Saturday, May 05, 2012

Book Review for Technical Communication

Unfortunately, this review is shorter than I'd like due to space limitations. I have a 500 word limit to stick with. I'm still editing it. Please make comments if you see fit!

Writing Chemistry Patents and Intellectual Property: A Practice Guide
Francis J. Waller. 2011. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley. [ISBN 978-0-470-49740-1. 238 pages, including index. US$79.95.]

When I graduated with a master’s degree in chemistry ten years ago, I knew nothing about intellectual property or anything else about the legal side of science. After joining the local Association for Women in Science (AWIS) chapter, I began to understand the large role that intellectual property and law plays in the vast world of scientific research. I also discovered a wealth of opportunity for women in the development and approval of patents in science. Much of this opportunity remains hidden at the academic level because of the omission of the field from formal tracks of education in the sciences.
This is one of the main reasons that Francis J Waller wrote and published this book, Writing Chemistry Patents and Intellectual Property. He makes it clear in his narrative that access to information about intellectual property is not readily available. For this reason, The American Chemical Society has had Waller teach a class every year since 2006 on this subject at their national meeting. Because scientists leave their graduate programs without any formal training or knowledge of the subject, Waller attempts to fill this knowledge gap with his all-encompassing, dense, one-stop shop approach in describing his 35-plus years of real-life experience.
Waller’s knowledge and the sheer amount of information necessary to convey in a short book make organization a challenge. Overall, the book is logical in its design: a broad overview of intellectual property followed by vocabulary definitions and a discussion of patent versus trade secrets lead into the meat of the book about patents. The chapters become more focused on the individual aspects of a patent—writing it, formatting it, and filing it—the further into the book that you get. Waller has written some of the book strictly for PhD-level chemists who are looking for answers to questions about real patents. There are, however, some helpful chapters written for anyone who has concerns over general intellectual property questions. An example is his discussion of copyright and trademarks in chapter 11, where he discusses the concept of fair use—a topic that is becoming more relevant to all disciplines, especially on the Internet. One improvement Waller could make is to provide a brief mention of critical definitions in the overview chapter. I found myself flipping ahead to the vocabulary section so I could better understand the general overview.
Chapter 7 is most specific to chemists working on actual patents. In his discussion of specific patents, he cites examples that are included in a special appendix. This is where he really dissects each patent of its components and the issues surrounding these components.
Waller presents a dense topic in a clear manner in only 238 pages. Perhaps he should devote a longer book to the subject for people who could glean from his expertise. For now, this one-stop shop approach will suffice.

Julie Kinyoun
Julie Kinyoun teaches chemistry at local community colleges in southern California. As a freelance writer, she writes about biological, physical and chemical sciences for local and national publications. Julie holds an MA in chemistry from San Diego State University.