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Engineering Students: Learn patent-working skills to prepare better for your engineering job

Dear Engineering Student:

Are you hoping to work in industry as an engineer? if so, you will most likely be involved with new product development, in which case you will also need patent-working skills to at least navigate around existing patents. This is true for most majors (EE, ME, Ch., BioMed, Opt., etc.), except possibly Computer Science because, as of 2017, patent protection for certain forms of software remains in serious question. Also, if you are planning to work for the government, you may not need these materials.

If you do not understand what or why, read on. The point, however, is that we enable you to get your patent-working skills on your own, during a summer and between classes. Simply take our recommended 3-day self-study patent course; your only out-of-pocket cost will be about $35 for the textbook from Amazon, as all the other course materials are free on this website. And you will appreciate having taken our course before applying for your first engineering job:

Very short term: taking our recommended course will enable you to add skills to your resume – our course recommends appropriate wording.

When preparing for a job interview: you can use these skills to prepare for the likely technical questions you will get at your interview; our recommended course suggests you search patents of the company, and read them to understand their technology better. If you are lucky enough to know in advance the names of your interviewers, you can even search for recently published patent applications by them personally, read those too, etc.; as they hear you being familiar with the particular technology they are using, they will visualize that they will need less time to bring you up to speed than other candidates for the job, which will make you a more competitive hire.

Very long term: When in the future your company considers using a new technology, you can find general information about the new technology on the web, and you can reach the state of the art with patent searches, which are free on the web and can be done using keywords. Plus, while some engineering knowledge becomes obsolete with time, patent skills are always usable.

Why will you need such patent-working skills? Because your employer competes in the marketplace.

In particular, other than the exceptions at the beginning of this webpage, your technical employer usually competes against other companies for money. As such, they will very likely ask you to create a new design that is often intended to compete against other products commercially, and could be copied by rivals later. Accordingly, your employer automatically expects that this new design will work, plus it avoid all rival applicable patents. For the latter requirement, you will need to already have patent-working skills such as being able to search patents, parse them, understand what parts to avoid or when you are safe, knowing how to try to address threatening patents, and other such skills. Plus, to report your new inventions for patenting so that your new design cannot be copied by rivals later, etc.

There is additional evidence that you need patent working-skills for industry:

First, read about the survey that showed this; it was done by a professor asking their recent graduates what they wished they had learned in academia.

Second, try calculating your personal PEPI™ score, using employers who you would want to work for. PEPI™ stands for Prospective Employer Patent Interest, and your score will tell you whether these employers deal with patents.

Have you received any training in such patent-working skills so far in academia?
  • have you ever searched patents?
  • do you understand what types of patent documents cannot be found in a search?
  • would be able to tell the difference between a published patent application document and an issued patent document?
  • have you ever seen the .pdf of a US patent document? a foreign patent document?
  • have you ever read a complete patent document? (it is an experience!)
  • from a patent document, can you identify the part that must be legally avoided from the part you can learn from?
  • when designing a product against a patent, would you know how much work you are supposed to do to prepare for the legal avoidance, and when it is time to call the patent attorney for the remainder, so that they can apply the legal rules for what you want to do and what patent documents you found?
In case your school is teaching you a course having something to do with patents, ask yourself the hard questions.

Does that patent course:

… Train you in the above patent-working skills?

… Help you recognize when your technical design project potentially infringes a threatening patent?

… Teach you enough to appreciate that, for your new idea as an entrepreneur, you are much better off doing a 30-minute patent search BEFORE you invest in writing a patent application? Because, even if you go through the pain of writing a new patent application for your invention and you file it, your application will fail to become a patent if someone else has patented the same idea before you?

… Teach you nothing that you will use technically, such as a liberal arts course? For example, sure you could be learning “patent law”, but companies do not expect its engineers to do patent prosecution with the Patent Office or patent litigation in courts, which is where patent law is applied; or, you could be learning “patent policy”, but companies never ask their engineers what they think patent policy should be. (Make no mistake: liberal arts courses have value, but here we are discussing only technical value.)

