Need a Job? Make a Plan. (For Free)

Students in Notre Dame’s Patent Law Program already have a clear idea of how they want to use their education and are on direct path to a booming career field. But what about others, who need help learning how to apply their science skills to the workforce? Turns out—there’s an app for that.

In the magazine Science,Jim Austin and Bruce Alberts note patent law among the “career options that Ph.D. scientists haven’t trained for directly—but for which they have useful knowledge, skills, and experience.” But as Martin Rosenberg points out, there is still “a huge disconnect between how we currently train scientists and the actual employment opportunities available for them.”

Which brings us to the IDP, or, Individual Development Plan. While the concept has been used mostly by corporations and governmental agencies to encourage employee introspection and outlined goal-setting, now academia seems to be catching on. Perhaps due to bleak job market in education and more graduates turning to alternative careers, many degree programs have inserted IDP’s in their curriculum to get students thinking about life after graduation.

Sound good like a good idea? It’s about to sound better—a free web app called myIDP has just been released. This self-assessment tool was designed by career professionals in science to help users indentify key career goals and outline the steps to be taken toward their achievement.  The app even has an option to send you email reminders and updates, in case your focus needs an extra kick every now and then.

Check out myIDP here and report back on what you find!

Jury’s Out, and the Future of Technology Awaits

The nine jurors who will convene this week in the Apple vs. Samsung patent lawsuit may not know it, but their decision will likely have a profound impact on the shape (and many other features) of mobile technology to come.

According to the New York Times, if Samsung comes out on top, we should expect to see a lot more devices on the market with an unabashed likeness to the iPhone and iPad. Without any retribution handed down in a landmark case like this, it may be open season for imitators of Apple’s signature sleek, minimalist design.

As for the other outcome, the Times cites Christopher V. Carani, an intellectual property lawyer in Chicago: “I think what we’ll see is a diversification of designs in the marketplace if Apple wins.” Rather than face similar lawsuits, the burden will be on mobile manufacturers to make products of distinct design and functionality.

But experts say the verdict will likely be a mixed bag. The Times reports that Apple’s case for infringement of design patents—regarding the look of the devices—is weaker than that of their utility patents, which protect functional features. Experts say Apple will likely win-some, lose-some, and ultimately won’t come close to the 2.5 billion in damages they were seeking.

But how’s this for some juicy courtroom tidbits—evidence was presented in which a top-level Samsung executive expressed that the iPhone’s release gave their company “a crisis of design” and that using the iPhone compared to Samsung’s products was a difference like “that of Heaven and Earth.”

Ouch! How will it all shake down? We should know this week!

Apple v. Samsung: The Inside Tweets

Here’s a fun one: we report all the time on the steady stream of Silicon Valley legal imbroglios, but rarely does one get to be a fly on the wall of the courtroom. Here’s an insider look at the latest throwdown, Samsung vs. Apple, courtesy of selected tweets from the peanut gallery:

Feisty start in patent case, Samsung lawyer clashes with Judge Koh over evidence it wants to submit. “We need to move fwd” says Koh sternly

John Quinn, Samsung lawyer: “Your honor, I’ve been practicing law for 36 years and I’ve never begged the court. I’m begging the court now.”

Samsung atty Charles Quinn trying to get judge to rehear an issue, and she just blasts him..”I want you to sit down, please!”

Judge Koh threatens to sanction Samsung lawyer John Quinn in a heated exchange over exhibits.

25 years covering courts, and haven’t seen big name law firm partner eviscerated in court like that….i think i see an intestine on the…

Opening statements have started. Apple lawyer Harold J. McElhinny of law firm Morrison Foerster (which calls itself MoFo) is talking to jury

Apple lawyer arguing that it is “hard to remember what phones looked” like before the iPhone launched in 2007

How did Samsung get from its 2006 phones to its 2010 phones? Apple witnesses will say it’s all about iPhone introduction, Apple atty says.

”Less than 10 miles form this courthouse, that is what this team put together,” says Apple playing to the home advantage


And that’s just the first day… get the rest at Mashable.

Patent Pros at Work in Universities

We take pride in noting that patent agents have a wealth of career opportunities—with law firms, the USPTO, and within corporations’ intellectual property divisions, but we haven’t yet mentioned those in our own backyard—universities eager to commercialize the technologies they’ve developed.

