Table of Contents
Title Page
Copyright Page
Chapter 1 - Getting an Idea
Look for a Problem to Solve
Break Problems into Smaller Parts
Think about Improving Something You Already Enjoy
Think about Solving a Community Problem
Think about the Needs of Others
Find an Idea through Research
Find a Use for Something You Discover
Is Your Idea an Invention?
Chapter 2 - Keeping a Journal or an Inventor’s Log and Writing a Report
Logs and Journals
Inventor’s Logs, Journals, and Reports as Part of a Display
Chapter 3 - Making a Model
Start with a Sketch
Make a List of Materials
List the Tools You Will Need
Estimate Costs
Inventory Your Skills and Acquire Others
Set Up a Workshop
Ask for Help and Be Safe
Make a Scale Model
Chapter 4 - Naming Your Invention
Name Your Invention after Yourself
Name Your Invention for What It Does
Use Word Tricks in Naming Your Invention
Name Your Invention for Its Sound
Name Your Invention for Its Feel
Give Your Invention a Catchy Name
Chapter 5 - Participating in Competitions, Programs, and Camps
What You Can Gain by Entering an Invention Contest
Preparing for Competition
Chapter 6 - Inventing as a Team
Teamwork Calls for Cooperation and Compromise
Small Teams
Large Teams
Chapter 7 - Learning with a Mentor
Mentors Are Guides
School Mentor Programs
Mentors from the Business Community
Chapter 8 - Patenting an Invention
How Inventions Are Patented
The Patent Search
Types of Patents
Patent Applications
Patent Infringement
Chapter 9 - Registering a Trademark
Trademarks Are All Around You
Trademark Symbols
Types of Trademarks
Applying for a Trademark
Trademarks instead of Patents
Chapter 10 - Manufacturing, Packaging, and Selling an Invention
Product Development
Find the Right Company to Manufacture Your Invention
Selling Your Invention
Licensing Your Invention
Appendix A: Suggested Reading
Appendix B: Useful Web Sites
Appendix C: Invention Competitions, Programs, and Camps
Photo Credits


To the memory of my mom and dad, Joan and Tom Casey,
and my brother Tom. Also to my brothers and sisters:
Patsy, Mike, Kevin, Jim, and Katie.

The idea of being an inventor may seem impossible to you, yet everyone is born with innate curiosity and a desire to explore. Children discover at different rates, based on their physical surroundings. New sense impressions—sights, smells, tastes, and sounds—provide them with increased awareness of the world. Exposure to new ideas by their families and teachers also expands their creative possibilities.
Invention is the result of combining elements that people already possess with new, unexpected elements, which allows or even forces individuals to think “differently” about what already exists. An invention can be the outcome of a “Eureka!” moment, when an idea simply springs into an inventor’s mind. However, this type of invention is usually built upon a foundation of past knowledge, events, and memories. An invention can also result from years of research and trial and error.
You already have the characteristics and the qualities of an inventor. Yet learning to “rethink” your reality, the world around you, requires that you have confidence to think outside the box and look at your environment in a new, unique way. Sometimes taking this risk is frightening, yet great inventors throughout history have been willing to break the paradigms of their structured worlds.
Once your imagination has been tweaked and you are given tools to work with, nothing can stop you from pursuing your goals. Whether you become a true inventor, as the world defines it, or you keep your creations to yourself will depend upon your confidence and the help you get from parents, teachers, and other adults. We all hold within us a universe of possibilities. A budding Thomas Edison could live right next door or be one of your classmates. Who knows? You yourself might become the world’s greatest inventor. There are no limits to what our minds can imagine.
Kids Inventing!: A Handbook for Young Inventors will help you on your way. It explains the steps of inventing and marketing your creations, points you to sources of additional information, and provides stories of young inventors who are probably not that different from you. This book can help you to become a true inventor.
At the Partnership for America’s Future, Inc., we envisioned the need to preserve and enshrine the great inventions of America’s students in a museum framework. We realized that although many young inventors were recognized at local, state, regional, and even national levels through various contests, exhibits, and competitions, once the initial award had been given, there was no enduring legacy. Since its establishment in 1996, the National Gallery for America’s Young Inventors has celebrated the inventiveness of six of America’s youths each year. By recognizing and preserving these inventions, we also celebrate the contributions of all young inventors.
If you would like to view what other young inventors have done, visit our Web site at www.pafinc.com and click on “National Gallery for America’s Young Inventors.”
Nicholas D. Frankovits, Executive Director
Leila Gay Evans, Assistant Executive Director
National Gallery for America’s Young Inventors

