Robert H. Rines: a rare and gifted teacher of innovation retires

Robert H. Rines, a patent lawyer, inventor and lecturer at MIT since 1963, gave his final offering this Spring term (2008) of the classes he created, 6.901/6.931. At the encouragement of MIT EECS Professor Lan Jen Chu and several other MIT professors under whom he studied at MIT in the early 1940’s, Rines transferred his teaching at Harvard to MIT in 1963. He devised two classes: the first, Inventions and Patents, and the second, Development of Inventions and Creative Ideas—using intellectual property to start new companies and nurturing entrpreneurship and innovation.

Robert H. Rines on the occasion of his last offering of 6.901 Invention and Patents and 6.931, Development of Inventions and Creative Ideas at MIT, spring 2008

Robert H. Rines on the occasion of his last offering of 6.901 Invention and Patents and 6.931, Development of Inventions and Creative Ideas at MIT, spring 2008

Rines carried out radar research during World War II—an interest that has been lifelong. Following the War, Rines worked as an examiner for the U. S. Patent Office while earning his law degree from Georgetown University in 1947. Later Rines joined his father’s law practice in Boston. While at Harvard, Rines wrote a book, “Create or Perish,” a book that later became the cornerstone text for 6.901/6.931.

During his 45 years of teaching these classes, Dr. Rines continued his active research and inventing, earning more than 100 patents—many for electronic apparatus to improve the resolution of radar and sonar scanning. The scanning systems used to locate the wrecks of the Titanic and the Bismarck were dependent on Rines’ prototypes, as were medical ultrasound imaging systems.

Rines built his practice as an internationally recognized patent lawyer and laid the grounds for kindling young minds’ interest in science and technology in the US and worldwide. In 1963, Rines founded the Academy of Applied Science, a private, non-profit organization devoted to the promotion of science and technology education at all levels. In 1973, he founded the Franklin Pierce Law Center in Concord, New Hampshire—now among the country’s foremost institutes for the study of intellectual property law. In 1994, Rines was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

Robert Rines giving his last lecture before retiring, spring 2008.

Robert Rines giving his last lecture before retiring, spring 2008.

Although the environment in the early days of his teaching was not yet ripe for entrepreneurship, Rines continued to encourage his students to start their own businesses. He was enthusiastically instrumental in the formation in 1990 of the MIT $10k Entrepreneurship Competition, in which several of his students were winners.

In March of 2004, Rines received the Boston Patent Law Association’s first “Lifetime Achievement Award” for the many contributions he has made during his fifty–plus–year career in the field of intellectual property law.

Beyond teaching, mentoring, inventing and running an award-winning patent practice, Rines has pursued scientific knowledge and discovery throughout his life. As documented by Public Television’s Nova series, Rines joined former MIT EECS professor ‘Doc’ Harold Edgerton in the 1970s to provide evidence of the Loch Ness creature in Scotland. Using Rines’ inventions in radar and sonar imaging and Edgerton’s stroboscopic photography, they were able to produce a partial image of the Ness creature’s outline and size, but the findings were not conclusive. His more recent explorations in the late 1990s of this region, however, have turned up proof of an ancient sea bed below the Ness.

Read the comments of previous students at the EECS website spotlight on Prof. Rines and his work, July 2008.

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