After 18 Years, Pioneering Patent Adjuncts Pass the Torch

August 23, 2019

Two adjunct professors were on the leading edge when they introduced courses in patent prosecution and patent portfolio management at Minnesota Law 18 years ago. While those courses are now much more commonplace, Minnesota Law’s innovative and robust intellectual property program enjoys a top-level national reputation for its excellence.

Woodbury, Minnesota, patent attorneys Steve Shumaker and Kent Sieffert ‘98, the adjuncts who established those two foundational courses, are passing the torch after nearly two decades of teaching.

Professor Christopher M. Turoski ’98, director of Patent Law Programs at the Law School, says the highly regarded IP lawyers immersed students in a dynamic learning experience through verbal and written participation. 

“Each student is required to submit written work product and defend their positions in the classroom,” explains Turoski. “Shumaker and Sieffert remained on the cutting edge of patent law, offering practical legal insights on new technologies such as blockchain and artificial intelligence.”

Pounding Out a Program

Shumaker and Sieffert worked together at 3M as attorney (Shumaker) and inventor (Sieffert), and later at Fish & Richardson before founding their own IP law firm, Schumaker & Sieffert

The way their first course at Minnesota Law came together in the fall of 2001 was a minor miracle.

“We had just started our law firm,” recalls Sieffert. “At the time, the University of Minnesota didn’t have any classes specific to patent prosecution. Only a few universities did.”

In the midst of recruiting prospective IP clients in southern California, the two attorneys floated a rough syllabus to the Law School, which quickly gave it a thumbs up and asked them to start teaching in the fall. Good news with one small problem: The start of the semester was only about six weeks away.

“We pounded out the syllabus on a beach in San Diego,” Sieffert says.

“Patent prosecution” is the highly technical process of drafting patent applications and guiding them through the approval process at the patent office. Traditional patent courses focused on case law about the content of patent law, not the practical skills needed for patent prosecution that Shumaker and Sieffert wanted to emphasize.

That first course was so successful that in 2014 the Law School asked them to launch a sequel.  Today, Patent Prosecution I and Patent Prosecution II have become key components of the school’s concentration in Intellectual Property and Technology, according to Carol Rachac, director of curriculum administration at the Law School. 

The Law School has since added additional advanced patent courses with hands-on skill training, following Shumaker and Sieffert’s lead. Their courses are also core requirements of two new specialized Patent Law degrees at the Law School. The year-long Master of Science in Patent Law (MSPL) is geared toward students with a scientific or technical background. The LL.M. in Patent Law is for students who already hold a law degree and aim to specialize in patent law.

Staying Involved

The transition from Sieffert and Shumaker’s time teaching should be smooth. Two of their former students, Brian Dawley ’08 and Ambar Nayate ’07, both principals at Shumaker & Sieffert, will be taking over the classes. (The classes have proved a valuable recruiting ground; six other partners at Shumaker & Sieffert are also former students.)

The course founders will continue to teach occasionally, and Sieffert is mulling developing a textbook based on the lessons the two have taught.

Shumaker says his hopes for the courses are that they continue to focus on core skills of patent prosecution–not just how it’s done, but also the reasons why. 

“I’d like them to keep in mind motivations of stakeholders such as in-house counsel, inventors, and patent examiners, to try to reach the best solutions,” he explains. “We want them to teach intellectual empathy toward people in the profession.”

By Dan Heilman, a freelance writer based in St. Paul.

Attorneys Steve Shumaker and Kent Sieffert
Attorneys Steve Shumaker and Kent Sieffert ’98, the adjuncts who established two foundational patent courses at Minnesota Law

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