K-12 Instructional Activity Guide

Page 9 - Other Resources

Just What is a Patent?

A patent is a piece of paper given to an inventor by the U.S. government. The patent protects your rights as an inventor, and gives you--and only you--control of your invention for a certain number of years. It allows you to decide who can use your invention, who can manufacture it, and who can sell it. Without a patent, you could not prevent people from copying your invention and making money from it.

To receive a patent your invention must be workable, new, and useful. We all have ideas about ways to improve the things we use, and many of us think of new things that we would like to see invented. All inventions begin with an idea, but to get a patent you have to show that your idea really works. You must also be able to prove that you are actually the first person to think up and make a model of the invention, and convince the Patent Office that your invention is useful. Making a small change to an existing invention (like making it smaller) or coming up with something that lots of people could think up (like a new way to use a paper plate) are also not patentable ideas.

Patenting an invention is a complex process that can take many months, and is usually quite costly. If you are interested in trying to patent an invention, it is best to get a patent attorney's help from the very beginning. Three important things you can do to increase your chances of getting a patent are:

  1. Do your research! Check out your idea very carefully to make sure there is nothing like it anywhere else. Contact libraries, look in catalogues, and talk with people who know the market for other things in the same category as your invention.
  2. Draw a complete picture of your invention. Label each and every part, and show how the invention is made and how it works.
  3. Keep a very complete journal of all your invention activities. Have every step of your invention process witnessed by a teacher or other adult.

For more information, you can write to:

Superintendent of Documents
U.S. Government Printing Office
Washington, D.C. 20402

and ask for the publication: Patents and Inventions: An Information Aid for Inventors

Or you can visit the United States Patent Office website.

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Trademarks, Copyrights, and Patents

A trademark is a name or symbol used to identify a product or company. For example, each soft drink company has its own name, symbol or combination of letters. Coca-Cola, Mountain Dew, Pepsi-Cola and 7-Up are all trademarked names, which means their name and style of their logo cannot be used by another person or company for a similar product. Trademarks can be registered at the U. S. Patent and Trademark Office by an individual, firm or corporation.

A copyright protects an author's written material from being copied. These writings include books, maps, plays, motion pictures, videotapes, recorded and written music, and computer software. For example, you are not allowed to tape a friend's CD without permission from the record company. An author's work can be registered at the Copyright Office of the Library of Congress.

A patent protects an invention. The inventor is granted sole rights to the invention for 17 years. This means others cannot make, sell, or use this invention without the inventor's permission. When applying for a patent, the inventor includes a sketch and description of the invention, and a document signed by two witnesses stating that the invention is original.

*** Now, let's see if you understand the differences! Finish each statement below by circling the word underneath it that makes it true.

  1. The name of a fast food restaurant is protected by a
  2. If you built a machine that did homework, you could apply for a
  3. It is illegal to copy computer software because of its
  4. ACTIVITY: Think of products or services you use--things like games, packaged foods, clothing, and entertainment. In the space next to the words, draw the trademark of one of those products or companies.
  5. Why do you think companies don't want people to tape their CDs, cassettes, and videos at home?

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For Your Information

Ancient Inventions

  • Prehistoric People
    bow and arrow
  • Mesopotamians
    nails c. 3000 b.c.
    soap c. 3000 b.c.
  • Egyptians
    metal money c. 2500 b.c.
    ink (also Chinese) c. 100 a.d.
  • Chinese
    abacus c. 500 b.c.
    wheel c. 3000 b.c.
    paper c. 100 a.d.
    fireworks c. 1000 a.d.
    ink (also Egyptians) c. 100 a.d.
    gears c. 3000 b.c.
    paper money c. 1200 a.d.
    compass c. 1000 a.d.
    porcelain c. 1300 b.c.
    wheelbarrow c. 300 a.d.
  • Greeks
    water pump c. 200 b.c.
    grape/olive press c. 200 b.c.
  • Romans
    horseshoes c. 100 A.D.
    Ice-D-Milk Dessert c. 100 A.D.

