15.628J | Spring 2013 | Undergraduate

Patents, Copyrights, and the Law of Intellectual Property


Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 2 sessions / week, 1.5 hours / session


There are no prerequisites for this class.


This subject is an intensive introduction to the law of intellectual property, with major emphasis on U.S. patent law. The course also focuses on copyrights, provides a brief look at trademarks and trade secrets, presents comparisons of what can and cannot be protected, and what rights the owner does and does not obtain. Issues relating to information technology, biogenetic materials, and business methods are highlighted.

Most of the assigned readings are case decisions and excerpts from federal statutes. Class sessions combine discussion with lecture, and students are expected to read the assigned material carefully prior to each class.

Course Requirements and Grading

There will be one mid-term exam and one second-half-term exam. There will also be a short patent-search project, with a written report and optional class presentation. In addition, there will be very short exercises based on the readings throughout the term. Components of students’ final grades will be weighted as follows:

Mid-term exam 1/3
Second-half-term exam 1/3
Patent-search project 1/6
Short exercises and class participation 1/6


PART 1: Introduction
1 Historical and philosophical background of patents and other intellectual property  

The U.S. Patent System: the Constitution, Congress, Patent Office (PTO), and courts

Analyzing and understanding judicial opinions

PART 2: Comparative overview of patents, copyrights, trade secrets, and trademarks

Legal fundamentals of patent protection for useful inventions

Design and plant patents


Legal fundamentals of copyright protection

Similarity and access

Expression vs. ideas and information, merger


Fair use of copyrighted works (e.g., for classroom use)

Contributory copyright infringement


Critical differences between patent and copyright protection

Copyright infringement distinguished from plagiarism

7 Legal fundamentals of trade-secret protection  
8 Legal fundamentals of trademark protection  
PART 3: Requirements and limitations of patentability

New and useful:

(A) The legal requirement of novelty

(B) First to invent vs. first inventor to file

Short exercise 1 due
10 The legal requirement of non-obviousness  

Statutory subject matter and judicial exceptions:

(A) Patentability of algorithms, software, and business methods

Short exercise 2 due

Statutory subject matter and judicial exceptions:

(B) Patentability of medical treatments and human genes

Midterm exam
PART 4: The process of applying for a patent (“patent prosecution”)

Anatomy of a patent application

Adequate disclosure

14 The art of drafting patent claims  

Patent searching:

(A) Purposes and techniques


Patent searching:

(B) On-line tools available to MIT students

PART 5: Actions for patent infringement

Interpretation of claims

Doctrine of equivalents

Product testing as a possibly infringing use

Doctrine of exhaustion

18 Legal and equitable remedies for infringement Short exercise 3 due
19 Anatomy of patent litigation  
20 Courtroom visit to current patent trial: Federal Courthouse, Boston  
PART 6: Other important issues
21 Student presentations of patent-search results Patent-search report due

(A) Patent licensing

(B) Non-competition agreements


Rights and obligations among co-inventors, co-authors, employers, and licensees

Second-half term exam