Intellectual Property Basics at Purdue ME

Patents. Trademarks. Copyrights. Trade secrets. Do engineers really need to know all these legal terms before entering the workplace? Purdue says yes, offering a class devoted to intellectual property, specifically for engineers.



"Intellectual property battles have become a major part of doing business," says D.H.R. Sarma, who teaches the class.  "We regularly see lawsuits involving major corporations such as Google or Apple.  Today's engineers need to know the basics of intellectual property, so when they get into their professional field in the real world, they'll be able to deal with it in their own companies."

The result is ME 554, Intellectual Property for Engineers, a one-hour class offered in both spring and fall semesters.  It was initiated by Prof. Karthik Ramani, and has been taught by Sarma since fall 2017.  After getting his MS and Ph.D. at Purdue University, Sarma spent decades at General Motors and Delphi Electronics as an engineer, research fellow, and manager of research and development.  He then transitioned into patent law, becoming certified as a senior patent agent with the United States Patent & Trademark office.  "Having been an inventor myself," says Sarma, "I can explain patent law in terms that an engineer can understand."

While the class is for juniors, seniors, and graduate students, Sarma stresses that these fundamentals apply to any field.  "We've had students from electrical engineering, chemical engineering, and many of the other sciences," he says.  "Because it's a one-hour class, we just cover the basics.  What I tell them is that they can hold their own at a cocktail party!  If someone mentions trade secrets, or litigation, or patent law, they'll know enough to hold their own in a conversation."

More importantly, they'll have an edge once they advance into the working world.  "They'll deal with this in their future careers," he mentions.  "They'll collaborate with teams. They'll work with patent attorneys.  After taking this class, they'll be able to navigate these complex issues with some expertise."

Sarma sees this firsthand, working as an IP manager and a Business Development Manager with the Purdue Office of Technology Commercialization, which helps Purdue faculty and students protect and market their inventions.  "Purdue is very unique in the nation for having this internal legal group," says Sarma. "We write patent applications for the Purdue faculty, and even support students who have created inventions.  It's so refreshing to see the spirit of entrepreneurship in these young people."


Writer: Jared Pike,, 765-496-0374

Source: DHR Sarma,, 765-588-3483