St. Thomas Law students 3L Kiersten Idzorek, 3L Mark Landauer and 2L Mary Susan Gerber took first place in the 2020 National Patent Application Drafting Competition on April 20. The team defeated groups from Creighton University, University of New Hampshire, University of Baltimore, and Southern University Law Center to take top honors at the competition.
"Participating in this competition has given me so many new ways to look at the world of patent law," Idzorek said. "We learned so much about the strategy of claim drafting, application drafting and above all, always remembering who your client is and how you can best serve your client."
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s regional and national competitions were held remotely via a videoconferencing platform. The announcement about the change to the regional tournament, which was held mid-March, came just a week before the competition. After months of planning for an in-person event, teams had to quickly adjust to an online format, adding another layer of difficulty to an already stressful situation.
"Our first round in regionals, the camera simply would not connect, and we gave our presentation without slides or an ability to see the judges or have the judges see us,” Landauer said.
"We no longer had any visual cues or our presentation to help us convey information," Idzorek added. “We just had to quickly adapt.”
Luckily, throughout the remainder of the regional competition the team didn’t experience any new technical challenges and went on to take first place and advance to nationals. The team says they were prepared for any technology glitches that may have come up in the next level of the competition, however.
“In the national round, coming off weeks of law school classes held over Zoom, we were prepared for technical hurdles,” Landauer said.
This is the first year that St. Thomas has competed in the patent drafting competition. The idea for a team came in 2019 when Landauer and Idzorek learned about the competition from a law student at another university.
Idzorek then reached out to one of her coaches on St. Thomas Law’s Intellectual Property (IP) Moot Court team, St. Thomas Law alumna Lea Westman ’15. She connected Idzorek with an IP attorney at the firm Faegre Drinker, Darnell Cage, who had competed in patent drafting competitions as a law student.
“After meeting with Darnell, I realized how beneficial this competition would be for those interested in patent law,” Idzorek said. “This competition offers students the opportunity to learn how to draft an entire patent application from start to finish under the supervision of coaches who can teach and guide them along the way. I knew it would be a great experience.”
Over the course of the next few months Idzorek worked with law school faculty and administrators to create a patent application drafting competition program at St. Thomas. It was added as a class, on a probationary basis, for the 2019-20 school year and Landauer and Gerber were added to the team. Cage came on as one of the team’s coaches/instructors, along with Jessica Gutierrez Alm, an IP attorney at Robins Kaplan LLP.
“This competition is a great way to build practical patent skills that are otherwise outside the scope of a traditional legal education,” Landauer said. “We learned not just the administrative side of patent filing, but the strategies which go into the practice, the history, the rationale for certain strategies and the ways to draft claims. Overall, we were given a glimpse into patent drafting and litigation strategies that is nearly unrivaled.”
Gerber echoed Landauer’s assessment of the value of the competition.
"There is a difference between learning about patent drafting in class and the competition where we draft, edit and rewrite claims while considering all of the consequences of our choices ... what elements we claim, words we use, etc.," Gerber said. "Participating in the patent drafting competition will make me a better IP attorney because I have already made some mistakes, learned from them and improved on my work."
At the publishing of this article, it was not decided if the patent application drafting course would be offered again for the 2020-21 school year, but if it is, Gerber says she would like to be part of the team again.
Idzorek and Landauer will graduate in May. Both plan to pursue careers that involve IP law.