A Key Ingredient is Missing in Today’s Makerspace Culture

Meaningful innovation education exposes kids to this vital element.

GUEST COLUMN | by Clare Donovan

I love watching the rise of makerspaces in schools. More and more students have access to 3D printers, kid-friendly coding programs, and other great technical tools. This investment in STEM project-based learning means that students with all kinds of learning styles are directly engaged in issues critical to their future.

But there’s a key ingredient missing. When you give students access to awesome tools and the freedom to design, what happens when they hit on something great? Most often, that’s where the project stalls. In the business world, that’s when a patent comes in.

Teaching patenting concepts at a young age is not only feasible, but I believe it’s a way to help women and other underrepresented groups play a bigger role in tech.

Tinker While You Learn

At the Future of Education Technology Conference in Orlando, Fla., I saw some amazing curricula and technology demos [Ed. note: Clare spoke there, see photo above]. Schools have a huge selection of tools to teach engineering to young students.

Engineering, however, is only one component of the innovation process. Creativity, business and the law also play a critical role. Patents motivate people to invest in the arduous process of inventing by giving them economic ownership for continued development. For a startup, a patent buys you time to do the hard work of bringing your idea to life. Patent education is an important ingredient in helping kids become real-world problem solvers.

Patent education also lays a foundation for financial rewards in the workplace. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office finds that wages in patent-based industries are 74% higher than other verticals, and this premium is growing. This is according to the USPTO’s latest update to “Intellectual Property and the U.S. Economy.”

“The current report provides updated results demonstrating that IP-intensive industries supported 45.5 million jobs and contributed $6.6 trillion in value added in 2014, equivalent to 38.2 percent of U.S. GDP,” according to the 2016 report. “In addition, the current report reinforces the earlier finding that IP use permeates all aspects of the economy with increasing intensity and extends to all parts of the U.S.”

Level the Playing Field

But these benefits aren’t accessible to everyone. For example, there are few female patent holders. A Yale analysis published in the April 2018 issue of Nature Biotechnology found that only 10% of patent holders are female.

In “Gender differences in obtaining and maintaining patent rights,” researchers Kyle Jensen, Balázs Kovács and Olav Sorenson examined the prosecution and maintenance histories of approximately 2.7 million U.S. patent applications. The researchers found that women have less favorable experiences in nearly all outcomes—from the likelihood of a patent rejection being appealed to the average wordcount increase in patents that were granted (this has the effect of narrowing the scope of their claims).

“These results should interest inventors, patent holders, and policymakers,” according to the study. “In advanced economies, technical progress appears to be the primary driver of economic growth. The patent system, moreover, is one of the principal public-policy mechanisms for promoting this progress.”

They Can Do It

Providing primary and secondary students an introduction to patent concepts is entirely feasible. In fact, the government of Japan has established it as a major priority.

In a 2018 report, the Japan Patent Office explains that K-12 education will in large part be a project-based learning format that teaches basic concepts of the “intellectual creation cycle” and fosters creativity and other social-emotional skills.

“Children should develop a sense of morality and self-efficacy and experience the pleasure of creating something, as often as possible,” according to the report “Education, Dissemination and Raising the Awareness of Intellectual Property in Japan.”

Empower Everyone

I own multiple patents. I’m a woman. And unfortunately, I’m an exception to the rule.

I spent several years in education—serving as a tutor and teaching assistant for students with learning disabilities, as well as a volunteer swim teacher to individuals with special needs. Inspired by my students’ love for glow-in-the-dark pool toys, my mother and I invented and patented the world’s first glowing goggles and signed a deal with Amazon Exclusives.

Now, people all over the world use my goggles. So I know how wonderful it feels to see something that started out as this seed of an idea turn into a solution on the market. I want everyone to have the tools to realize their vision.

I see huge potential in bringing women and other underrepresented groups into the knowledge economy. The inequity that we see in the world of IP drove me to develop PatentDive Educator. This project-based curriculum teaches students how to innovate on real-world solutions—such as prosthetic limbs, solar transportation, and artificial reefs—while internalizing STEM fundamentals. And, of course, it teaches kids about patenting.

Seeing Results

We’ve been testing the curriculum for about a year and officially launched at the Future of Education Technology Conference—offering the curriculum for implementation in the fall 2019 semester. Our preliminary results show students reporting an increased interest in STEM, improved problem-solving skills, and a heightened interest in entrepreneurship.

Hands-on, patent-based activities help students internalize complicated STEM concepts. That’s why the students in our pilots research, design, and prototype their own inventions—and some even go on to file real patent applications with the USPTO.

It’s incredible to see the kids’ imaginations in action. They experience a joyful learning process and engage with each other. We are excited to bring this program to more schools in the fall.

Clare Donovan (pictured, top photo) is a patent holder and Education Director at PatentDive, inspiring the next generation of inventors. Contact Clare through PatentDive.com 


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