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It's About Design

Inventors spend many hours designing and creating new items or making innovative improvements to the design of items. In order to protect their ideas or "intellectual property" they may apply for a patent. The U.S. Patent Office has been granting inventors of ideas, devices, designs and processes an award called a patent. A patent will protect the inventor from anyone being able to make, sell or take their original ideas for 20 years. The protection guaranteed by the patent is included in the Constitution of the United States (Article 1, Section 8 ) and has been in place over 200 years. Help your students learn more about some inventors and their inventions, as they participate in some activities to help them understand the patent process.


  • To learn about the patent process and the rights afforded by a patent.
  • To create an object or item using their imaginations.
  • To use descriptive writing to tell about their creations.
  • To have the opportunity to learn more about inventors and inventions.

Items to Discuss:

Have students read the brief introduction to patents for basic facts and information.

  1. Why is it important for an inventor to apply for a patent?
  2. How does a patent protect the inventor?
  3. Should a patent last forever rather than just 20 years?
  4. What types of items can receive a patent?
  5. Are there different types of patents?

Online Activity:

After discussion and reading the introduction to patents, students can use the Patent Quiz which will give them an opportunity to answer multiple choice questions and check their answers as they review some basic information.

Print out copies of the Patent Scavenger Hunt#1 and so students can record answers they find as they work online. An answer key with additional suggestions for extending the activity is provided for teachers.

If you want to give your students an opportunity to learn about inventors and inventions that have received patents and explore women inventors, use Scavenger Hunt #2. An answer key with additional suggestions for extending the activity is provided for teachers.

Hands On Activity:

Help students list the items they need to submit if they were to apply for a patent:

  • Drawing, using black ink
  • Detailed description
  • A signed statement that says they are the inventor and the information presented is their own.
  • (Information from the U.S. Patent Office might be helpful if you wish to go into more detail or create your own application in addition to items listed here.)

Materials needed: drawing paper, thin line black markers for illustrations and notebook paper or word processor, print outs of Frick's patent drawings.

Directions for the activity might include these steps:

Create an imaginary article which could be used at school.
Give it a name that is unique.
Now use pencil or a black marker to create a drawing of the item. The drawing(s) should be on unlined paper and can be similar to those used by Fred Frick or others who have applied for a patent. (If you have not seen the patent drawings you many want to have them view them before beginning.Information about acceptable drawings for patent applications is included.)
Label the drawing so that all of the parts of the item are indicated.
Add different views (figures) of the parts of your article if needed.
Write a description of your article on a separate sheet of paper which will help explain your illustration.You may use the computer to do this.
Don't forget to sign the statement saying this is your original work.This is required for anyone applying for a patent.
Apply for your patent by turning in your work.

An online, virtual patent certificate is available for you to print out for each student which can be issued to them upon completion of this activity.

Other Patent Online Resources and Activities:

U.S. Patent Office Home Page has links to detailed information about the patent process.

U.S. Patent and Trademarks Kids Page

U.S. Patent Puzzle Page

U.S. Patent Databases - search issue years and patents since 1836

Inventors Hall of Fame Search alphabetic index to find brief articles about the inventor and item(s) which received a patent. Links to related articles about the inventor are included.

Everything You Want to Know About Patents

Patent pages for students K-Grade 6

Patent pages for students Grades 6-12

Guide for teachers to U.S. Patent and Trademarks Kids Resources

Games Page at U.S. Patent Office

Database of Patents 1976 to present

Women Inventors:

The web pages below discuss women inventors. Take this opportunity to discuss the role of women and how their contributions have been important to our way of life and economy. Early women inventors were often not able to patent inventions in their own names and sometimes their husbands or other males had to get patents for them. (Discusses African-American Women Inventors)

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Carla Schutte, Mike Lipinski, Susan Silverman
Gail Watson, Tammy Payton
March 2000