Intellectual Property on the Barroom Floor

The following is the first post by guest blogger Harry Hutchinson, executive editor at Mechanical Engineering magazine. Look for his posts weekly.

Harry Hutchinson

A friend and I were sitting in Buffalo Billiards on Chestnut Street in Philadelphia. Besides pool tables, it has taps that run some interesting craft beers. We were sampling ales when a young man carrying a highball asked Joanna, and then asked me, if either of us played billiards.

Of course, we told him no because that was the truth and also because, for all she or I could tell, he might be a pool hustler.

There’s a reason that this is on MEmagazineBlog.org : if this guy was a pool hustler, it apparently wasn’t his day job. The fellow, Tom, told us he is a mechanical engineer who works with nanotechnology. Wow, cutting-edge stuff, right? And in a bar in Philadelphia. But why not?

His card was for a medical research outfit in Cherry Hill, N.J.

We were talking about the eagerness of researchers to share what they do for a living. I don’t know how many times I have phoned professors, for instance, in their offices and received half-hour crash courses on some question of engineering or physics.

He knew what I was talking about. Researchers want to talk about their projects, Tom said. He would love to talk about the work he is doing for what may become his second patent. But of course, he couldn’t do that. Especially after I handed him my Mechanical Engineering card.

I’m a journalist and I’m not supposed to invent, so I can talk about anything. If inventors publicly disclose their work prematurely—in technical papers or maybe even in barroom conversations—they may compromise intellectual property rights, especially rights in jurisdictions outside the United States. It’s not safe for them to talk until they have filed papers with a trademark office.

So we changed the subject. He asked me why I was wearing a tie. Weather permitting, I always wear one. Tom said he was thinking about changing his image and asked me for advice about buying suits.

At one point in his conversation, Tom told Joanna that engineers are almost always shy. Except, he said, when they’re drinking.

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The Editor

John G. Falcioni is Editor-in-Chief of Mechanical Engineering magazine, the flagship publication of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

February 2012

Twitter from John Falcioni

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