Writing a book of this nature requires a lot of help and cooperation. I extend a bountiful thanks to all of the young inventors and their parents and teachers who were so kind in sharing their stories with me. I am indebted to my editor, Kate Bradford, for her vision, direction, and sagacity and especially for her understanding. Tremendous thanks to Kimberly Monroe-Hill and Constance Santisteban at Wiley, for their attention to detail. It wouldn’t be a book without the efforts of my agents, Sheree Bykofsky and Janet Rosen. Ruth Nyblod, of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), provided tremendous help, as did Katherine McDaniel, Esq. Thanks to Gay Evans, Nick Frankovits, and Sue Lyons, of the Partnership for America’s Future, for so many things; to Kristin Finn, of the Lemelson-MIT Program; to Linda Heller, of ExploraVision; to Carol Simantz, on behalf of the Craftsman/NSTA Young Inventors Awards Program; to Clar Baldus, of Invent Iowa; Cathy MacDonald, of the Young Inventors Fair and Program in the Twin Cities metro area of Minnesota; and to Norm Goldstein, of By Kids For Kids, for all their suggestions and cooperation. Thanks as well to Pamela Riddle Bird, of the United Inventors Association, and Dr. Forrest Bird. Teachers Jon Hood, Bill Church, Richard Jones, and Rich Fasciano; coaches Kristen Haugen, Joan Hurd, Joe Ann Clark, and Janice Hansen; and mentor John McConnell provided me with much help and needed insights.
Many, many thanks for all the efforts of Cliff Tanner of Science Service; Judith Shellenberger and Stephanie Hallman of the Christopher Columbus Fellowship Foundation; Marie Gentile of the Siemens Westinghouse Competition in Math, Science & Technology; Kim Bratcher of Wild Planet Toys; Megan Brumagin of eCYBERMISSION; Kristen Greenaway of TOYchallenge; Katie Stack of the Discovery Channel Young Scientist Challenge; Annie Wood of the Inventive Kids Around the World Contest; and Saki at SD Color Lab.
I would also like to thank Frank Tobin for his “seize the day” mind-set and for giving me travel opportunities to meet so many young inventors. Judith Maloney should be canonized for her efforts in helping me at the start of the process. And I am so grateful to Caroline Hatton, Rachelle Romberg Tuber, Mary Rose O’Leary, Michelle Markel, and Nancy Lamb for the generous gift of their time and scrutiny.
On a personal level, I am so grateful to the extended Ogren family for their enthusiasm and to all my friends who were continually supportive, especially Lou, Rachel, Susan, Anne, Denis, Mary, Hugo, Donvieve, Carrie, and members of the book club. Special thanks to Howard Katzman. Most of all, I want to thank my family, especially my dear nieces and nephews, for their love and support.

