A post from student blogger Nicole

Recently in our patent prosecution class we read a Disney patent for one of their water slides.  You might be thinking to yourself, what can be patented about a water slide?  At least that’s what came to my mind when our teacher asked us.  Well I’ll help you out. They developed a system at the bottom of the slide to help you comfortably slow down.  The system uses air injection nozzles to lower the density of the water, which helps you slow down more gently as you approach the end.  Otherwise your butt might be bruised the next day if you went down a water slide more than 80 feet tall and smacked into the water at the bottom.  If it wasn’t for this then there wouldn’t be Summit Plummet at Disney’s Blizzard Beach.  New technology helps create new possibilities.

The most exciting part about being a patent agent is going to be seeing all the new technology.  It’ll be intriguing to see what brilliant ideas are being thought of next.  Could you imagine if the company you were working for was brought an idea like an airplane?  And you were the one that was chosen to write the patent for it?  That is something to be proud of.  How could you not want to become a patent agent?  You get a jump start on the new things evolving in this world.  The airplane was patented in 1906 and it was called a flying machine.  It’s funny to think of an airplane being called a flying machine, but back then it was historic and made a difference in the world today.  Nobody knows what’s coming next, but as a patent agent we’ll be one step ahead.

US8746616 3It is interesting to see how much patents have changed.  If you get the chance to look at patents, look at the airplane patent (821,393) from 1906 and an airplane patent (8,746,616) from 2014.  The world is evolving in many ways and these airplane patents are perfect evidence of it.

Are they hiring?

A post from student blogger Brittany

As the end of the program quickly approaches, my priority has been to find a job that I can transition into fairly easily from the program. I couldn’t dare tell my mother that after all of this schooling I don’t have a job and I need to come home until I find one, not to mention we would drive each other crazy.  I’ve been applying to different law firms, companies and search firms since the later part of the first semester with the theory of the early bird gets the worm. Let’s just say I’m still looking for that damn worm.

This has probably one of the most stressful aspects of the program. At least once a day in class I just blurt out “ are they hiring?” because job placement has been an uphill battle even with my PhD. Outside of the direct competition from my classmates, I have to remember that there are people across the US that are vying for the same positions as me.  Initially I told myself I would say yes to whoever gave me an opportunity to get my feet wet in the world of patent law but as the program has progressed I’m pinpointing what I want in my future workplace as it relates to the people, location, reputation of the company, and the opportunity for professional growth.

I’ve interviewed at a few places that comprise the gamut of potential career opportunities for practicing patent law. Each had something unique to offer however I had to evaluate each opportunity based on my immediate and future needs as a young professional. The MSPL program has done an excellent job at introducing us to patent law and prosecution however challenges and obstacles will arise when we get into our respective positions that we didn’t encounter during the program.  My goal is to work in a challenging environment where I can further develop the skills learned in the MSPL program and gain practical experience in all aspects of patent law. So let me get back to filling out these applications…..

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.

Tips and tricks

tipsA post from student blogger Nicole

Throughout the first semester, our Patent Law and Prosecution I teacher would generously provide us with tips for taking the Patent Bar Exam.  Everyone appreciates a helping hand so I’ve decided to share some of the tips today.

Tip 1: One of the most helpful tips I received from the professor was to create a matrix with the question numbers and letters.  I find that this will be very helpful for me when I take the exam.  That way when I come to a question I don’t know, I can eliminate some of the answers I know are wrong and then skip the question and come back to it later.  I’ll already have some of the answers crossed out, and I’ll have a fresher look at the answers left.

Tip 2: Read the questions and answers carefully.  Make sure the question isn’t saying not patentable or not in accordance.  Underline important information or certain words like I just did.  Also be careful with the wording of certain questions.

Tip 3: Don’t just glance at certain parts of the question.  Sometimes a part of the question you think seems irrelevant, might actually be the most important part of the question.

Tip 4: Don’t get caught up in all the dates if one of the questions has several different dates in it.  Sometimes this is to trick you.

Tip 5: Keep a good pace.  You only get 3 minutes and 36 seconds to answer each question.  That may seem like a lot of time, but a bunch of the questions are long with a lot of information in them.  If you have to look up a question, you really have to budget your time.

