6.901 | Fall 2005 | Undergraduate

Inventions and Patents


Course Pedagogy by Dr. Rines

In the leap from my undergraduate Institute-wide elective course on Inventions and Patents (6.901, 3.172 and 1.652) to the graduate course (6.931) on the development of inventions and creative ideas into commercialization, I have challenged my students to concern themselves with problem areas of their own personal interests, and to do original research anent to submitting analysis and thinking for class discussion, leading to creating practical proposals for possibly addressing these problems.

In Create or Perish: The Case for Inventions and Patents (downloadable textbook in the readings section) there is presented a view of the US patent system in trouble from the 1950s on, struggling to be meaningful in the United States under a then generally hostile environment sanctioned by the federal courts that, indeed, came to question whether patents were really any longer needed to encourage invention.

This led to the encouragement of wide spread infringement, and opening up our technology to Japan and Europe, and led to a waning interest in the utility of a US patent system. This created a growingly impossible climate for the independent inventor—that prodigious group which accounts for much of our breakthrough invention.

It is in this era that, as a patent trial lawyer for independent inventors and small companies, I personally experienced this hostility; for example, fighting seven Japanese companies at one time on behalf of hi-fi and stereo component pioneer H. H. Scott Inc. of Maynard, Massachusetts, whose patents in this field were just cavalierly copied.

Even though pulling out a near-hat trick of sustaining at trial at least two patents in the Southern District of New York—then known as the “graveyard” for patents—we were shamefully treated in both cases by the hostile Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. In one instance (General Radio v. Kepco) by cavalierly rejecting over 50 findings of fact of invention by the trial court; and in the other case (Foster v. American Machine & Foundry), being denied injunctive relief and being given only what the court said we should be grateful for—a “half of loaf” of compulsory court-set royalties.

These conditions gave rise to my creating an inventors’ organization, the Academy of Applied Science, and later the Franklin Pierce Law Center in Concord, New Hampshire, to try to save and reinvigorate the patent system in America. The Center worked with Judge Howard Markey and others to persuade Congress to divest the federal courts of appeal of any jurisdiction in patent cases, and to create, rather, in 1985, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit as the nation’s single patent appellate court, including some technically trained patent law judges.

How this turned around the interest in intellectual property in the United States is now legend—a far cry from the days when the American Bar Association-created Patent, Trademark and Copyright Research group at George Washington University was given its walking papers—and luckily found a home at our new Franklin Pierce Law Center after being rejected even as a “gift”, by all other institutions to which it was offered!

I leave Create or Perish as it stands, as a historical document to the then sad state of the U. S. patent system; and hopefully may someday up-date the subsequent growth of the patent law in its re-birth in the 80s, at a later time. I use copious subsequent cases and other Internet research assignments to bring the students up-to-date on the more favorable climate for patents today.

The direction of what is currently presented here, however, is not such an update, but, rather, the work of my students and classes in exploring systemic world-wide problem areas involving intellectual property and creating new ideas for trying to solve these problems, ranging from worldwide piracy to world health needs and to the revolution thrust upon us by radically new technologies—software, nanotechnology, solid state science, and microbiology.

We have made minimal effort to edit our students’ results; and having their permission for publication, present them in the projects section in their own words, as the creative-thinking sparks in my current classes in this vast range of social problems.

These materials have been divided into seven categories (I-VII), with the student authors identified with their respective papers, the papers presenting background study and original suggestions for possible improvement by that cross-section of my students—half, incidentally, with parentage but recently from foreign lands, strongly from the Far East—affording an opportunity for a technically well-educated young America to speak out.

Lastly, our students are challenged to follow current legislative proposals for modernizing the patent system and to research by interviews and polling the real needs of particularly the independent and small business inventor communities. They provided evidence used in Congressional debates on the floor of the U. S. House and Senate that led to Fortune magazine generously proclaiming “They Saved Small Business.” (Robinson, Edward. “They Saved Small Business: When Corporate America Tried to Seize the Patent System From Independent Inventors, This Boston Couple Came to the Rescue.” Fortune Small Business April 1, 2000: 75-84).

Learning Resource Types
Online Textbook
Course Introduction