1 December – LAWFUEL – The Law News Network – The department of elect…

1 December – LAWFUEL – The Law News Network – The department of electrical engineering at the University of Washington has grabbed worldwide academic attention in recent months with a groundbreaking push to teach its engineers the ins and outs of intellectual property law.

Partnering with Seattle law firm Preston, Gates and Ellis, faculty and practicing attorneys have spent the spring term teaching students what’s involved in launching a start-up company, taking out patents, protecting trade secrets, and dealing with copyright issues and employee agreements.

What’s more, they’ve put the entire class on the Web for the world to see.

“This fills what has been a huge gap in engineering instruction,” said Howard Chizeck, electrical engineering department chairman and organizer of the class. “In engineering, we traditionally don’t teach about intellectual property, and in today’s environment it has become a basic survival tool. As a result, this class has grabbed people’s attention. A lot of people have tuned in during the quarter and we’ve received a steady stream of calls and e-mails from around the world.”

The class, Electrical Engineering 400L/500L, was initially offered last year on a trial basis as the first course of its kind in the country. This year, the department offered it as both a traditional classroom course and in web-streamed video for distance learning (both in real time and on-demand). Of those participating, 55 students – 22 undergraduates and 33 graduates – were in the classroom while nine took part via streaming video over the Web. In addition, Chizeck put out the word to colleagues around the globe so they could tune in. And many did.

Tracking software shows participation from universities including Purdue, Stanford, Michigan, Columbia, Arizona State and U.C. Davis and from sites as far flung as Chile. And others are beginning to follow the UW’s lead.

The University of Florida is now offering a similar course for its engineers. The University of Colorado has asked for the video lectures in a digital file and a business and technology center in Vermont has asked for transcripts. And a group from Australia visited with Chizeck last fall to gather information to use in creating an intellectual property course there.

The need for such training was illustrated early in the term, when course members responded to a question asking whether they had been involved in intellectual property issues. Of 47 students who responded, six said they were an inventor on a patent or had applied for a patent, for a total of 21 patents and applications; 31 had signed agreements regarding intellectual property; and four had been involved in intellectual property litigation.

The issues are real, Chizeck says, and he’s glad to see the information getting out. “We decided to put this out, free to anyone who wanted to look, so people could see what we’re doing,” he said. “This is important information for students. We want to teach them on the front end about this before they go out and make mistakes.”

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