The lessons of failure

A post from student blogger Josh

“It’s fine to celebrate success, but more important to heed the lessons of failure.” – Bill Gates

Every profession has its own cult of celebrity personalities that people in the business all know, and patent law is certainly no exception. Since the number of registered patent agents and attorneys in the United States still totals under 76,000 (alive or dead), one benefit of being in such a specialized field is that you might actually get to meet some of these celebrities. This weekend, myself and two other members of the MSPL cohort were fortunate enough to be able to interact with supervisory patent examiners, Patent Trial and Appeal Board judges, the chief IP counsel for Ford Motor Company, and other notables at the inaugural University of Detroit Mercy Patent Drafting Competition.

If you ever get the opportunity to participate in something like this, do it. Not only for the networking potential, but also because you get instant feedback from the people whose job it is to critique, reject, and eventually allow your patent. Instead of being often years removed from when you write an application, you get the chance to see how examiners, judges, and litigators see your work in real time. Additionally, it’s probably best if you don’t actually win.  Use this opportunity to test boundaries, and try claim language that you aren’t necessarily confident in, as opposed to playing it safe and vanilla. You don’t actually learn anything by doing things correctly the first time, so why not shoot for the moon and see where the chips fall? The opportunity to have patent examiners and PTAB judges explain to you why reciting a claim or component of the specification a certain way could hurt your patent is one that is often accomplished after years of practice and dialogue with examiners. We were fortunate enough to see examination of our work, live, without having to wait years between office actions.

Additionally, I hadn’t actually considered becoming an examiner until I got to tour the Detroit satellite patent office this weekend, speak with examiners, and learn about the training and hiring process. Now, I have yet another potential career path at my disposal, and I know who I can contact to help me get there. I am aware that my usual postings on this blog are full of witty banter, because I’m frankly amazing at that. However, this is a topic I’m genuinely serious about. Learn from mistakes, take advantage of opportunities to do so, and never be afraid to ask questions. I even had a PTAB judge shake my hand, and thank me for my honesty when it came to discussing our drafting process. This is someone whose cases I’ve actually read, and certainly not someone I ever thought I’d speak to. Work hard, play harder, and be honest with yourself people. We spend far too much time and energy posturing, pretending as though others actually expect us to be perfect. I don’t think I’ve ever been happier to lose a contest in my life, because I acknowledge that the trophy isn’t the important part. Try it sometime, it’s rather liberating.

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