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Author Topic: Why are technical degrees or courses required?  (Read 5383 times)

joeylusptogov

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Why are technical degrees or courses required?
« on: 06-22-13 at 10:41 am »

To become a patent examiner or attorney, one is required to get a technical degree or to at least take several technical courses that satisfy certain requirements.

I worked as a patent examiner in multiplex communications until about the beginning of 2005. My impression was that the USPTO was more of a legal institution than a scientific institution. The situation is probably the same today.

The work I did actually involved precious little, if any, technical knowledge. There was no math, and, as a general rule, I do not consider one to understand a technical subject unless one can do the math that is typically used for the subject. It's a simple matter to sit down, passively read claims, the specification, etc., and declare, "Duh, I understand this," but probably no examiner could pass an exam in the area of a typical patent application he or she examines. The same applies for patent attorneys and agents. 

Consider, for example, ATM, PSTN, or internet telephony. I never had any formal training in these areas. I just "learned" them passively by reading specifications and claims. The only "technical" knowledge demonstrated by a typical patent attorney or examiner was in block diagram form--the kind of knowledge a layperson gets from reading a popular science magazine. There is no way that a technical degree would be useful, except, perhaps, to gain the confidence of a client. The USPTO probably only requires technical training so that it can--inaccurately--maintain its public image as an institution that furthers the progress of science. 

While working at the USPTO, I developed the impression that a major in English or Philosophy would be far more helpful for a patent attorney or examiner than a technical degree. It's all verbiage. A patent examiner sits in a judgment seat, reads, dreams up search terms, etc. A patent attorney and an examiner each fools the other into believing that he or she has a clue about the subject matter of the patent application they discuss. But now I am of the opinion that, at least for an examiner, work experience as a pencil pushing paper shuffler would be even better.               
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bleedingpen

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Re: Why are technical degrees or courses required?
« Reply #1 on: 06-22-13 at 01:55 pm »

^^^ whatev
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plex

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Re: Why are technical degrees or courses required?
« Reply #2 on: 06-22-13 at 02:37 pm »

Sure, if you want to do just a barely passable job, have no clue what you are really doing, not have any real idea what is going on when someone tells you to reject/allow (or what amendments/arguments will get you an allowance in the case of an attorney), and likely getting appealed much more often than usual.  If everyone was like that, the whole system would fall apart, but of course, there is room for some deadweights as long as the majority are carrying them along.

Also, math is not even close to the sum of all technological ideas, or even a significant component.  I cannot say I am surprised though by your complete lack of understanding of technology, you have already have basically admitted you are clueless about most types of technology, e.g. 1600/1700 in their entirety barely ever use math, nor should they, chemical and biological formulas are derived from scientific systems, not mathematical ones.

FYI, you wouldn't make it as an attorney, at least not with anywhere near that shallow of an understanding of patents...that sort of thing is only possible as an examiner with a particularly easy SPE
« Last Edit: 06-22-13 at 02:44 pm by plex »
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bleedingpen

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Re: Why are technical degrees or courses required?
« Reply #3 on: 06-22-13 at 02:55 pm »

Question of the day: Can an English or Psych major file an AE petition without clerical errors???

 ;D  haha, nothing like talking some internet trash on a patent message board
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joeylusptogov

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Re: Why are technical degrees or courses required?
« Reply #4 on: 06-22-13 at 05:06 pm »

The responses confirm what I am saying. They are not dispassionate logical responses. Instead, they are emotional attacks on one with whom the responders apparently agree. One who has no clue is typically the one who states, "I understand technology." As far as math is concerned, the responders might want to read what I posted a bit more carefully. I take it they're not English majors. 

There's nothing to get upset about, folks. I just call 'em as I see 'em. And, believe me, I have been quite diplomatic.

As I said, all you need to examine, and probably to write up, patents, is to be able to "understand" a typical popular science magazine. If you are so deeply offended, and, honestly, I meant no one any offense, then you probably agree with the general thrust of what I said. I recall one honest patent attorney (yes, some of these do exist) saying to me that it seems that patent examining is nothing more than glorified paper shuffling. Clearly it was not exactly correct, though. I would say it is glorified paper shuffling and pencil pushing.   

bleeding pen,

Probably so. You know, now that I think of it, in writing up my AE patent application, I needed not one single lick of technical knowhow. I have been finding that I learn something, every once in a while, from some of these boards. For example, because of one poster's comment, I realized that universal obedience to the Golden Rule would be a nightmare for almost everyone on earth.         
« Last Edit: 06-22-13 at 05:21 pm by joeylusptogov »
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Feta Cheese

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Re: Why are technical degrees or courses required?
« Reply #5 on: 06-22-13 at 06:05 pm »

I do math about once a week as an examiner in 1700.