Tip 6: There are a lot of questions on 35 USC 102 and 35 USC 103.

So on a side note here are some additional little tricks that will help when taking the exam.  When in doubt pick the answer that includes the words “and pay the fee”.  The USPTO loves money.  Also some of the questions are “most correct answer” so they may all sound right, but only one is the most right.  In my opinion this is the worst kind of question.  But anyway, I hope some of these tips will help out and good luck to anyone who is going to take the Patent Bar Exam!

Chess v. checkers

I have been running around like a chicken with its head cut off lately between attending my first business plan competition to prepping for interviews. Unfortunately my team didn’t win the competition but I learned so much from the process that it wasn’t as bummed as I thought a loss would make me. Listening to the pitches of all the finalists gave me an opportunity to fill any gaps I was able to discover in the IP Strategy of the business plan of my own team. Despite the judges not having any formal training in the area of patent law, they all asked some amazing questions regarding the patent process and one team was even suggested a litigation strategy due to their overlapping technology with another company. As I sat in the audience listening to the judges’ questions, I realized that I did a great job of understanding the patent drafting and prosecution phases and had I been in the hot seat, I would have surely dominates those questions. You don’t realize how much you learn until you have to actually apply it to a real world scenario. Kudos to my professors for doing an amazing job!

IP strategy is not something that we explicitly learn in the MSPL program but it will definitely play a role in our respective roles as patent professionals. Our Lunch & Learn speaker this past week touched on how the IP strategy approach would be vastly different if one is an in-house patent professional for a startup vs a well established company, and also for representing single clients within a law firm. Knowing when to draft applications with broader or narrower coverage based on the client and their technology is a skill that takes time to acquire.  As a patent professional it’s almost like you have to be able to see the future in regards to your client’s area of technology to keep them relevant. Because most fields of technology are constantly changing, it’s possible to get a patent on something that is all the rave during one year and the next it’s completely obsolete.

As a patent professional, take the extra effort to discuss things beyond the technology at hand to get an understanding of where he or she sees themselves or their company in the upcoming years. That person could potentially be a client with a steady stream of business which every patent professional loves.

I’m late! I’m late! For a very important date!

A post from student blogger Nicole

First things first, dates are important when it comes to patent law.  A beginner’s tip: find out all the important dates on the first meeting you ever have with a client.  Know if your client filed a provisional patent, offered their product for sale, or publically disclosed it at a conference or something similar.  Whatever you do, just remember to find out those types of dates.  These become very crucial and you don’t want something like missing a deadline to ruin your chances of getting a patent.

Well now that I got my rant out of the way I’ll tell you about my experience so far with my outside mentor.  The students in this program are given a practicing patent agent or attorney to help us write the specification for our disclosure.  They are basically giving us feedback on each section we write in order to draft a complete patent application.  Not only can we ask for their feedback but we can ask them about their jobs too.  I’ve been able to ask my mentor about his path to becoming a patent attorney and how he’s enjoyed it all these years.  I like hearing everyone’s journeys to becoming patent agents/attorneys.  I’m looking forward to receiving feedback from my mentor throughout the semester so that we can make my application unbreakable.

I also just wanted to throw in how awesome the basketball game was on Saturday.  Notre Dame had a great second half and beat UNC.  It was an extremely exciting game, and I’m glad I was able to go.  For anyone that comes into this program you should really try and go to at least one game.  The tickets are free for students and you just have to sign up when the ticket window opens.  Most of the time it turns into a lottery when a lot of students sign up, but you can get lucky and be picked!  The student section is quite the experience.  There is so much excitement and cheering and fighting Irish spirit!  It’s definitely worth it and you can even get free stuff like a shirt or colorful poms.  Who doesn’t love free stuff!



A post from student blogger Brittany

When learning about correspondence with the PTO, it is very easy to deduce that the Examiner is always in the driver’s seat and the patent practitioner should do anything possible to please him or her in order to get an allowance. There are a few cases however in which the patent practitioner can shift that control, putting the Examiner in the hot seat. For example, when an Examiner rejects claims based on 35 U.S.C103 or requires a restriction/election, it is their responsibility to provide sufficient evidence to support their conclusion, and when they don’t, the patent practitioner can respectfully call them out.

