Kids Invent! is back in full swing this week, with programs at Garfield, Cesar Chavez, Brletic, and Burrough’s Elementary.

Children from Chawanakee Unified School District visited the Lyles Center earlier in the month.  There were – twenty-five students, grades 3-5 and thirty students, grades 6-8 – competing in the Egg Drop Competition. Kids Invent! teachers were Neng Vue, Sadie Lee, Lupe Gutierrez, and Phannee Lor. Word on the street is that Chawanakee had a blast with the Egg Drop Competition! The next competition will be:

CONTRAPTIONS: Apply the laws of physics to design a super complex machine to achieve a simple task.  How do you predict the movement of objects?  How can you turn potential energy into kinetic energy? Students will be able to answer these questions and more by identifying and building simple machines that will work together to form a complicated one.  Inspired by Rube Goldberg’s comical drawings. These students will have two days to use their imagination to construct the wackiest contraption in ten steps or more.  On January 20, we will see who will succeed with their inventions.   

Kids Invent! visited Garfield Elementary (Selma) on January 12 and made Yo-Yos’ with the  2nd & 3rd grader.

Cesar Chavez and Matthew Brletic Elementary (both located in Parlier) resumed on January 13.


Who’s Idea Is It Anyway?

So here you are sitting with a killer idea and unable to move. Unable to talk. Unable to think out loud for fear that someone out there is going to snatch that idea away from you and become the millionaire you hope to be some day. 

What should you do? Well, you could continue to sit deaf, dumb, and blind with your idea, or you could try and take the idea to the product level. But even the act of working on the idea may bring about anxiety. Suppose someone is observing your work? Or perhaps your spouse or child will announce to the world exactly what you are doing? For those of you who understand invention, this is no minor panic attack. 

One suggestion I have is to not call me asking what you should do (even though you never have to tell me your idea). I will tell you that acting on the idea is more important than protecting the idea. Frankly, even in the world today with so many wannabe inventors and entrepreneurs, it is the person who can act who will always be ahead of the game when it comes to making their idea a successful reality. Act? Well, I mean getting out there and building a business around your idea. 

But I do know that at times protecting your idea is important. And when it is necessary, there is a method you can follow. The very first step is to decide whether the idea can be protected through a patent, trademark, or copyright. 

Many of you may already understand the difference. But many do not. And many people do not understand how one begins the process to secure a patent, trademark, or copyright. So let me try to bring some clarity to this issue. With warning, of course, that I am not a lawyer and hence am not offering legal advice on the subject matter. If you find yourself seeking an attorney who works with intellectual property, or idea protection, I would be happy to provide you a list of names.

Let us start with a patent. The U.S. patent system was created over 200 years ago by Thomas Jefferson to protect inventors. With the first patent issued in 1790, just over 6,000,000 have been issued as of today. A patent is granted by the federal government, which gives an inventor the sole right to exclude others from making, using, or selling the patented item or process for a given length of time. Patents are only awarded to an invention or new concept that has demonstrated its ability to be useful, novel, and non-obvious (something that anyone could have figured out). 

Patents come in three types: (1) utility, which is for new technologies that change or improve current technologies, (2) design, for new and original designs of items or articles, and (3) life forms, to cover such items as plants, seeds, altered genes, and microbes. What is the cost to acquire a patent? It depends. But I usually tell those seeking a patent that $5,000 in attorney and filing fees is not out of bounds for basic patents. Much higher if the patent has added complexity.

Trademarks can be any word, phrase, symbol or design used to identify a business or a product. You will often see two symbols used for trademarks. One is the “TM” which occurs when the name is used, but is not yet registered. The symbol “Ò” is used after the trademark has been registered. What you won’t find are trademarks granted by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office that are (1) immoral and deceptive, (2) symbols in common use such as a state flag, and (3) use of a person’s name or likeness without permission. A trademark, if you choose to file, will cost about $250.

Copyrights are designed to protect original works by authors of literature, lyrics, motion pictures, computer programs, music, and other art forms. The copyright protects the owner from others who may wish to reproduce the material without permission. However, copyrights do not protect the idea, only the form in which the idea is presented. Copyrights are fairly cheap to obtain, costing about $20.

It is not uncommon to find inventors reluctant to file for patents or other forms of idea protection. Filing the information in a government depository does allow others to see what you have created and possibly borrow the idea in a slightly different form or configuration. Indeed, many innovative corporations are known to file patents for ideas they will never use for the sole purpose of throwing their competition off the trail of ideas and inventions they are seriously pursuing. They keep their most treasured work to themselves until the product is ready to go into the market place.

If you want to know more about patents, trademarks, and copyrights, visit or Interested in buying rights to a patent. Go to Or if you want to read about patents that seem outside of the sphere of reality, try

But please do more than just sit there.           

Dr. Timothy M. Stearns is the Coleman Foundation Chair in Entrepreneurship and the Executive Director, Lyles Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at California State University, Fresno. You can reach him at

NFTE Central Valley :: Regional Business Plan Competition 05.20.2010