Did you ever see kid inventors on TV or in the newspaper and think, “That could be me!” You’re right—it could. Kids have been inventing for ages, making gadgets or toys or devising tools to make their chores easier. Most kids didn’t even realize they were inventors. Yet some kids sold their creations, and others became famous because of them.
Today, more and more kids are inventing things. Maybe you’ve thought about being an inventor. Maybe you’re already an inventor. Perhaps you’ve participated in a school invention fair or a national contest, yet you want to know more. What other contests can I enter? What’s a patent? What’s a trademark? Can kids really sell their inventions? How can I do that?
This book leads you through the steps of turning your ideas into realities, transforming you from a kid with a solution to a problem into an actual inventor. Perhaps you’ll discover an aspect of inventing that really appeals to you—getting ideas, making a model, writing in your log, naming your invention, presenting your ideas to others, working as part of a team or with a mentor, or even selling your invention.
Let the kid inventors you’ll read about in this book inspire you. They worked hard, and they had fun. Some made money. Some won scholarships. All of them were optimists. They believed that they could solve the problems they faced at different stages of inventing, and they experienced the joy of solving those problems and delighting, surprising, and astonishing others with the results.
Being a kid inventor has its own rewards, one of which is the thrill of saying, “I’m an inventor.” Inventing is a series of steps, a journey of discovery. To begin your journey, just turn the page.

Getting an Idea
Imagine living in 1900. You would know about the lightbulb and the steamship. You could see fireworks shows and ride in a train. You could use a safety pin, invented in 1849, a cash register, invented in 1883, and a zipper, invented in 1893. But you would have to wait three years to see the Wright Brothers fly their airplane, ten years to listen to a radio broadcast, fifty-one years before you and your family could watch a black-and-white television, seventy-seven years to use a personal computer, and eighty-nine years to play a video game. Boy, things have changed—thanks to inventions.
All inventions begin with an idea. An inventor looks at an everyday problem and creates a solution. Inventors think about new ways to do things, and some of those inventors are kids.
Even before 1900, kids were inventing things. Here are two examples.
• In 1864, when he was fifteen years old, George Westinghouse worked in his father’s factory, where he experimented with ways to improve steam engines. Four years later he gained a patent for a rotary steam engine.
• In 1850, twelve-year-old Mattie Knight of New Hampshire, a girl who was always using her tools to make playthings for her brothers, witnessed an accident at a cotton mill where her brothers worked. A piece of machinery broke off and injured one of the workers. In response, she invented a safety device that the mill owner used to prevent similar accidents. Over her lifetime, Mattie gained twenty-seven patents.
Inventor’s Tip
“To get ideas, look at the problems in your life and try to figure out how they could be fixed.”
—Krysta Morlan, inventor of
the Waterbike
Inventions are new, and they are not obvious. In other words, not just anyone can dream up inventions. When people see an invention, they might say, “Wow, that’s great! I’ve never seen that before. Maybe I could use it.”
Some revolutionary inventions, such as the lightbulb, the radio, engines that power trains or automobiles, or the telephone, completely change the way we do things. Others, such as inline skates, the ballpoint pen, or binoculars, improve certain aspects of our lives.
Inventions take many forms. An invention can be an item with no moving parts, like a pencil. It can be a machine, such as an elevator, or a new variety of plant—for example, a tomato. It can be a design for something, such as a chair, or a new concept, like an ice cream cone. It can also be a process, a series of steps. The steps can lead to the production of a drug to fight cancer or other illnesses or to the recipe for a new kind of salad dressing. A process can even be the series of steps to play a game or program a computer.
Inventions that improve on existing inventions are called innovations. The bicycle, for example, is an old idea. Ancient Chinese drawings show two-wheeled vehicles. An Egyptian obelisk is carved with a hieroglyph of a man on a bar mounted on two wheels. When the modern bicycle was invented in 1790, it didn’t have pedals. People moved the vehicle by pushing it with their feet. In 1839, when modern pedals were invented, bicycles became much more popular, but riding on wheels made only of metal was a bit rough. With the invention of air-filled tires in 1888, bikes became much more comfortable. Since then, there have been many more innovations in bicycles. Even as you read this, items that we use every day are being improved—everything from televisions and washing machines to tennis racquets and car engines.