If not, you should fend for yourself about getting those patent-working skills.

As for your instructor, do understand that they may not have been asked to teach you the above patent-working skills in particular.


Are you thinking of being an entrepreneur? of commercializing your capstone design project? Before gambling your career on a start-up company based on a new product idea, we caution you to mitigate your foreseeable patent infringement risk by spending at least 30 minutes doing a simple patent search of your idea! You may find that your idea may have already been mentioned in an earlier patent by someone else, possibly explicitly. You may even find that your idea has been legally protected by a recent patent by another, in which case your prospective company would have to treat that patent as a threatening patent while uncertain that it will manage to sell your product idea. Of course, you could greatly help all these decisions by using patent-working skills such as patent searching, understanding what your patent search could have found, and could not have found today, interpreting your search results, getting a first sense of what product you can legally design for the market, and so on. For those we suggest you do as below:

So, to get your patent-working skills, plan and take your 3-day self-study course on patents. Here is how:


  • Go to your personal calendar, find the Monday after Finals Week and before the summer begins, and create a new reminder for that day.
  • Label this new reminder: Plan taking patent course this Summer.
  • In this new reminder, copy the URL of this webpage, so you can come back to it.

[Then pause for now. Read the rest of this email when this new reminder pings you, on that first Monday of the summer.]

  • WHICH DAYS: Look at your plans for the rest of the summer, and set aside 3 days. Move the initial reminder to those 3 days, and rename it: Take patent course. If you have not interviewed yet, the latest time to take the course for optimum effect is the summer before your Senior year, so you can augment your resume before interviewing and further use your new patent skills to prepare smarter for the interviewing (the course says how). For other scheduling options, see more suggestions in the webpage of the course.
  • ORDER THE BOOK: order the Patent Ready® book by Kavounas (about $35 from Amazon), in time to arrive before the time you planned for taking the course. All the other materials that you will need for the course start from this website, and are free on the web.

Go to the webpage of the course, and follow the instructions.

* The survey results:

In a survey of engineering graduates working in industry about experiences important for recent graduates’ competitiveness in the job market, 56%-70% of the respondents ranked Intellectual Property as important or critical. (Source: Christine Kelly and Amy Nguyen, Skills and Knowledge Important in Bioprocessing Design: A Survey of Practicing Engineers, Presentation, American Society for Engineering Education, 2017.)

* The Patent Ready® book:

The Patent Ready® book was written under the conviction that you will prosper in your career if you consistently seek to do what is right and legal for your employer. This is also what you should be thinking. The Patent Ready® book can help teach you patent knowledge and develop patent-working skills, like:

  • becoming able to search patents,
  • understanding when some patent documents cannot be found in a search,
  • recognizing what the patent search results mean,
  • understanding relationships among patent documents you find (earlier/later, families, etc.),
  • parsing a patent document to identify the part that must be avoided from the part you can learn from,
  • looking up information needed from a patent document without wasting much time with the rest of it,
  • determining whether the first, easy few possibilities for neutralizing a potentially threatening patent will be available,
  • identifying when it is time to call the patent attorney for help in difficult situations (such as when designing a product against a patent),
  • doing your part so that the company’s patent attorney can patent your inventions,
  • and much more about working in a company.

In addition, the Patent Ready® textbook reads fast for engineers, thanks to its more than 60 intuitive engineering-like custom diagrams.

Th[e … Patent Ready® book] provided me with an efficient and clear introduction to patents. The presentation of the material is systematic and draws attention to important concepts […]. Furthermore, the diagrams […] are very intuitive and helped me visualize various interactions in patent law.

Daniel Hsu

B.S. Electrical Engineering, Class of 2015

California Institute of Technology

Good luck in your engineering career!

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