OP lost the argument
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MYK

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Re: Why are technical degrees or courses required?
« Reply #6 on: 06-23-13 at 05:31 am »

^^^ whatev

This.  Anyway, OP, you might think that you didn't use any technical, umm, stuff, but compared to some of the English major types I've talked with, I'm sure you're a real whiz kid.  When you realize how stupid most liberal-arts types are, you stop wondering why our society is so completely f*cked.
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"The life of a patent solicitor has always been a hard one."  Judge Giles Rich, Application of Ruschig, 379 F.2d 990.

Disclaimer: not only am I not a lawyer, I'm not your lawyer.  Therefore, this does not constitute legal advice.

bleedingpen

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Re: Why are technical degrees or courses required?
« Reply #7 on: 06-23-13 at 07:13 am »

^^^ whatev

This.  Anyway, OP, you might think that you didn't use any technical, umm, stuff, but compared to some of the English major types I've talked with, I'm sure you're a real whiz kid.  When you realize how stupid most liberal-arts types are, you stop wondering why our society is so completely f*cked.

Post of the year here guys. I knew MYK would deliver the est post of the year, but certainly didn't expect it to be bashing liberal arts majors. I endorse this post. Too bad MYK took his talents overseas. Haha.
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Oh, Crud

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Re: Why are technical degrees or courses required?
« Reply #8 on: 06-23-13 at 10:59 am »


... It's a simple matter to sit down, passively read claims, the specification, etc., and declare, "Duh, I understand this," but probably no examiner could pass an exam in the area of a typical patent application he or she examines. The same applies for patent attorneys and agents.               

On a some occasions, I do see a case of an examiner who is not suited to the materials examined.  The results can be pretty bad, for example a shockingly broad patent granted to a competitor that I have to spend time/effort clearing. 

The majority of the time, the examiner I'm dealing with on (e.g.) a polymer chemistry case does indeed understand polymer chemistry.  And so did the person who wrote the case.

That doesn't fix the problem of too hasty/sloppy examination.  But at least when I come back with chem-based arguments why such-and-so can't be expected to react the same as such-and-so-prime, I can get the point across b/c the examiner is a chemist.

I also have a lot of inherited mechanical and physics/optics cases.  Guess you'll have to trust me on this, but there's a lot of math involved, particularly in the optics cases.

So, whatever the experiences you had in your own art unit, you'd be foolish to assume that one example fits hundreds of situations.
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Confused Engineer

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Re: Why are technical degrees or courses required?
« Reply #9 on: 06-23-13 at 03:10 pm »

I'm probably not a good person to answer this question because I have no patent experience. However, I find it difficult to believe that a technical degree serves a very minimal purpose as you claim. You must be extremely bright if you can (or claim to) understand the technology without a real background in it. As MYK said, your experiences are not near the norm, which is why the USPTO needs some way to place barriers for people to become examiners. A technical degree is the best way of doing it. Maybe you can or could get by without one (don't  know what your degree was in), which is good for you, but you would have or still do benefit from the technical degree as it gives you that ability to understand the material more efficiently and at a deeper level. For most people, it is NECESSARY they have a degree or strong background, as they couldn't do the job without it.
« Last Edit: 06-23-13 at 03:17 pm by Confused Engineer »
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khazzah

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Re: Why are technical degrees or courses required?
« Reply #10 on: 06-23-13 at 06:14 pm »

My impression was that the USPTO was more of a legal institution than a scientific institution. The situation is probably the same today.           

Most patent attorneys I know would vehemently disagree. That is, we don't feel that Examiners know the law, apply the law, etc. Which frustrates us.

Now, that doesn't necessarily mean that Examiners understand technology or apply their knowledge of technology during examination either. It's possible all they do is perform keyword searches and create rejections by pasting form paragraphs plus quotes from the reference.

However, in my experience, Examiners do respond to technical arguments with explanations and reasoning. Which tells me they do indeed understand the technology.