Take this quote from a recent article on “One source of new technologies is our national labs and universities that get federal funding. Their mission is to find commercial partners to bring inventions out of the lab and turn them into real products.”

Most universities now have distinct departments devoted to facilitating this process. At Notre Dame, it’s the Office of Technology Transfer. Among their functions:

  • To secure legal protection (patents) for ND technologies,
  • To market those technologies to companies that are well positioned to bring them to the marketplace,
  • To negotiate and execute licenses transferring rights in ND technologies to such companies


Just a brief look at the current technologies put forth by the university and you can see the win-win opportunity that patent licensing makes possible, for startup companies and universities alike.

Not to mention the opportunity for the facilitator! Consider it: a job in which you are on the forefront of every advancement that comes out of a university, where you’re the bridge between the academy and the business world, making new technologies available for public benefit. Interested? Contact the Masters Program in Patent Law to learn how our degree is your first step forward.

Coastal Opportunities for Patent Agents

Job prospects for patent professionals are about to get a lot more… coastal.

Plans for the Silicon Valley office of the USPTO have begun to firm up. Last week, acting U.S. Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank told city officials that the office will open within “12 to 18 months,” employ 125 people, and be “the biggest modernization of the patent office we’ve ever seen.”

The news comes just in time, considering that Silicon Valley is ground zero for high-profile patent lawsuits. Apparently in the world of computer software and hardware, with engineers playing musical chairs between companies, it’s all too easy to step on each others’ toes and infringe on intellectual property.

But the new satellite offices should help curb that. Says Rebecca Blank, “these new offices give us the ability to do higher-quality patents, and could mean fewer legal challenges.”

And not to mention less plane tickets for patent agents headed to to Virginia, home to the original USPTO. It’s fair to say the Patent Office has been all a-flutter about the new offices, which in addition to Silicon Valley, are slated to open in Denver, Dallas, and Detroit, which will be the first to open and was actually dedicated just last week!

Are Patents Romantic?

We may typically like to think of our great American inventors as rogue loners toiling away in their humble garages, only to emerge with the next personal computer, or the equally revolutionary light bulb. But apparently that is a myth ready for busting. It may not be romantic, but the real hotbed of invention is in professionally-staffed, fully-funded laboratories.

This misconception is unfortunate, says Eric Issacs at, because it “has a real impact on the way this nation views the importance of the knowledge enterprise and the scientific infrastructure that supports it.” And since patent/legal departments fall under this scientific infrastructure, the argument seems a relevant one.

Issacs issues examples from then and now. Even Thomas Edison, arguably the progenitor of the “isolated-genius-inventor” conception, actually headed up the largest scientific laboratory of the times, with a staff of 40 in New Jersey.

And the garage of William Hewlett and David Packard in Palo Alto? The one that now has a plaque that says “Birthplace of Silicon Valley?” Who knows if that honor could have been bestowed if not for the duo’s access to the electrical engineering resources of Stanford University?

The problem, says Issacs, is that if the public doesn’t recognize the role that institutions play in nurturing ideas and facilitating experimentation, support for those institutions may falter and the real engine of innovation (the un-romantic) could be undermined.

Can we say the same for the patent process? Patents do provide inventors with exclusive rights to market their inventions, though in a similar manner to the inventor-myth above, the “inventors” who own the patents are often corporate conglomerates. Still, it’s the revenue from that period of exclusivity that fund further large-scale laboratory research, and profits that pay the men and women researching behind the scenes—regardless of whether they have a garage or not.

Patent Litigation Abuzz in Silicon Valley

It is no exaggeration to say that what’s stirring the pot in Silicon Valley right now isn’t the latest i-Gadget—it’s tech patents. Licensing intellectual property is a big money-maker out there, where something as intangible as an algorithm is often the hottest commodity. Protection of IP is the sign of the technological times—consider that a majority of the half-million patents applied for each year are tech-related.

And a behemoth tech-company like Google, which has quickly become a part of our everyday lives, (and profits very well from that fact), is not surprisingly taking the lion’s share of patent-related lawsuits.  Fresh from litigation with Oracle, a software company that claimed Android devices infringed on its Java programming, Google is now back in court with IP Engine, concerning the very web search algorithm that made Google, well, Google.

