Intellectual Property Fundamentals

by Ketevan Dolidze

I received an email from Tammy Alexander, Sr. Tech Transfer Associate, about an event put on by the FedEx Institute of Technology. The name of this event was “Lunch and Learn Workshop: Intellectual Property Fundamentals. What every researcher should know about protecting their inventions” and let me tell you, it was fabulous. Maybe just to me, simply because I absolutely love intellectual property law and actually wanted to practice in that exact field.

Not only do I enjoy this field, but also think that it is extremely relevant to what we have been doing in our class all semester long. We are finally ready to pitch our ideas, but what if someone else decides he likes that idea and steals it? What should a new startup, a new inventor, be aware of as he works on his invention?

Kevin Boggs began his discussion today with the most recent patent filed out of  the FedEx Institute of Technology on a tire polymer, invented by one of the university’s graduate students. The whole idea behind this invention is that it would make tires more shiny, which would help drivers be more safe and cautious.

When the student approached Boggs with his invention, the long process of getting everything in order to be reviewed by the university board began. There are numerous disclosure forms that must be submitted (one we looked at today was about five pages long-in tiny print and extremely extensive) by the inventor, along with four signatures from the inventor’s department chairs and Mr. Boggs’ office.

What is Intellectual Property? –It is property rights that are creation of the mind. Some examples include: patents, copyrights, trademarks, and trade secrets. (we only discussed the first two, as they were more relevant to us).

A patent is a government-granted property right, which gives you a right to do the things you are doing. It is country specific and expires two years from filing.

Some patent requirements:

  • Novelty: Was the invention known about or published or used anywhere in the world? Only the US has a one year grace period for filing a patent.
  • Usefulness – does it have specific and credible utility?
  • Non-obvious  to a person who knows the field (“Skilled in the Art”). The most difficult to anticipate. Proxy questions: Is it creative, contrary to the existing literature?
  • Enabled – can someone use the invention based on the written description?

Maintaining Patentability:

  • Public disclosure can include: publication in open literature, poster session and abstracts, posting on the web, presentation to an open forum (thesis defense)…


What is Copyright: Also a government-granted right.

  • Excludes others from copying your words
  • Expires 70 years after the author’s death.
  • Granted on completion of work.

After conducting some research, the university found that in the 1980s there were 28,000 government-funded inventions just collecting dust on the shelves of all the agencies that funded those inventions. This made the University realize that not only does it have to oversee the filing process of a patent, but also check in with the funding agencies to ensure that the patent is on its way to getting approved (if everything goes well and if everything was filed properly).

I was also not aware of the fact that the University works closely with a large law firm that has numerous intellectual property attorneys with specific areas of expertise in certain technical or science areas. (which is AWESOME, for the inventor). Once the draft is written up by the attorney, and the patent application is filed, the invention can finally be marketed. The university does this, as well, by providing expos and participating in numerous programs, as well as contacting some potential financial sponsors and marketing agencies. During this whole process, the University works alongside the inventor to ensure everything is done properly. Patent approval can take up to four years and once it is approved and the university receives the money for the invention, it gets dispersed to all participating parties (based on the percentages all parties agreed on).

I really enjoyed attending this event because it has so much relevancy to what we are doing in our class or what we may be facing very soon! I think everyone should know a little about intellectual property, just to make sure their ideas and inventions are protected!





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