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Inventors and their Everyday Inventions

EarmuffsChester Greenwood
Waffle ConesE. A. Hamwi
Basketball (the game)James Naismith
Coffee PotMelitta Bentz
Hot DogAnton Feuchtwanger
EscalatorJesse Reno
Traffic SignalGarrett Morgan
Barbie DollRuth Handler
MatchDaniel Chapin
MicroscopeAntoine Van Leewenhoek
X-Ray MachineFredrick Jones
Windshield WipersMary Anderson
Blue JeansLevi Strauss
Xerox MachineChester Carlson
Drinking StrawMarvin Stone
TelephoneAlexander Graham Bell
Disposable DiapersMarian Donovan
TrampolineGeorge Nissen
ZipperWhitcomb Judson
Liquid PaperBette Graham
ChalkboardSamuel Hall
Band-AidsEarl Dickson
Life Savers CandyClarence Crane
Ferris WheelGeorge Ferris, Jr.
Chocolate Chip CookiesRuth Wakefield
FlashlightConrad Hubert

Can you find more everyday inventors and their inventions?

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Women as Inventors

There have always been women inventors who have solved problems and improved their lives and the lives of others with their inventions. In the past, however, many women were afraid of what others would think if they were independent--or if they said they had invented something. Many female inventors allowed men to use their ideas and receive patents and credit for their inventions. An example is Catherine Greene, who helped Eli Whitney invent the cotton gin in 1792, but allowed him to receive sole credit for the idea and the patent. Sybilla Masters, who invented a corn cleaning and curing machine in 1715, was only able to obtain a patent under her husband's name, because until the late 1800's most states maintained a married woman had no legal right or power to control her own property.

The first woman to receive a patent in her own name was Mary Dixon Kies. In 1809 Ms. Kies was granted a patent for inventing the process of weaving straw with silk or thread. Since then the number of women inventors receiving patents has grown steadily. Today, women hold nearly 10% of all patents worldwide. Some interesting women inventors are listed below:

1845Sarah Mather invented the submarine lamp and telescope
1871Margaret Knight invented a flat-bottomed grocery-bag making machine
1881Mary Blanchard designed the elevated railway system
1883Harriett Tracy invented the fire escape
1887Harriet Williams Strong designed a new dam and reservoir construction
1891Catherine Diener invented the rolling pin
1898Marie Curie discovered a way to extract radioactive material from ore
1899Letitia Geer invented the medical syringe
1903Mary Anderson invented the windshield wiper
1904Margaret Knight invented the rotary engine
1913Elena Mayolini DeValdes invented a bottle stopper
1928Marjorite Joyner invented the permanent wave machine
1935Eva Landman invented the umbrella windshield
1938Katherine Blodgett invented non-reflecting glass
1950Bette Nesmith Graham invented Liquid Paper
1955Rosalyn Yalow developed a technique for measuring tiny concentrations of biological substances or drugs in the blood and other body fluids. In 1977 she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine.
1954Gertrude Elion received her first of over 45 patents for mercaptopurine, a disease-fighting drug. She was awarded the 1988 Nobel Prize for Medicine.
1959Ruth Handler invented the Barbie Doll
1994Jan B. Svochak invented the bifocal contact lens and the process for making them.

Adapted from Girls and Young Women Inventing by F. Karnes and Suzanne Bean, 1995

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Characteristics of Adult Inventors

  • They had a happy home life as children.
  • They love and value their work.
  • They came from religious homes.
  • They came from rural or farming backgrounds.
  • They all liked school, but they did not excel.
  • They got along well in school but were not social leaders.
  • School was not their primary place of learning.
  • They had a place to 'tinker' as children and now have workshops.
  • They had no family or personal history of alcohol or drug problems.
  • They began inventing at an early age.
  • They have always wanted to help others and contribute to society.
  • They refuse to be defeated by others' attitudes or invention failures.
  • They do not particularly enjoy social situations.
  • They would much rather work on something than watch or attend events.

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Iowa Inventors: Did you know...

...the first digital computer was patented in the 1930's by John Atanasoff while he was teaching at Iowa State University?

...the screen door was invented by Hannah Harger of Manchester?

...buffered aspirin and antacid tablets were invented by Dr. W.D. Paul and Dr. J. I. Routh of Iowa City?

...the Delicious apple was developed by Jesse Hiatt of Winterset?

...the trampoline was invented by George Nissen of Cedar Rapids?

...the Eskimo Pie was invented by Christopher Nelson of Onawa?

...the first gasoline-powered tractor was built by John Froelich of Waterloo?

