June 14, 2015
June 14, 2015
June 17, 2015
Entrepreneurship & Engineering Innovation
26.207.1 - 26.207.9
An Undergraduate Course in Intellectual Property LawA key knowledge area for aspiring entrepreneurs and technology commercializers is the law ofintellectual property (IP). In law school, IP is usually taught as a second- or third-year course. Isit possible to teach IP to undergraduates? This paper reports on three semesters of experience inteaching IP to undergraduate students at a large public university, discussing the ways in whichthe course has changed as a result of assessment.In all three semesters, about half the students were computer science majors and half were pre-law students. The course primarily covered the IP fields of trade secret protection, patents, andcopyright. From the start, the course emphasized critical thinking, with the expectation that theseskills would transfer to the students’ future learning and work. The course also provided studentswith a preview of law school, including use of a law-school IP textbook, but with greatlyadvanced pedagogy, including explicit learning outcomes, practice tests, practice arguments, andreal IP attorneys as moot-court judges. Students worked, with appropriate non-disclosureagreements, on real commercialization projects and presented their project results to theinventors and the staff of the university’s technology commercialization office.Each time the course was offered, it was assessed formatively and summatively. Based on theseevaluations, the course was iteratively adapted to better serve the students. These changesincluded refining and extending the learning outcomes, complementing the traditional law-school Socratic approach to teaching with team-based argument and team-based projects,shifting to an on-line textbook that reflected recent developments in IP law, and assuring thestudents that the engineering and pre-law students were not competing with each other becausethey would be graded on separate scales.Experience with the course suggests that undergraduate students are able to understand and applyconcepts of IP law. Course outcome measures, based on examinations, projects, and oralarguments, indicate that while there was variation across individuals, as a whole the classsubstantially achieved the course’s learning objectives. The course facilitated this result by(a) introducing students to legal reasoning, which would have been assumed in a second- orthird-year law-school course, (b) providing students with an overview of the U.S. federal legalsystem and the differences between common law and statutory law, (c) providing individualfeedback and encouragement for legal argument, and (d) asking students to work on real projectsin their project results that would actually affect the outcome of university decisions aboutprotection of IP.Student reaction to the course has been overwhelmingly positive. Students entering the coursetypically did not have high interest in the subject matter, yet of students in the College ofEngineering reporting at the end of the course, 90% indicated that the amount they learned wasabove average or well above average. With the iterative changes in the course, students’ overallrating of the course increased monotonically, scoring (out of 5) 4.69, 4.75, and 5.00.
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