Look for a Problem to Solve

What can you invent? How can you come up with ideas that lead to an invention? Thinking of ideas for an invention can be an everyday activity. All year long, we do things over and over again. We eat, sleep, do our chores, go to school, play sports, care for others, listen to music, use the computer, go to the store, talk on the phone, and send messages via computer. Each of our activities is an area that can benefit from inventions. In 1860, the future Sierra Club founder, John Muir, at age seventeen, invented a study desk that automatically turned the pages of a book. Muir displayed his well-crafted invention that year at the Wisconsin State Agricultural Fair.
You will most likely have ideas for inventions that solve problems in your daily life. You’re an expert on your chores and on things your family likes or hates to do. You know what works well or doesn’t, what’s fun or hard. If you live on a farm, you’re more likely than a city kid would be to invent something to help with farm chores. If you ride a bike or play soccer, football, or basketball, you may think of inventions related to sports. Kids who are crazy about music or computers usually focus their creativity on those areas. If your parents work in advertising, as plumbers or chemists, in construction, or at any other type of job, you probably know more than you realize about these fields. Take advantage of the knowledge that’s available in your own house or community.
Brainstorming is one way to come up with ideas for inventions. Brainstorming means to engage in organized, shared problem solving. You get together with your friends or classmates, pick a topic, and then throw out ideas about it: for example, ideas on how to simplify your chores or make it easier to carry things, or you could think up ideas for a new game. Even though brainstorming is defined as a shared activity, you can also brainstorm by yourself, even while you’re involved in other things.
Throw out any idea, even if it sounds really crazy. A few decades ago, a kid was brainstorming and thought of an idea for a remote-controlled vacuum cleaner. It sounded impossible then, but today it exists. Let the ideas fly. Brainstorm about sports, toys, computers, the environment, or community problems. Think of things that concern your family or other families. Throw out ideas as soon as you think of them, then let more ideas come. Let one idea lead to another. Eventually, some of these ideas won’t seem so crazy after all. Be sure to jot down all of the ideas in a log or a journal.
When inventors look at the world around them and see a problem, they think about how to solve it. For example, Marion Donovan invented the first disposable diaper in 1951. You know the problem that this solved! No more washing dirty diapers. So, be aware of people’s problems or needs when you think of ideas for inventions.
If you’re like most kids, you’d like your chores to be easier. Think about these activities and the tools you use to perform them. Almost anything around the house can be improved—brooms, rakes, dishwashing sponges, book bags, shovels, or scissors. The list goes on and on.
Inventor’s Tip
“Look for something to help out with everyday chores. I had to pick up gumballs every day, so I thought, Surely, there’s an easier way.”
—Lindsey Clement, 2001
inductee into the National
Gallery for America’s Young
Inventors for the Gumball

Break Problems into Smaller Parts

Problems can often be broken down into separate parts. The whole idea of feeding a pet or polishing the floor may seem like a hassle. You may not like anything about it, but what do you focus on to make it better? Think about it. What exactly is the most annoying aspect of feeding the dog, the cat, or the bird? Or of cleaning the floor? Is it that you don’t like having to do it every day? Or that your dog or cat nudges you when you try to put food in the bowl? Maybe you don’t like cleaning up afterward?

The Edible Pet Spoon

Suzanna Goodin was a first-grader at Hydro Elementary School in Hydro, Oklahoma, in 1987. She didn’t like feeding her cats, Cinnamon and Ginger. The cat food stuck to the spoon and was hard to get off. When her twin brother, Sam, told her he was trying to invent something to enter in the Weekly Reader Invention Contest, she thought, What if I invent a spoon that I don’t have to wash? What if I could make a spoon the cats could eat? She talked to her mom about it, then made a small spoon out of dough, and baked it. For her invention of the Edible Pet Spoon, Suzanna won the Grand Prize of the Weekly Reader Invention Contest in 1987. (This contest no longer exists, but many other contests have taken its place.) •
Think about which part of an activity or a job is really the problem. Is the task boring, or does it take too long? Think of how you can make it go more quickly or make it fun. Is something too heavy to carry or too hard to reach? Focus on what might make it easier to carry or reach. Is it too messy? Think of ways to protect yourself from the mess or devise a cleaner way to do the same job. If you look at what annoys you most about the problem, you can focus on finding a specific solution.

