Captivating Courses: Finding the Value of Intellectual Property in Novel & Non-Obvious Ways

One of the most popular courses offered by the Professional Science Master’s Program at Rutgers University concentrates on understanding and forming strategies surrounding intellectual property (16:137:501 Fundamentals of Intellectual Property). The course is taught by Professor Dipanjan “DJ” Nag, PhD, MBA, CLP, RTTP. Professor Nag is currently the President and CEO of PredIQtus, an Intellectual Property (IP) consulting and monetization firm, and was previously the Executive Director of the Office of Technology Commercialization at Rutgers University. Here is a description of the course and the philosophy behind it from Professor Nag himself:

“Today we are in a knowledge based economy that is fueled by innovation. Perhaps the most critical element of being successful with innovation is to manage it properly. Although scientists and engineers are supposed to know how IP should play a role in their professional career involving research and in corporate surroundings, they often lack that knowledge.

The MBS course on Fundamentals of IP strategy teaches the basic building blocks of IP strategy to students from the perspective of a small business, large business, university technology transfer or an entrepreneur. Learning from this course eventually helps them to be successful in their career as a scientist, business professional or a researcher at a university.

Various other career options become obvious from taking this course. Students have the option of exploring a full career in IP such as becoming a patent attorney, technology licensing manager, or performing licensing and business development at a corporation.”

Why is this such a valuable course? Not only does it focus on a unique subject, but it does so in a unique perspective. Most courses on IP are offered at law schools and focus on the legal aspect. However, as Professor Nag noted, patent attorneys aren’t the only ones who deal with IP. In almost all cases, a patent is being filed by an inventor, a scientist, an entrepreneur, a company, or an academic institution. This course focuses on ways to approach IP from these perspectives and building a foundation for creating strategies that leverage the value of IP to increase the success of a business or inventor. The other types of IP (copyrights, trademarks, and trade secrets) are major aspects of any business and yet so few really understand the rights granted along with them, let alone the full utility of these rights. These topics are just at the surface of all the complex and useful information covered in class lectures.

In fact, many of the lectures throughout the course are given by guests who are experts in the field, ranging from patent attorneys to PhD-level scientists to C-level executives. Past guests have included Jim Malackowski (CEO, Ocean Tomo), Dr. Satish Pulapura (Medtronic, Formerly TYRX) Dr. Alan Naidoff (Merck), Lata Setty (CIPO, UnitedLex), Dr. Sudeep Basu (Global Practice Leaders, Frost & Sullivan), Dr. Neil Mathias (Senior Scientist, Bristol Myers Squibb), Peter Butch (Fox Rothschild), Evi Cohen (Appian Corporation, formerly at TEVA), Harry Gwinnell (Greenblum & Bernstein, former Chief IP Counsel for Cargill), Dr. Jim Posillico (Polymer Therapeutics), Tony Volpe (Volpe & Koenig), Ryan O'Donnell (Volpe & Koenig), and David Shoneman (Technicolor). These lectures provide students with an in-depth analysis of the different ways IP affects several large and small corporations. MBS Graduate Stephen Carter claims that it was “exciting to hear from companies that were able to take advantage of the value of IP.”

The hallmark event of this course is an annual trip to the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) in Alexandria, VA. Spearheaded by Jennie Vernon, an Attorney-Advisor at the USPTO, the one-day program features Key Opinion Leaders in the field of IP providing their insight surrounding current issues and topics. Past speakers have included Conrad Wong, Paul Salmon, Chris Babic (a PSM graduate), Gary Benzion, Peter Mehravari, James Housel, Dorian Mazurkevich, Susan Allen, Michael, Alan Marco (Chief Economist at USPTO), Richard Lloyd (Intellectual Asset Management magazine), and Andrew Baluch (GWU School of Law). From the student’s perspective, it sounds like making a trip down to the USPTO is a huge inconvenience and it is completely understandable. I will admit that I was not too thrilled that I had to make this mandatory trip when I registered for the course. However, I believe it becomes clear during the trip why it is part of the course. It was a great experience that gave us insight into how the government regulates intellectual property from the people that have committed their careers to it. But don’t just take my word for it. Carter says, “It looks horrible on paper because you need to take vacation day, it costs money, and it’s such a long trip, but it was actually a good experience! I would have never had the opportunity to visit the USPTO if it weren’t for this class.” Charlie Collick, a UXD MBS student, adds, “There was more to it than just PowerPoint presentations. We would have missed out on part of the experience if we didn’t go down to Alexandria.” Another MBS graduate, Brittany Greene, assures, “the day visit to USPTO in Alexandria, although logistically a bit of a hassle, was well worth the trip!”

