Professor Wissam Aoun’s Spy Watch Invention as a Catalyst to Student Learning
Student Writer, Windsor Law LTEC Lab
Professor Wissam Aoun is the Director of the International Intellectual Property Law Clinic and a Law Professor at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law. In a recent interview with Windsor Law LTEC Lab, he discussed the patent grant that he recently received for a spy watch, how he used the patent application process of this invention as an important learning tool for students, and his innovations in intellectual property education more generally.
What is the spy watch invention?
The spy-watch invention is essentially a watch that has a series of reflectors attached to the watch face so that a hypothetical ‘spy’ can discreetly check to see if they are being followed. I had put together some rough sketches and even cobbled together a rough prototype (with glue and masking tape) that I used for teaching purposes. As this invention started coming together, we realized through use in the classroom and the patent drafting competition, that it might actually have some patentable features. I began to think about ways that this invention hypothetical could be broadened out for further pedagogical uses.
How did you come up with this idea?
Well, I usually like to come up with these ideas for students as teaching tools. So I will often “invent” something for purposes such as the International Patent Drafting Competition. This particular invention was developed for a class that I was teaching and it ended up having some promise in terms of being potentially patentable. In fact, we used this idea as the hypothetical problem a few years ago for the Patent Drafting Competition. Because the students were already familiar with it, we ended up using the winning team’s patent application from the competition, filing it, and having the team prosecute it themselves.
What was the hardest part of this process?
I wouldn’t say that anything about it was hard. What was most interesting was that this was a real scenario with a real prototype. So, instead of having an entirely hypothetical invention scenario or an already existing patent, we had the students work with a real invention and work through the patenting process. They had the opportunity to go back and forth with the patent office. With respect to an invention like this in the context of the patent drafting competition, the fun part for the students in the Patent Drafting Competition was that they were able to see different approaches and directions in which it can be taken. They quickly realize that there is not necessarily a right or wrong approach. It was interesting for me to see how the students drafted the claims and went about the entire process.
So the value you see in this is not only in the invention itself, but in the ability to more effectively teach students?
It really isn’t only about the patent itself, but rather the context out of which the patent came about. Right now, we have other patents that are being filed on various similar ‘inventions’ that I have created. What I want to do is put together a textbook out of all these as a teaching tool. These simulations mimic real clients, so the students have to treat them like they are real. I am trying to put together about 10-15 of these inventions into the textbook, all being at various stages of the patenting process. So here, the value is not in the patent itself, because I’m probably not about to quit my day job to start manufacturing and selling spy watches! Rather, I think this is an innovative approach that can be put into a textbook format as a way to more effectively teach students from an experiential perspective. I am currently working on putting together this textbook; it will still be quite some time before it is completed, but I am having a lot of fun working on this.
What is the particular value of the “simulated client” teaching method?
With simulated clients there is no pressure or stress for the students. From a teaching perspective, I am able to develop hypothetical problems revolving around the specific issues I am trying to teach. For example, I can create a hypothetical invention scenario that focuses on how to deal with obviousness issues. I can make it myself to address that teaching issue. With a real client or an already existing invention, I can’t have this same flexibility. That’s why simulated clients can be better from a pedagogical perspective – because I can shape the hypothetical to place the focus on specific areas we want to reinforce. The value of working with clients in a clinical context is not necessarily in teaching substantive law, but rather in learning how to work with an actual client and how to deal with the pressure associated with managing the client relationship. But when it comes to the substantive law, simulated client hypotheticals can be much more effective.
What is your current role as the Director of the International Intellectual Property Law Clinic?
I continue to do the regular clinic work, such as working with clients and running clinic projects such as the International Patent Drafting Competition. There are a couple of other interesting projects that we are currently working towards that will hopefully begin to materialize in the upcoming months.