Sit and Go

Have you ever had to wheel your suitcase for a long distance and you just wanted to sit down for a minute? Well, Renee Steinberg, of Brooklyn, New York, decided to do something about that. She invented Sit and Go, a folding chair attached to a rolling suitcase. It’s a seat for travelers. She was a 2004 National Finalist in the Craftsman/NSTA Young Inventors Awards Program. •
Renee Steinberg sits on her invention, the Sit and Go.

Grip Stick

Alyssa Zordan was a seventh-grader at Torrington Middle School in Torrington, Connecticut, when her science teacher, Mr. Fasciano, challenged her and her classmates to become inventors. Alyssa was thinking about the assignment when she noticed that her grandmother almost slipped as she walked with her cane up the steps to Alyssa’s house. She also thought about how her brother’s running shoes had spikes on the bottom so that he could get a good grip on the track as he ran. She put the two ideas together to create a retractable metal tube with spikes on the bottom that fit over a cane to help the elderly walk on ice. She called it the Grip Stick. She designed it, then her dad, a shop teacher, helped her build it. During the process she used a metal lathe and a milling machine, and her dad helped her with welding. “I just wanted to win the school contest,” said Alyssa. And she did. She also won first place in the grade 6 through 8 division of the 2004 Craftsman/NSTA Young Inventors Awards Program. •
THE CRAFTSMAN/NSTA YOUNG INVENTORS AWARDS PROGRAM, which began in 1996, challenges students in the United States and its territories in grades 2 through 8 to invent or modify a tool that makes life easier. It is designed to teach students the scientific principles of how tools operate, to introduce them to working with tools, and to enable them to develop practical solutions to everyday problems. Students must work independently to create and conceive their tool inventions, though they may have guidance from an adult. Each student documents his or her progress in an inventor’s log and includes a diagram of the tool and a photograph of the student using the tool. The contest is sponsored by Craftsman, a Sears-exclusive tool brand, in conjunction with the National Science Teachers Association.

Think about Improving Something You Already Enjoy

Kids have all sorts of hobbies and interests. Think about your hobby or about the sport you play. In 1963, while in his junior high school wood shop class, eighth-grader Tom Sims thought of something he liked to do. He made a ski-board, attached straps, and headed for the snow. Eventually, he formed a company to manufacture it and helped to launch the sport of snowboarding.
Sports are a great area for invention. Think about what aspect of a sport is scary or unsafe or hard to do. Can you imagine something to make it easier or more fun? Or a safety device that would make it better?

The Trahan Torso Protector

At the Invent Iowa 2003 State Invention Convention, fourth-grader Kevin Trahan, of Dubuque, Iowa, submitted a life jacket-like vest that he called the Trahan Torso Protector. “A lot of kids are scared of the ball,” said Kevin, “but with this, they won’t be.” Kids playing baseball would wear his vest to protect their chests from balls that are hit or thrown at them. “If they wear it,” said Kevin, “it doesn’t interfere with their swing, and if a ball hits them right over the heart, they don’t get hurt or die.” •
INVENT IOWA, coordinated by the Connie Belin & Jacqueline N. Blank International Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development, is an annual statewide invention program open to students in grades K through 12 who live in Iowa. Over thirty thousand students participate each year in the program, which began in 1987.

The Retractable Bicycle Fender

Kevin Sellars, of Huntington Beach, California, was a seventh-grader when he created the Retractable Bicycle Fender. Kevin knew that many kids who performed jumps and tricks didn’t want fenders on their bikes. Yet Kevin had watched a bicyclist get a very muddy shirt after riding a bike with no fender through a puddle. Kevin worked with his godfather, Ben Viola, in Viola’s machine shop to make a retractable fender. The four sections of Kevin’s fender pull out when fully extended. He was a winner in the 2003 Invent America! Student Invention Contest. •
INVENT AMERICA! is a nonprofit educational program of the United States Patent Model Foundation. The program, aimed at grades K through 8, was launched in 1987. Schools or families can purchase curriculum kits that include handbooks with step-by-step instructions for developing an invention project. Kits also include contest entry forms for the national Invent America! Student Invention Contest.
Music is an important part of many people’s lives. Some people listen to music, and others play it. Some want to invent instruments that make new sounds. Many would like to make their instruments easier to play. Yet others turn their thoughts to inventing.