Although the course is not a prerequisite for Science and Technology Management Capstone (16:137:600), I highly recommend taking it prior to. Since the Capstone course focuses on building a venture around a piece of IP, this course provides the intuition to create a strong foundation for your Capstone business plan. Proficiency in searching for and selectively identifying specific patents, as well as the ability to read and valuate them, will be extremely useful. Teaching these skills is both time-consuming and a bit out-of-scope for the Capstone course as a whole, so you will not receive instruction as in-depth there. Amanda Steitz, a Biotechnology & Genomics MBS student who took the IP course after Capstone, says that she “didn’t have experience reading patents before taking this course. I would have focused on different IP for my Capstone project had I known how to read and valuate patents to the extent that I do now.”

I believe that such a unique course is not only useful for MBS students, but for any graduate student aspiring to work for a science-based company or in an academic setting. Michele Paccagnini, a MS in Chemistry student and employee at ExxonMobil, says that her mentor at work recommended the course to her because their company files a large number of patents. She says, “I knew that my coworkers received awards for their issued patents, but I wanted to learn more about them. I was curious to see if this course would provide me with added value as a part of my company.” After completing the course, Paccagnini declares that she has “already applied it at work! Some of my coworkers are considering taking the course as well. Understanding what is patentable and the definition of inventorship is extremely important.” She even added, “My father is an entrepreneur and has inquired about my knowledge on IP.”

You may think that the concepts taught in this course are only applicable if you work within the US because IP laws differ from country to country, but this is not the case. Depending on the technology being patented, universities and corporations must take into consideration a global strategy. And this IP course touches on this idea. Peter Tenido, a STRIDE scholar from the Philippines and MBS student, discloses, “I had an idea of what IP was (especially patents), but I didn’t really appreciate how important they were. I was hoping to learn about how IP is valuable in an Innovation Ecosystem that includes both universities and industries.” After the course ended, Tenido confirmed that he had “a very positive experience. The class was impactful to how I view my career options. I previously thought that you needed to be a lawyer to be involved in the field of IP. Now that I know there are other ways to be involved, I am very interested in tech transfer. There will be some differences between IP laws in the Philippines and in the United States, but the general ideas are relevant.” He continues by explaining how there are issues in the relationships between academia and industry in the Philippines, but STRIDE acknowledges it and is working on the challenges in these collaborations. Tenido concludes by saying, “I enjoyed all of my business courses through the MBS program, but this is the class that really made me think more deeply about how I could actually contribute to STRIDE’s objectives and opened up new career options for me.”

While it has been indicated that this course has so much to offer, note that it is currently only offered during the summer session. Since the whole curriculum is condensed into seven weeks, it is very intensive. I say this not to deter you from enrolling in the course, but so that you can prepare yourself. It will be a lot of work and it will keep you busy. However, you will learn a lot, hear intriguing lectures, and gain knowledge that very few people have – knowledge that can be used to extract value in ways that are not obvious in typical business strategies. On top of all that has been previously mentioned, entrepreneurship and negotiation are two other themes that are constantly visited throughout the course.  If you are searching for ways to increase your value as a candidate for a new job, a promotion, another academic degree, or if you have goals to become an entrepreneur, I strongly encourage you to consider taking this course. At the very least, it will introduce you to a new perspective that will help you answer or ask questions in a new light.

Narayan Escolin is an enthusiast of innovation in the medical field. He has extensive experience in intellectual property strategy, robotic instruments, and research, both in the clinic and on the bench. Mr. Escolin graduated with an MBS from Rutgers University in 2015. He was a student in the IP course during the Summer 2014 session and served as the Teaching Assistant during the Summer 2015 session.