As part of a continuing series on Fall 2017 semester courses that relate to innovation and business law, this post spotlights Patent Law.

Patent law often involves the leading edge of technological innovation. Lately, though, it has also been on the leading edge of legal innovation. After a long period of dormancy, over the past several years the Supreme Court has become “extraordinarily active” in this area of law said Professor Jason Rantanen. Since 2010, the Court has issued 25 opinions involving patent law— “an incredible level of activity given that the Court typically only hears about 75 cases a year,” remarked Rantanen, who this fall will once again teach Patent Law. “Such intense activity inevitably produces disruption in the legal landscape, forcing lawyers to learn how to address the new precedential decisions.” Other dramatic changes to the patent law landscape have produced their own waves: six years ago Congress overhauled the patent statute in its most significant revision in six decades, both altering substantive elements of patent law and creating new procedural mechanisms for challenging issued patents. The effects of that legislation are being felt in today’s patent disputes.

Patent Law is the first course Rantanen taught and the subject remains at the core of his scholarly interests. “It’s tied in with innovation and entrepreneurship. There’s a technology layer, a law layer, a policy layer,” he said, listing what attracts him to patent law. “And all three of them are complex. That makes it conceptually difficult, but also fun to teach.”

Patent Law examines the underlying doctrines and institutions of the patent system. “We talk about questions like when is the disclosure in a patent sufficient, when is an invention really new enough for a patent, and how to construe a patent’s claims.” Rantanen explained. “To really answer these questions requires a strong knowledge of the law, an understanding of the policies driving that law and rigorous analysis.” Rantanen contrasts Patent Law with the law school’s course on patent prosecution, which covers the mechanics of obtaining a patent. Students who intend to practice patent law should take both, but Patent Law itself offers something for everyone.

Introduction to Intellectual Property Law (Intro to IP) is a prerequisite for Patent Law since Rantanen focuses on advanced issues in patent law rather than just the fundamentals. Like in Intro to IP, Rantanen incorporates exercises into the course, such as short writing assignments. In the past he has also had students participate in mock hearings before patent practitioners acting as judges.

Ultimately, Patent Law “is not a class where you can sit back and absorb knowledge. There are often right and wrong answers, but you have to think about it,” he observed. All of this requires substantial work: there’s a lot of material to cover, which translates into more reading, reflecting, and thinking. On average, Rantanen expects students to spend about 2-3 hours preparing and reviewing per class.

--Jay Stirling | updated March 21, 2017

Course Description

This course covers all aspects of U.S. patent law, including patent claims, adequacy of disclosure, statutory subject matter, validity, inequitable conduct, infringement, remedies, and a variety of other specialized doctrines. The course focuses heavily on recent pronouncements from the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. Although the course does deal with advanced technologies to some extent, no scientific or engineering background is required. Introduction to Intellectual Property Law is a recommended prerequisite.

Schedule Information

Monday - Wednesday -- 11:30-12:30