it comes with a share of temptations as well. The quote entitling this post is from “Lady Windermere’s Fan”, Oscar Wilde’s first play to receive any serious attention. I would love to say that the reason I know this quote is because I am a fine gentleman of the most exquisite literary tastes, but in reality it happens to be scrawled on a ceiling beam at O’Rourke’s Public House. This is a lovely place to contemplate blog postings or whatever else one does after a pint or three, and it’s located right across from campus. For those of you less familiar with Wilde’s work, he is known for poking fun at society (in the late 19th and early 20th century) through satire and clever one line jokes, but his accuracy and brevity would probably also make him a decent patent agent (provided he had the appropriate technical knowledge).

So what about MSPL is so tempting that one mustn’t do? In this case, it would be to forget about one’s technical credits. For those considering MSPL fresh from undergrad, you’ll have to take these (students with advanced degrees are exempt, though you’ll have to write two capstones). These are graduate level classes in the college of science, and you’re required to take two in the first semester and one in the second semester of the MSPL program. We talk all the time on this blog about our classes on patent searching, application drafting, prosecution, and our capstone projects; but truthfully, I spend more time in my technical credit classes, do more homework, and have more exams. Despite this, I’m still constantly tempted to forget I actually take them. Perhaps it’s because the professors who teach our patent classes are so enthralling, or maybe it’s the direct connection between each of their lectures and my future career, but I never find myself scrambling to do one of their assignments an hour before it’s due.

If you’re foolish enough to take advice from me, I would impart this little gem: DON’T BLOW OFF YOUR TECHNICAL CREDITS. Yes, they are not necessarily as relevant to patent law as the MSPL classes; but they’re electives, so you can pick things that interest you!  In addition, as a practicing agent, you may very well run into a disclosure that you wouldn’t have understood without taking one of them. Before this semester, I knew next to nothing about electrochemical cells or how to program smartphone applications. Truthfully, I knew very little about the physical structures and digital protocols behind wireless and wired networking until last night at midnight, because they were the subject of my midterm exam at 9am. Now that I’ve studied (and will continue to study more earnestly) these fields, I find that I can apply my knowledge of physics to them more effectively, increasing my potential utility as a patent agent. Plus, if you actually pay attention, you don’t have to cram for a midterm with a sinus infection. This is obviously a serious bonus. To conclude as I began:

“I always pass on good advice. It is the only thing to do with it. It is never of any use to oneself.” – Oscar Wilde

(I’ve actually read this one; it’s from “An Ideal Husband”).

“The stupid nipple apertures would be a manufacturing nightmare…”

A post from student blogger Josh

Admit it, you seriously considered skipping over this post and moving on to one with a pretty picture until you read the title, which is a direct quote from one of my classmates and actually relevant to our coursework in MSPL.

When I was growing up, my parents told me that there are some phrases you could never imagine yourself saying until you became a parent. An article posted a few days ago on Popsugar listed some of these lovely things, my (work/blog appropriate) favorites of which include “why would you want a booger collection?”, “why are you taping candy to the wall?”, and “no, you cannot ride in the trunk”. I’m not a parent, but there is a growing list of things I never thought I would say or hear that have come to light since I decided to become a patent agent. So why would anyone ever professionally say “nipple apertures”, and what does this ridiculous utterance have to do with patent law?

Thankfully, this is not a common legal term (because my inner 5 year old would giggle every time I had to make eye contact and say it with a straight face); however, it is what a patent agent or attorney would call a “term of art”. A term of art is an accepted phrase in patent literature used to describe a facet of an invention, and generally has an accepted definition. One of the best things about writing a patent application is that you’re actually allowed to make up your own words and terms, provided that you give explicit and concrete definitions for them. In this case, the patents up for discussion were a part of our patent application drafting course, and pertained to a selection of nursing bras for mothers. There are hundreds of patents on nursing bras or various facets thereof that one can easily discover using Google patents, with a variety of designs to provide better comfort, fitment, functionality etc. In comparing these designs to one another, one often finds that similar or even identical phrases are used to describe parts common to multiple designs. These phrases are examples of terms of art, and can be found everywhere in the patent world. They have been accepted by the patent office to have definite meaning, and thus we use them to save time and improve accuracy and uniformity of specification and claim writing.

In the case of the nursing bras, the nipple aperture would be an opening on the front of each cup that would allow a mother to nurse a baby without removing the bra. So far, we have run into terms of art in many junctures of our coursework, describing all sorts of widgets. For instance, I was unaware that a lobster claw clasp was a term of art when first introduced to a type of lanyard fastener. When asked to draw an example of a lanyard based on a written specification, the picture my group ended up with looked to resemble an ordinary lanyard with the claw of a lobster (which was actually cooler looking than the real thing, though obviously less practical). Lobster claws, bulldog clips, nipple apertures, gluteal clefts… there are all sorts of lovely terms for things you never bothered to think had technical names. There are patents for most things you’ve ever seen, and plenty of things you (hopefully) haven’t, each uniquely and technically defined using a collection of terms of art. Next time you’re bored, try looking at one of the many online lists of ridiculous patents; I can guarantee you’ll walk away from your monitor knowing new ways to describe all sorts of things you never thought about.

To search or not to search

A post from our student blogger Nicole

Today I want to tell you about another funny teacher we have; our Patent Searching teacher.  For those of you that don’t know, Patent Searching is about in depth searching for prior patents that may be relevant to the patent you’re working on through multiple databases.  By relevant I mean any patent already published or filed that is similar, but not the same exact thing, to the patent you will be working on.  The teacher is quite funny.  It’s especially funny when he makes up his own lingo, for example, he told us the code on one of the databases was the cuckoo code.  He’s always cracking jokes in class and telling us about his awesome trips, for instance, his trip to Japan for a searching competition.  How awesome is that?  And what was even better was that he brought back a treat for everyone. Green tea kitkats!  It does sound a little strange but they were actually really good!

Now getting into the actual details of the class.  There are multiple databases used in this class to help you search for relevant patents to your capstone project.  All of these databases have their ups and downs, but you will learn what you prefer the most.  As for me and my mouse device, I’m having a bit of trouble searching for any relevant patents.  My biggest problem is the word mouse.  When you search it you get results for a computer mouse rather than lab mice.  This is a perfect example of how literal and difficult these databases can be.  But don’t let that intimidate you because you learn how to fix this problem with the help of this class.  That’s why this class is so important!  There is so much technique that goes into searching that I had no idea about.  It’s quit fascinating to learn about all the little tricks that go into searching.  They become very convenient when you work on your capstone project.  The homework assignments are a huge help as well and don’t be afraid to talk to the teachers because they are very willing to help out!

The teacher likes to end his lectures by asking if anyone has questions and when nobody raises their hand he says so everybody knows everything.  Just another way to make his class laugh.  Like he said a lecture is more memorable with a laugh.