In addition, I'm sure that are some Examiners that do understand the technology, but take advantage of the fact that the system doesn't really force them to use that knowledge in making rejections Such Examiners put out crappy rejections and only apply the technology when tricked into it by an Applicant who makes a technical argument.
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MYK

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Re: Why are technical degrees or courses required?
« Reply #11 on: 06-24-13 at 01:21 am »

^^^ whatev

This.  Anyway, OP, you might think that you didn't use any technical, umm, stuff, but compared to some of the English major types I've talked with, I'm sure you're a real whiz kid.  When you realize how stupid most liberal-arts types are, you stop wondering why our society is so completely f*cked.

Post of the year here guys. I knew MYK would deliver the est post of the year, but certainly didn't expect it to be bashing liberal arts majors. I endorse this post. Too bad MYK took his talents overseas. Haha.
Thank you, thank you very much.  I'm here all week.  Hell, I'm probably here for life.

Mostly this is from interacting with the usual "I'm an English Teaching Professional!" types that make up about half of expats here. . . .
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"The life of a patent solicitor has always been a hard one."  Judge Giles Rich, Application of Ruschig, 379 F.2d 990.

Disclaimer: not only am I not a lawyer, I'm not your lawyer.  Therefore, this does not constitute legal advice.

NJ Patent1

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Re: Why are technical degrees or courses required?
« Reply #12 on: 06-25-13 at 07:12 pm »

OP:  Nobody ever told you?  A US patent is a pure bastard child.  It is a legal document that conveys legal rights - like a metes and bounds deed.  But it is read through the lens of “one skilled in the art”.  If you are not skilled in the particular art, you probably have no business conveying legal rights in that art.  Why are there “art units” in the USPTO anyway?  You don’t even know how to read the application or the prior art you are applying and you don’t even know the difference between step-growth polymerization and chain-growth polymerization (but you “take notice” of the MWD anyway and issue a rejection).  And I have in fact encountered such ignorant (I didn’t say stupid) USPTO Examiners like you.  It cost clients unnecessary $$$ to educate you the Examiner.  This hurts the national economy, costs jobs, etc. Of course, I admit that there are occasions where a “quick learn” can pick-up things on the fringes of the technology with which they already have some familiarity.  But you are one hell of an English major if you understand antarifacial (e.g. "Cope") rearrangements at first glance. 

Crud:  Forgot U were polymer person (UMass, Brooklyn Poly, Case, UConn?  Maine?, but don't out urself  :))
 
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MYK

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Re: Why are technical degrees or courses required?
« Reply #13 on: 06-26-13 at 12:31 am »

Crud:  Forgot U were polymer person
Aren't we all based on polymers, though?
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"The life of a patent solicitor has always been a hard one."  Judge Giles Rich, Application of Ruschig, 379 F.2d 990.

Disclaimer: not only am I not a lawyer, I'm not your lawyer.  Therefore, this does not constitute legal advice.

JimIvey

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Re: Why are technical degrees or courses required?
« Reply #14 on: 06-26-13 at 11:19 am »

While working at the USPTO, I developed the impression that a major in English or Philosophy would be far more helpful for a patent attorney or examiner than a technical degree. It's all verbiage.       

After skimming over the other responses, I don't see what I think is the clearest and most basic reason for requiring a technical background.

The PTO tests for competence with the law.  Given the wide variety of applicable technologies and how fast technology changes, it's simply not practical to test for competence with technology.  So a 4-year degree or equivalent is used as a proxy for a test for technical competence.  I don't think the PTO can register practitioners without some vetting for technical competence.  I also don't see a viable alternative for the degree proxy.

I use my technical knowledge all the time in my work.  One of the things that took the longest for me to develop in writing patent applications was a sense of when I had disclosed enough detail to be enabling.  If you're not relatively familiar with the what the ordinary artisan knew at the time filing, it's nigh impossible to know when you've complied with Section 112.

Your point that someone good with language is valuable for patents is a good and valid point.  I describe patent law as requiring legal acumen, technical acumen, and writing acumen.  That list is sorted, in my opinion, according to ease of acquisition, easiest to hardest.  I would much rather teach patent law to a good technical writer than teach writing to a legal/technical expert.  And, I've seen exactly that analysis in firms considering applicants as new hires.

Regards.
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