Because the 14-year history of this particular algorithm is perhaps more complex than how it works, here’s the IP Engine/Google fiasco in a nutshell according to Fast Company: in 1998 engineers Andrew Lang and Donald Kosak patented an algorithm that allowed search engines to scour the web and filter the results. While the patent was bought and sold since, it is now owned by IP Engine, who claims Google and other companies like AOL have used the algorithm and therefore owe a royalty. Given that Google alone makes 38 billion annually, a mere fraction of that would be a tidy sum.

As is common with many patent lawsuits, the devil is in the details, or in this case, the definitions. “Scanning” is the term in question—whether it refers to the traditional hand-visor surveying to pick out a particular thing, or the more technical method of “spidering” that is the M.O. of many a search engine.

This is, of course, just the groundwork being laid out as the case goes to trial. We’ll have more for you as the drama unfolds.

Steve Jobs Patent Exhibit at Smithsonian

Though the exhibit was at the USPTO offices for some time, The Patents and Trademarks of Steve Jobs: Art and Technology that Changed the World has made it’s way to the hallowed halls of the Smithsonian and will be there for about a month longer, ending July 8th.

If a wall of patents doesn’t seem like museum material, consider the impact those inventions had on culture around the world, and the fact that the objects of those patents earned Apple assets that eclipse the national treasury.

And of course, Jobs was known for his artistry as well as his ingenuity. According to NPR, the now seemingly-antiquated design for the first flat-screened iMac, that seems to hover over it’s rounded base was inspired by sunflowers his wife grew in their Palo Alto garden.

And if you can’t get to D.C., here’s a fascinating interactive look at Jobs’ patents at the New York Times, everything from Apple packaging to product prototypes that never made it to the showroom floor.

The Value of American Ideas

What comes to mind when you think of American exports? Cadillacs? Doritos? Those are easy, but you may not consider services like finance and education, and you probably don’t think of American ideas either. But as shown on the chart below, intellectual property falls under the “Royalties and Licensing” bubble, and makes up a big chunk of American GDP.

Source: Bureau of Economic Analysis Credit: Lam Thuy Vo / NPR

According to NPR’s Planet Money, American ideas bring in about $105.6 billion from overseas. And as illustrated in the next breakdown, the lion’s share of these monies comes from “Software” and “Industrial Processes”—both of which depend on patent protection to ensure the intellectual property is not being abused, and the developer is getting their fair share of compensation from use.

Source: Bureau of Economic Analysis Credit: Lam Thuy Vo / NPR

“Industrial processes” comprise anything from medicine and drug formulas to trade secrets and technology in manufacturing. It all goes to show that intellectual property, while it may be as intangible as a thought, idea, or simple moment of inspiration, is a big, global business—a business that needs individuals like you to be a part of!

Twitter Tweaks Patent Process for Sake of Innovation

Twitter is making plans for a brand new approach for their in-house patent operations, one they say will “keep control in the hands of engineers and designers,” rather than the traditional corporate patent arrangements in which a company holds all rights related to inventions made by it’s employees.

The “Innovator’s Patent Agreement,” or IPA, is a direct response to this traditional process, which Twitter believes can sometimes staunch technological innovation. Understood in the new policy is that Twitter’s patents can only be used for defensive litigation, and offensive litigation is only allowed with the inventor’s permission.

The patent agreement can be publicly viewed on GitHub, and apparently is retroactive, applying to all Twitter’s patents past and present. Not only that—but the stipulations apply to subsequent owners of the patent, if bought or sold.

“Employees can be assured that their patents will be used only as a shield rather than as a weapon,” says Twitter VP of Engineering, Adam Messinger, on their blog.

Twitter’s news has its supporters and detractors, especially since the company is suggesting others adopt the same policy. Critics speculate whether the whole thing is a public relations display—suspicious of why the company would willfully undermine the tremendous value patents have in the tech marketplace.

But PR stunt or not, the truth behind all this is that patents are a hot topic in modern technology, business, and innovation. And Notre Dame can give you the tools and skills necessary for you to get in on it!