As part of a continuing series on Fall 2018 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: in 2011, 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 still being felt in today’s patent disputes, and will be front and center of a special event this year: the Administering Patent Law symposium co-sponsored by the IBL Center and Iowa Law Review. Two of the scholars attending the symposium, Robert Merges and John Duffy, also co-author the casebook Rantanen uses.
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 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.
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. Depending on the size of the class, students may also get to participate in more hands-on exercises such as mock claim construction arguments. The fall 2018 class also attended a claim construction hearing at the Federal Courts Building in Cedar Rapids.
Meg Hingtgen (3L) appreciated the course’s broad applicability to patent law. “Professor Rantanen did a good job of covering range of topics that could also come up in litigation context,” Hingtgen said. Hingtgen also noted that the course gave her the foundation for any patent work she’ll do in the future.
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 April 3, 2018
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 and the United States Supreme Court. 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. This course is strongly recommended for any student who intends to pursue a career in a technology-related law field.