How many ways can you describe a lawn sign? A few months ago, we could have maybe thought of a handful. Today, after 2 months of preparing for the International Patent Drafting Competition, we have encountered many dozens of ways to capture the invention behind a hypothetical lawn sign. Specifically, this lawn sign was disclosed to us as having pedals and ground anchors, and our task was to draft a patent application to be judged by practitioners and examiners at the USPTO. Not only did every team in the competition draft vastly different claims over the same invention, but even the three of us initially came up with different ways to claim it. Identifying the essential features, describing them, and drafting claims around them, was incredibly tedious, grueling, and yes, important. Such a demanding exercise really allowed us to draft an application that truly captured the heart of the invention, and to strike a balance in casting a net of protection that was not too wide so as to encroach on prior art, but not too narrow so as to deprive the inventor of the IP rights to which she was entitled.
Our team was comprised of a mechanical engineer, a cell biologist, and a master of health sciences. Needless to say, we did not all speak the same language. Imagine then, the three of us coherently learning and using the highly nuanced language of patent drafting over the course of just a few weeks. Together we worked day and night on our prior art searches, our wordings, and the construction of claim cascades. Unsurprisingly, much of our early time together was lost in translation, but not one step was taken before ensuring that each team member was ready to take it, even if it meant debating until 2 in the morning at times. We also received invaluable guidance from our coaches Ken Bousfield and Nick Aitken from Bereskin & Parr LLP, who gave us their time, expertise, and the gift of simply being able to watch them in action.
We then made the drive to Detroit to present our application to a panel of judges comprised of practitioners in private practice and examiners from the USPTO. We were questioned on our drafting strategy and the content of our application. As one of three teams selected for the final round, we had the opportunity to present our application a second time, this time to a different panel of judges and an audience. As finalists we were sequestered in a room during the presentations of the other finalists, so unfortunately we did not have the opportunity to learn how other teams approached the problem.
This experience allowed us to tap into the intellectual fervor that is required to fully advocate for inventors. It also gave us a window into the methodologies involved in filing patent applications – including conducting comprehensive prior art searches, and adhering to the formalities and time frames for submitting and formatting the application. We were encouraged to really delve into the statute and guidelines promulgated by the USPTO, and to engage with them in ways we wouldn’t have been able to in a class. Most importantly, we walked out of this experience feeling humbled by our appreciation for patents and their administration, making us even more confident in our commitment to the practice of IP law.
We are so thankful to Bereskin & Parr LLP for sponsoring the team and to IP Osgoode for arranging our participation in the International Patent Drafting Competition. It was an experience we will surely remember as formative in our careers. And, being the only Canadian team, we were so proud to represent Osgoode on the international stage, while also bringing home another medal for Canada!
Denver Bandstra, Andrea Uetrecht and Shira Sasson are JD Candidates at Osgoode Hall Law School.