...many inventions relating to foods and agricultural products were invented by George Washington Carver, a graduate of Simpson College and Iowa State University?

...many inventions related to radio transmitters and receivers were invented by Arthur Collins of Cedar Rapids?

...and there are many more!

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New Inventions

Don't Bother the Employees As a young professor, Ray Damadian was actively engaged in research when he first envisioned a machine that could scan and detect cancer in the human body. He had a theory he was able to test by using a small manufacturing company's equipment. The company president let him use the equipment as long as he didn't distract any employees. Ray proved his theory was correct and built a full-scale prototype, which he called "The Imdomitable". Ray was the first to be scanned and the MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) diagnostic machine was born!

Now He's the "Pres"! Randy Arendt was an aircraft mechanic with a 171-piece socket set that wouldn't stay organized in his toolbox. Frustrated, he decided to design a socket organizer. He did, then he had them manufactured, started selling them at car shows and swap meets, met a manufacturer's rep, and went nationwide. Now the Socket-To-Me socket holder is one of the many products his company sells!

Rejection Led to Success In the 1950's Bette Nesbit was a single mother who worked as a secretary in order to feed and clothe her young son, Michael. Not the best of typists, Bette cheated on her typing pool assignments by covering up her mistake with a white paint concoction she developed. Coworkers caught on to Bette's idea and soon she was bringing little bottles of the white paint into the office. Realizing she was on to something, Bette approached IBM. She was turned down flat. Undaunted, she went into business herself. She and her young son, Michael (later to become on of the Monkees), filled the small bottles at the kitchen table using squeezable ketchup and mustard containers. "Liquid Paper" became a multimillion-dollar business in just a few short years!

Costly Win The inventor of the intermittent wind-shield wiper spent more than 12 years in a patent infringement suit against Ford Motor Company. "I want to show the little guy can win," Robert Kearns said. He settled with Ford for $10.2 million, which was a far cry from the $141 million he had calculated Ford owed him.

Super Vision After his mother died of a blood clot, Bob Rines was determined to develop a device that could look inside the human body to detect problems. His theory was that sound waves could bounce off a moving object and send back an image. From that theory he developed ultrasound scanning, which has been used to discover the Titanic and the Bismarck, search for the Loch Ness Monster, and tell expectant parents whether to buy pink or blue booties. Bob donated the technology to the medical community. Holder of more than 60 patents, his current efforts are on marketing herbal, nontoxic treatment that dramatically improves plants' growth, yield and resistance to pests!

Inspired by Tragedy Martine Kempf was a 23-year-old student when she first invented a computer program that would respond to voice commands. She was inspired to work on the voice activator when she saw German teenagers who had no arms as the result of the Thalidomide their mothers took when pregnant. Martine created her program on her Apple P.C. and in 1986, when she was 27, she began manufacturing and marketing the sophisticated invention from her business in California's Silicon Valley. The technology was used to operate voice-activated wheelchairs and microscopes.

Uncommon Common Sense Jack Parker was born and raised on the eastern plains of Colorado. He turned his practical nature into a paying business. Jack invented a machine that would cut through the thick rubber of huge off-road tires that can be 10 feet tall and weigh 5,000 pounds. The tires make great water troughs for livestock; they don't rust or crack, and the water doesn't freeze in the winter. Jack buys used tires from mines and landfills, cuts them and sells them to ranchers throughout the West.

10,000,000-Plus! After giving his four-year-old nephew a top for Christmas, Paul Brown spent a good part of the holiday making the top spin for the child. Intrigued with finding a better way, Paul created a top that didn't need a string. A simple twist made it spin like a whirling dervish! Paul cleverly interested Mattel in the toy. Once year after the toy hit the market, he received a plaque that read, "The Ten Millionth WIZ-Z-ZER to the Number One WIZ-Z-ZER Paul Brown. Congratulations from Mattel, Inc."

Home Run Mark Hegman loved to play with baseball cards when he was a kid. Remembering those days, he developed a baseball card board game. After two frustrated years trying to get it on the market, Mark attended the International Toy Trade Show in New York City armed with a self-contained professional display. He attracted the attention of the right people. Baseball Card All-Star Game has sold more than 100,000 units.

