Patent Transactions: Novelty and Best Modes in Legal Innovation

Douglas J. Sylvester

©2013. Published in Landslide, Vol. 6, No. 2, November/December 2013, by the American Bar Association. Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association or the copyright holder.

In a companion article, Patent Litigation Training: Law Schools’ Freedom to Operate, my colleagues at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University, Professors Michelle Gross and Eric Menkhus, discuss the limitations of current curricular offerings in the area of patent litigation. Tellingly, one of the examples they provide for “patent litigation” experience is the excellent Lisa Foundation Patent Law Clinic at Arizona State University (ASU)—a clinic that focuses on patent drafting and issuance.1 It speaks volumes that, when discussing the state of legal education for patent litigation, one of the best practices we can identify is a transaction-focused educational experience!

Yet, as they also note, in a depressed legal market, patent litigation has been a bright spot for firms and newly minted lawyers.2 Transactional patent practice—with its numerous barriers to entry, lucrative prospects, and increased importance as the United States has shifted to a knowledge economy—has been another bright spot.3 Somewhat counterintuitively, and yet presciently I think, Professors Gross and Menkhus posit that the dearth of patent litigation curricula may be a consequence of the workload and financial value inherent in that position.

Despite similar factors for transactional offerings, law schools have done a far better job of preparing students for transactional practice than for litigation. The reasons for this distinction are manifold. As Professors Gross and Menkhus make clear, empirical research on patent litigation, as well as best practices to impart to future litigators, are relatively nascent enterprises, making uniform approaches difficult. In addition, finding experienced and knowledgeable patent litigators with the time and inclination to teach effective courses or clinics in the area is rare. Transactional practice, on the other hand, has a far more doctrinal and consistent knowledge base from which to start building a program. Patent clinics that focus on drafting and prosecution are not without challenges—but there are well-known and uniform doctrinal approaches that may be imparted in any such clinic, as well as a wealth of textbooks, manuals, and materials that can be adopted by schools seeking to start such a program.4 Finally, as discussed below, many schools have used patent clinics to build on broader transactional and entrepreneurial clinics and curricula that, in some cases, have decades of experience teaching students the skills necessary to represent corporate clients. In this way, adding a patent experience may be viewed as complementary rather than revolutionary.

Premium Content For:
  • Intellectual Property Law Section
Join - Now