Director's Forum: A Blog from USPTO's Leadership
Wednesday Nov 09, 2016

Collegiate Inventors Competition Showcases Tomorrow’s Entrepreneurs

A post about the USPTO from the Department of Commerce

Standing on stage this past Friday, inventors from colleges and universities across the country were recognized for their work developing cutting-edge inventions, at the 2016 Collegiate Inventors Competition (CIC) at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) in Alexandria, VA. Through CIC, the skills that these students have gained both through the process of invention and by learning about intellectual property will be an asset to them as they decide on their next steps, which could be further research or commercializing their invention. “The ideas represented in this room—and the bright minds behind them—are the present and future of America innovation,” said Drew Hirshfeld, Commissioner for Patents at the USPTO.

The 28 undergraduate and graduate students all had the chance to interact one-on-one with inductees of the National Inventors Hall of Fame (NIHF). These established inventors – who have invented many tools, processes, or devices that are now commonplace in our lives, such as the digital camera, microprocessor, electret microphone, and the implantable defibrillator – served as judges for the competition and provided advice and inspiration for the students. USPTO officials and AbbVie Foundation scientists also served as judges.

The finalists showcased their inventions at a public expo, providing them with a professional backdrop to answer questions and discuss their inventions with USPTO patent examiners, patent attorneys, and trademark examiners, senior officials, corporate sponsors, and members of the intellectual property community and the public. “We consistently hear from finalists that their CIC experience was the inspiration for seeing themselves as great innovators. It’s also why they continued on as entrepreneurs, business owners, and patent holders. We look forward to seeing many more patent and trademark applications with their names on them in the years ahead,” said Hirshfeld.

CIC finalists’ inventions included a variety of technologies from advanced crop harvesting techniques for use on earth and other planets, to a bladeless drone, to a fire extinguishing ball. Medical innovations included adjustable prosthetics, hydrogels for ocular drug delivery, early cervical cancer detection methods, technology for freezing breast cancer cells, more sterile catheters, and DNA powered diagnostics. Many of these medical innovations were designed to help people in lower-middle-income countries. Several CIC finalists have already been granted patents or have filed patent applications.

The winner in the undergraduate category was a team from University of Virginia, comprised of Payam Pourtaheri and Ameer Shakeel. Their invention, AgroSpheres, re biological particles that degrade residual pesticides on the surface of plants, allowing crops to be safely harvested after just a few hours. This helps farmers avoid crop loss due to unforeseen weather events and at the same time saves the environment from additional pesticides.

The graduate winner was Carl Schoellhammer from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for SuonoCalm, a device for at-home rapid administration of therapeutics. SuonoCalm is designed to deliver a wide range of medications directly into tissue using low frequency ultrasound. Tests have shown superior absorption and it takes just one minute. Read more about all the 2016 CIC finalists and winners.

The top undergraduate winner and top graduate winner each received $10,000. Second and third place winners were also recognized with cash and prizes.

The Collegiate Inventors Competition is one of several important programs the USPTO conducts in collaboration with NIHF. Others include Invention Playground for preschool children, Camp Invention and Club Invention for elementary school children and Invention Project for middle school students. Altogether, NIHF programs reach hundreds of thousands of young Americans every year, promoting a better understanding of the vital role intellectual property and innovation play in our lives and our economy, and helping build entrepreneurial skills for the next generation of inventors.

View a USPTO Facebook album of photos from CIC.

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