I recently got a homework assignment back from my Patent Prosecution professor and he stated that although I knew I could argue that the Examiner failed to explain his stance on a serious burden, I didn’t have a convincing argument. The professor also stated that it takes a certain level of skill to eloquently disagree with the Examiner resulting in him or her potentially having a change of heart regarding their initial rejection.

The idea of arguing my point, when I know I am correct, reaches further than my future interactions with the USPTO and outside the classroom. People are going to tell you no all the time because to be perfectly honest it’s an easy way out of a lot of situations, however if you really want something it’s your responsibility to persuade them otherwise. Have a great counterargument that makes someone question their initial thought process, simply saying you’re wrong just won’t cut it.  Now don’t get me wrong, some people will tell you no and you’ll know immediately that they mean it, we can’t win them all, but for the ones that you have the slightest chance of coming out as the victor why not nudge them a little.

As I write this post I am heading to Louisville to compete in the Cardinal Challenge. Each team has the burden to convince the judges, whose favorite word is NO, that they have a solid business plan and can combat any questions thrown their way.  I hope I can let you guys know that we won on my next post, but if I don’t then you should already know that we didn’t present a convincing argument.

On brewing and the wizardry of directed readings

A post from student blogger Josh

If you feel sincerely uninspired by your standard coursework, and you’re struggling to find an elective class that suits your fancy, you’re not alone. I’ve reviewed a multitude of course catalogues and found the experience to be like ordering food at your least favorite fancy restaurant; everything is expensive, arduous to consume, and none of it sounds palatable. This is where directed readings come to the rescue. This is the equivalent of saying “screw your fancy food, I’m a Kraft Macaroni, Top Ramen and Miller Light man until I die”, and you get to decide what’s on the menu. In the case of MSPL, you do need your electives to be science courses, so you are limited in that whatever course you want to take does have to be justifiably scientific. You also need to find someone willing to teach whatever topic you decide. You have to select a book, write a syllabus, and just generally create a course with an appropriate workload to be considered for credit. My concoction of choice for the semester is “Commercial Fermentation for Scientists and Engineers”, which has evolved into a surprisingly scientific course.

First of all, it isn’t as though I expected the course to be easy. After all, a directed readings class undergoes scrutiny for approval. Truly easy classes are well established, and can hide underneath the guise of once having been a legitimate challenge or learning experience in some way. As unusual as this may sound, I’ve spent many more hours doing outside classwork for commercial fermentation class than I have all of my other classes this semester combined. It’s difficult to research each lecture and draft a brief presentation every week, especially when the act of actually brewing beer, even from a malt extract (so that I don’t have to mill grain), is a long process. Add in the additional layer that you are looking for perfect consistency between batches, such that changing a single variable for each batch produces a measureable or tastefully notable change in your product, and you actually have a surprisingly difficult endeavor.

What this directed readings course solves, more than anything, is a problem of motivation. I happen to like beer. I like consuming it. I like learning about it. I like making it. I also happen to like the scientific method. I like establishing conclusions based on repeatable fact patterns. As a result, I am actually motivated to put in the extra hours necessary to make this class difficult, and truly learn from it. I can guarantee that I’ll retain more information from my hands on brewing class than I would any course where I had to peruse textbooks and power points, filling out periodic questionnaires. If you’re feeling uninspired by your work, it’s your responsibility to change that. So go do it.

How tall??

skyscrapersA post from student blogger Nicole

So I decided to take a detour from patent law to talk about my tech elective.  As a civil engineer I’ve taken courses in structures, water resources, transportation, etc.  The tech elective I’m currently taking is in the structures branch of civil engineering.  It’s called structural systems, and it is a completely different class than I’ve ever taken that deals with structures.  My teacher is having us look at buildings as a whole rather than analyzing each beam or bolt specifically.  We’re learning how a building as a whole will fail and what factors of the skyscrapers allow them to be so tall.  It’s actually very interesting because I’ve never has a class that was so broad.

