6.931 | Spring 2008 | Graduate

Development of Inventions and Creative Ideas


Course Meeting Times

Discussions: 1 session / week, 3 hours / session

Course Description

This course examines the history of private and public rights in scientific discoveries and applied engineering. It traces the development of worldwide patent systems and of entrepreneurial new technology companies based on patents. It reviews the classes of invention that are able to be protected under the patent laws of the U.S., including the procedures in protecting inventions in the Patent Office and the courts and the relatively new thrust with regard to methods of doing business. The course includes reviews of past and recent cases involving inventions and patents in:

  1. The chemical process industry and medical (pharmaceutical, biological, and genetic-engineering) fields;
  2. devices in the mechanical arts;
  3. electrical, computer, and software inventions; and also
  4. software protection afforded under copyright laws.

Additionally, the course draws from recent developments in intellectual property protection and the invention and innovation process in the U.S. to stimulate a reasoned discourse on the state of invention in the U.S. and abroad. The course addresses the K-12 education pipeline and the importance of this pipeline in continuing global innovation and discovery.


This course is based upon the following text which is required by the instructor for any participant:

Rines, Robert H. Create or Perish: The Case for Inventions and Patents. Boston, MA: Preliminary Edition, 1964.

Within this course, the text will be referred to as Create or Perish. Additional reading material, including references to recent court decisions, may be specified to supplement the text in areas that the instructors deem appropriate. Reading and comprehending the material is extremely important in the student’s performance in this class, and therefore the student is strongly encouraged to acquire and reach the point of personal understanding and synthesis for all material specified in this course.

Course-Specific Policies and Procedures

Late Assignments and Extensions

Assignments are due by 7:30 pm on the due date. No late assignments are permitted without the express permission of the professor or TA prior to the date the assignment is due. Assignments will be penalized two percentage points for every day that the assignment is late up to the total percentage of the assignment towards the final grade.

There are no extensions. In the event of medical emergency or other extenuating circumstances, the professor may make exception to this policy. Notification of a request for an extension must be made prior to the assignment. These requests should include name, course, term, e-mail address, rationale for the request for an extension, and time period requested. The extension must be approved by the professor or TA. Until an extension is approved by the professor or TA, the policy for late assignments is enforced.

Make-up Work

You must be present to benefit from the interaction of the group. All students are expected to comply with the requirements regarding attendance. If a student falls behind in his or her class participation, he or she may be required to submit a 5-7 reaction paper on a single topic covered in the assigned readings for the class missed. Relate the topic of this paper to either your work, school, or other experiences.

Class Participation and Attendance

This course is primarily discussion driven. Therefore, it is imperative that each student is an active participant in class and has his or her reading assignments and homework completed before each session. Students who do not complete their assignments in time, or who are not contributing to the scholarly environment through contribution to the class discussion, can lose up to 5 percentage points from their final grade.

Grading Deadline

Your grade will be calculated based on work that has been submitted by the last day of class. Late work will be marked down unless previous arrangements have been made with the professor.

Honesty and Integrity

Students are expected to act with honesty and integrity at all times while associated with this class. Failure to conduct oneself in this manner is grounds for failure in the course and recommendation for further disciplinary action. With regards to this requirement, students are bound to neither give nor receive aid on examinations, assignments, and other course-related items focused on specific testing of student proficiency in the areas of the inventive process unless such aid is clearly documented. Students are encouraged to assist one another in understanding the material; however, assisting with understanding should not include providing assistance on specific assignment problems. Usage of external/third party research, paper writing or editorial services is also expressly prohibited without proper documentation. Students are expected to submit original work that was designed, tailored, and completed for the assignments in this course.


Be scared. Research well, and credit those ideas, thoughts, and words that you obtained from other places. Students are expected to assign credit for other works that contributed to the development of their words, thoughts, and ideas through proper citation as outlined in the following reference:

American Psychological Association. Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association. 5th ed. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2001. ISBN: 9781557987914.

Assignment Submission

All assignments should be submitted to your TA electronically before the beginning of class. You are encouraged to bring a copy of your material to class for discussion. Assignments received after 7:30 pm will be counted as late assignments.


Class participation and attendance 5%
Weekly assignments and readings 35%
Final project proposal 10%
Final project report and presentation 50%

More information on your weekly assignments and readings will be provided in class. Should you miss a class, you are responsible for contacting your TA to ascertain the assignment for the next week.

Course Topic Overview

In the course this semester, we will be reshaping the curriculum for purposes of presenting the historical and modern cases for innovation in the United States.

The following topics will be discussed in this course:

  1. The origin and development of the American patent system
  2. The role of the patent office and the courts
  3. The patent law
  4. Patents in action (the history of the basic telephone patent)
  5. The rights, obligations, and problems of inventors (employee-employer relations)
  6. The modernization of patent systems
  7. Court modernization for aiding the patent system and the law, in general

Other Topics

  • The elements of planning and organization to develop and launch a 21st Century company based on an inventive idea
  • Perspectives on innovation from an investor and company founder
  • Success stories from 6.931 students
  • Success story from manufacturing – bottle technology
  • New legal challenges in innovation/inventions/patents
  • Suggested discussions: current cases on intellectual property
  • Peterlin case (based on Inventors Protection Act of 1999)

Other topics – time permitting

  • The role of American universities in encouraging innovation
  • Gilbert patent – extending patent protection, with improvement of invention
  • Review of patent material from 6.901, Inventions and Patents

Course Info

As Taught In
Spring 2008
Learning Resource Types
assignment Problem Sets
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