Patents 101: A Free Duke Online Course

When Bob Barnes was teaching his medical device design course, he noticed that students waited until the end of the course to begin searching for the relevant patent information for their designs. This resulted in an overwhelming number of requests to both Barnes and the Engineering Librarian for help with patent research during one of the busiest times of the semester.

Barnes’ earlier work in developing a MOOC for Duke’s Coursera offerings – Healthcare Innovation and Entrepreneurship – gave him an idea. Why not create an online instructional unit that would provide every student at Duke unlimited, on-demand access to a comprehensive tutorial on patent research? An additional benefit would be freeing up class time for more important learning activities.

The one drawback to the plan was that Barnes simply did not have the time to produce such an online instructional unit. However, the Online Duke instructional team was able to recruit an ideal instructor, the Librarian for Engineering, Physics and Computer Science, Melanie Sturgeon. Always looking for innovative ways to increase Duke Libraries’ capabilities to serve the Duke community, Sturgeon eagerly agreed to provide the content expertise and on-air talent for an online instructional unit on patent research at Duke.

Working with the Online Duke instructional team and Media Producer, Devon Henry, Sturgeon began to expand on Barnes’ original vision for the instruction. “I didn’t realize until I began to work on this project, how many resources were available to the Duke community involved in research and development that requires applying for a patent. Although developing a comprehensive guide would be an enormous undertaking, I thought I might be able to provide both an introduction to the patent system in general and some specific tools for researching patents that are available to everyone here at Duke,” stated Sturgeon.

The project evolved into a comprehensive short course that covers everything from the history of patents, what is patentable, to search strategies and available resources. Sturgeon included a number of actual demonstrations where she uses specific patent search tools, such as Google Patents, and how to navigate the most important search sites, such as the Untied States Patent and Trademark Office. Additionally, she gives an overview of the entities at Duke that support patent research and the specific services they provide.

Sturgeon suggests starting with her course –  An Introduction to Patents at Duke – before you begin your search, “It can be quite daunting to understand the process and all the players involved. Knowing where to start and who offers the type of support you’re looking for can save you a lot of time and trouble.” Although the course is designed as a cohesive learning experience, you may choose to view only the sections relevant to your work. The course is hosted on the Duke Extend online learning platform and takes about 90 minutes to complete.