Glad He Took The Risk Told that he could "save a thousand lives a year" was the spark that Wilson Greatbatch needed to risk his career -- and his family's financial security -- to develop what has been called the most precious invention of the 20th century. Wilson had $2,000 in case, plus enough money to feed his family for two years. He quit his job, gave the family money to his wife, and with the $2,000 build 50 pacemakers in his wood-heated barn workshop. "We had no grant funding and asked for none," he said. Wilson's implantable pacemakers have saved millions of lives worldwide.

How Do You Spell Relief? Searching for a way to ease his son Kenny's pain from rheumatoid arthritis, Candido used the concepts of his company's large industrial water pumps to build an at-home whirlpool. Kenny's relief was obvious as jets of warm water pulsated over his aching body. Candido's brother, Ray, then designed the first self-contained whirlpool bath in 1968, and together the Jacuzzi brothers made their name a household word!

Source: Inventors' Digest (www.inventordigest.com)

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Important Words for Inventors!

Brainstorming:Looking for solutions to problems by coming up with many possible answers.
Copyright:Protects an author's written material from being copied.
Imagination:Making pictures in your mind of things that may or may not exist.
Innovation:A new way of making an invention better.
Innovator:A person who comes up with a new way of making an invention better.
Invention:A product or way of doing things.
Inventor:A person who thinks of new ideas to make life easier or better through inventions.
Journal:A written record of daily activities an inventor keeps while working on an invention.
Marketing:Things you do to try and make a product ready to make money (packaging, slogan, advertising, selling, etc.).
Patent:An inventor's right to keep others from making, using, or selling his or her invention.
Process:A step-by-step way of doing something.
Prototype:An exact, working replica of an invention.
Research:To study and investigate a subject so you can learn as much as possible about it.
Survey:Asking a question or several questions of a group of people to gain an opinion, information, or an attitude.
Trademark:A name or a symbol used to identify a product or a company.

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Resources to Help You Make Your Inventing More Fun!


If you can only purchase one book for this age-group:

Steven Caney's Invention Book - S. Caney, Workman Publishing Co.; 1981, ISBN# 0-89480-076-0. ($9.95)

Absolutely Mad Inventions - A.E. Brown and H. A. Jeffcott, Jr., Dover Publications; ISBN 0-486-22596-8.

Eight Black Inventors - R. C. Hayden, Addison Wesley Publishing; 1972.

Girls and Young Women Inventing - F. Karnes and S. Bean, Free Spirit Publishing; 1995, ISBN# 0-915793-89-X.

Guess Again--More Weird and Wacky Inventions - J. Murphy, Macmillan/Bradbury Press; 1986.

Inventions, Inventors, and Ingenious Ideas - P. Turvey, Franklin Watts Publishers; 1992.

Inventions No One Mentions - C. Lovitt, Scholastic Books; ISBN# 0-590-33209-0.

Inventor's Workshop - A. McCormick, Pitman Learning, Inc.; 1981.

Mistakes That Worked - C. Jones, Doubleday; 1991, ISBN# 0-385-32043-4.

Mothers of Invention: From the Bra to the Bomb: Forgotten Women & Their Unforgettable Ideas - F.A. Ware and G. Ptacek, William Morrow & Co., Inc.; 1988.

Mousetraps and Muffling Cups: One Hundred Brilliant and Bizarre U.S. Patents - K. Lasson, Arbor House Publishing Co.; 1986.

The Unconventional Invention Book - B. Stanish and C. Singletary, Good Apple, Inc.; 1981.

Weird and Wacky Inventions - J. Murphy, Crown Publishers; 1978.

What Has Wild Tom Done Now? - A Story of Thomas Alva Edison - R. Quackenbush, Prentice Hall, Inc.; 1977.

Why Didn't I Think Of That? - W. Garrison, Prentice Hall, Inc.; 1977.

Women Invent In America - E.H. Showell and F. M. B. Amram, Cobblestone Publishing; ISBN# 0-942389-10-7.


InventorLabs - Houghton Mifflin Interactive InventorLabs takes you back to the moment of discovery. Embark on an extraordinary journey through time. Your destination, the meticulously re-created laboratories of three of the world's most celebrated inventors--Thomas Alva Edison, James Watt and Alexander Graham Bell. Examine their inventions from every angle in brilliant interactive 3-D! Then test your wits by reenacting experiments with hundreds of possible outcomes. WIN95/WIN3.1 - 16-BIT and MAC $39.99

See also: Invent Iowa Links

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