What’s even better about the class is all the skyscrapers she’s talked about, such as the tallest or most known skyscrapers in the world.  Some of the known skyscrapers are the John Hancock Building and the Sears Tower in Chicago.  We also talked about the World Trade Center and the Empire State Building in New York.  If you think these buildings are tall then you have to visit the Burj Khalifa in Dubai or the soon-to-be tallest building in the world, Jeddah Tower (Kingdom Tower) in Saudi Arabia.  It is currently under construction and will be about 3,280 feet tall!  I would be freaking out if I went to the top of that building.  It would be an awesome experience, but I hate the ferris wheel so I’m not sure how much I would really enjoy it.  But anyway, they wanted to build it a mile high but there was an issue with the geology of the area so they reduced the height to 3,280 feet (about 0.62 miles).  Let’s put that into perspective.  The Jeddah Tower is about 3,280 feet and the One World Trade Center (Freedom Tower) is 1,792 feet.  So the Jeddah Tower is almost twice as tall as the One World Trade Center in New York!  That’s insane!

Is anyone else wondering why the United States hasn’t jumped on the bandwagon yet and tried to have the tallest building in the world?  Well if you’re like me then you didn’t know that the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and the Federal Communications Commission don’t allow buildings to go over 2,000 feet in the U.S.  The reason is to prevent the structures from being a hazard to air navigation.

I love the saying ‘you learn something new every day’ because I definitely learned something new that day.

Leggo my eggo

A post from student blogger Josh

If you’re anything like most decent Americans, you probably have three things you absolutely cannot stand; these would be your taxes, the New England Patriots, and first dates. Unfortunately, a first face to face interview greatly resembles a first date. You have to talk to someone you’ve never met, make entertaining conversation, answer a series of “get to know you” questions, and not screw up doing so on a level that a second date is also out of the question. However, most people seem to forget the most important bit here, which is to accurately represent yourself. Remember, if the relationship ends up blossoming into something long term, you want to make sure that both parties are being honest. There is still a certain level of necessary censorship that occurs here (for instance, it’s probably a terrible idea to mention that time you ate all the Eggo waffles on an intercontinental flight), but overall you’re looking to present a version of you that is reflective of how you would act in the workplace (so if you’re interviewing to be a pilot for cargo planes delivering Eggo waffles, you might be able to sneak something in there provided you’re not talking directly to HR).

Most of us are not actually able to keep up a façade of flawless professionalism forever. We have facial expressions and moments of inappropriate laughter that will often give away our more human sides. If you’re like me, it’s absolute torture to go for two hours of talking to people without making a single joke. So tell the jokes, get the laughs, and be yourself. Remember, the person sitting across from you is human too, and she/he likely isn’t looking forward to a potentially awkward encounter either.  A good interview feels like a conversation rather than a game show; it’s not really something that you can win, and it shouldn’t just be you answering questions. The experience is just as much about discovering if the firm is a good fit for you as it is about your qualifications. Once people have read your resume and have an idea of your background, what they really want to know is “do I want to see this guy at the water cooler? Am I going to want to punch this person in the face every time I walk by their desk?  Are they going to generally improve my work environment?” So just smile, relax, and don’t be that guy.

Want more tips? Let’s start with the basics. Do your homework. Actually look at the firm’s website. If you get a schedule of people who you’ll be talking to, read their bios. Know a bit about the city where the firm is located. Have a consistent, truthful, interesting, and somewhat concise story ready of how you came across the idea of being a patent agent or attorney. Prepare for the interview exactly as you would a day at work (if you don’t drink coffee, it’s not a good time to start). Dress like the person you want to be, and above all, have a realistic understanding of your abilities and your value to the firm. This last point is often emphasized for salary negotiations, but in many cases this won’t be a component of a first serious interview. We young people tend to suffer from a belief that our degrees and time in school mean that we actually know things, and that we’re going to be good at our jobs the moment we begin them. While you can and should be confident, do not let this border on arrogance. Emphasize that you are teachable, intelligent, ready to work, and an excellent investment in the future of the firm (if you’re not any of those things, you probably won’t see much success in this field). So please, don’t stress too much about interviews. I understand the nerves, I’ve had plenty lately. But if you’re reading this, I have full faith in your abilities, so just be yourself and kick some ass.