Adventures In IP: How One Class Experienced The Visit To The USPTO

By: Jack Toth and Vibhuti Gupta

As the bus rumbled down the I-95 corridor towards Washington, DC, the windows still painted with the pitch of night, I wondered anticipatedly, if this trip would be all that the instructor had led the class to believe.  As I shifted in my seat, dull aches reminded me of how tired my body was after only a few hours of sleep.  “There had better be patented massage chairs at the USPTO!” I thought.  ‘Dum dum’, ‘dum dum’, ‘dum dum,’ the wheels of the bus intoned as the vehicle slinked its way towards our destination.  The landscape slid by, first as trees and deep underbrush, next as houses of the dimly lit suburbs of Washington DC, and finally as the city, itself, glinting in the light of the blue hour.

         After what seemed like that fateful trip of those ancient mariners aboard the Flying Dutchman, the bus turned down Dulany Street, and we arrived at the USPTO.  Before us were six large, modern glass, steel, and brick buildings.  Spanning two twin buildings was a curtain wall of glass and steel that enclosed the grand atrium.  Jutting out from the main entrance of the building was an impressive steel I-beam awning with US Patent and Trademark Office prominently displayed along the front edge.

         One by one, the class disembarked from the bus at the entrance of the building.  Like a gaggle of geese, the class flocked into the soaring grand atrium, chittering and chattering about the day’s agenda.  After we were herded through security, our guide showed us to the room that we would call home for the next eight hours.  Though severely decaffeinated, I was looking forward to sponging up as much information as I could, given the compressed schedule to which the class would be adhering.  At precisely 8 o’clock, the lecture series began, with our first speaker from the Office of the Under Secretary giving us a brief overview of the history of the USPTO.

         Our sojourn at the USPTO was marked by hours spent in engagement with a panel of speakers.  Each was well versed in the language of Intellectual Property and had some relevant insight unique to his or her area of specialization.  The first presenter indulged our collective intellectual curiosity with the history of the USPTO and thus set the stage for specific topics to follow, which included experiential discussions on the topics of patents, trademarks, copyright, Trade Secret, and University Technology Transfer.  In the midst of all of these lectures, we also were provided the opportunity to visit the National Inventors Hall of Fame, which honors the world's foremost inventors and their contributions to society.  If only the hour afforded us to do so could have been extended!  Our day culminated with an engrossing team-based activity called The Innovation/Invention Challenge, an enterprise that found us operating at our creative best: Divided into groups, we were invited to contrive an invention utilizing an existing associated protection and then employ a marketing strategy for our handiwork.  This activity was the perfect synthesis of all the knowledge we had gleaned over the course of the day.  Ultimately, our experience was exhilarating, and we were honored to be in the august company of such eminent experts in the field.  Our final act was to pose for a group photo to commemorate the day, seen below.












Fundamentals of Intellectual Property, Summer 2018 Class trip to the USPTO.

         On the trip home, students chattered about what we learn at the USPTO.  Some remarked on the history of the institution, while others found the discussions of modern patent law quite appealing.  As the bus rolled across the Woodrow Wilson Memorial Bridge, sunlight glinted off the distant capital buildings, casting a warm, golden glow across the surface of the Potomac.  Our nation was founded, in part, on the belief that ideas should be protected and passed down to the next generation, a belief so strong that the founders enshrined it in the United States Constitution.  As participants of an extraordinary day, there was a sense of communion between the students and the past.  “We have been bequeathed a great gift”, I thought, as I reflected on the sheer bounty of the ideas and inventions upon which our civilization is built.  As stewards of the past, we have an obligation, nay, a responsibility not only to learn from our past, but also to understand our past so as to build a better tomorrow.

         In the hours that it took our driver to ferry us home, somewhere, someone is dreaming up a new idea with the hope that the idea will be for our betterment.  In the melting pot that is our country, each person is guaranteed the right not only to dream, but also to protect his or her dreams as the dream becomes a reality.  Our growing nation adds tens of thousands of new idea-makers every year.  What great ideas are in store for our country?  Which idea-maker just took his or her first breath of freedom?  The future will continue to mask the answers to my questions in the shroud of time.  In the meantime, however, we can only work to give each dreamer a chance.