The Automated Page-Replacing Contrivance

When Christopher Cho, of East Setauket, New York, was in high school, he played the viola, studied at the Juilliard School of Music Pre-College division, won the viola concerto competition in 1995, and performed solo with the Juilliard Pre-College Symphony Orchestra. To make it easier to turn pages of music without interrupting his performances, Christopher invented the battery-powered Automated Page-Replacing Contrivance. When he pressed on a foot pedal, a spring turned and the top sheet of his music would drop, allowing him to see the next page and to keep playing. He got the idea by watching how food snacks dropped in vending machines. He was a 1996 inductee into the National Gallery for America’s Young Inventors. •
The purpose of the NATIONAL GALLERY FOR AMERICA’S YOUNG INVENTORS is to preserve and promote great inventions produced by America’s youths. Young people in grades K through 12 who have won a national contest, have gained a patent, or have a product that is being marketed are eligible to apply. Since 1996, six students have been inducted annually. Information about them and their inventions can be viewed at www.pafinc.com.
Let’s not leave out toys. There’s always room for more toys, and some kids are busy thinking up ideas for new ones.

The Light Hand

Shahid Minipara, of San Francisco, came up with the idea of a toy that puts lights on the ends of your fingers, so he made a drawing of his idea and entered the drawing into Wild Planet Toys Inc.’s Kid Inventor Challenge. The company liked the idea, made it into a product called Light Hand, and sold it in stores across the country. On the package is a quote by Shahid: “It’s cool to have lights at your fingertips, huh?” •
THE KID INVENTOR CHALLENGE, hosted by Wild Planet Toys Inc., is a contest open to kids age twelve and younger who live in the United States or Canada (excluding Quebec). Kids are asked to invent their own toys by drawing pictures of their toys and writing a brief description. Some kids who enter are selected to be toy consultants for a year. This means that they get lots of free toys and get to give their opinion on them. A select few kids have their ideas for toys made and sold by Wild Planet.
Shahid Minipara wearing his invention, the Light Hand.


Four Southern California kids formed a team called the Wave Riders when they created Boogie-2-Boogie, a wave-riding board for two. It’s fun but also safe for kids. Attached to the nose is a light that’s controlled by a transmitter held by a parent on shore. If it’s time for the kids to come out of the water, the parent keys the transmitter, which triggers a flashing red light. That alerts the wave-riding duo. The team included sisters Amy, 13, and Alyssa Hansen, 10, and their friends Nicholas Johnsen, 12, and his sister Kaycee, 10. They were the TOYchallenge 2004 winners. Hasbro, one of the sponsors, made action figures of the team members as prizes. •
TOYCHALLENGE asks kids in grades 5 through 8 to form teams of three to eight members (at least half of each team must consist of girls) and work with an adult coach (eighteen years of age or older). They are asked to create an interactive toy or a game. The astronaut Sally Ride brought Smith College, Hasbro, Sigma Xi, and Sally Ride Science together to launch this challenge to encourage teenagers, especially girls, to be interested in science, math, and engineering.
Maybe computers are your favorite hobby. There are plenty of opportunities to invent things that relate to computers. In the mid-1960s, when computers were large machines used only in offices, thirteen-year-old Steve Wozniak of Sunnyvale, California, built his own computer, a machine that could play tic-tac-toe. He was interested in electronics and was later president of the electronics club at Homestead High School. For the next ten years, he continued building computers in his garage, and in 1977, he presented the Apple II, the personal computer that launched a technology revolution and brought computers to most homes. He was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2000. Other computer kids are following in his footsteps.

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