Patent Search Presentations to Young Inventors

Carol Giles
Reference Librarian & PTDL Representative
St. Louis Public Library


With the understanding that young inventors are our future inventors and library supporters, this paper describes ways of giving patent search presentations to this library user group. While working closely with the teachers to address class subject needs, patent searching to young inventors should be designed as an interactive, fun, and enjoyable activity. It is recommended that the young inventors’ learning experience be enriched with the use of patent and product models, sample examples, and hands-on patent searching, as much as possible.


Child Inventors; Young Inventors; Patent Searching; Presentations


It can be difficult to explain patent searching to adult inventors who visit the Patent and Trademark Depository Libraries (PTDLs) PTDLs are a part of the Patent and Trademark Depository Library Program Office (PTDLP) within the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). The language of patents is technical and searching for them is complex. Finding granted patents is not simply a matter of entering keywords into a database, as many inventors assume. Is it necessarily more difficult to explain the process to a child inventor? This article offers suggestions for making patent searching presentations to young inventors. It is based on the author’s experience doing several such programs per year for the last four years of her tenure as a PTDL Representative, which began in 1990. The conclusion is that making patent presentations to children need not be more of a challenge than presenting to adults. It can be enjoyable and it can offer short and long term benefits to the young inventor and to the library.

The Young Inventor Providing Solutions to Everyday Problems

It is fair to say that the adult inventor who comes to a Patent and Trademark Depository Library (PTDL) is enthusiastic about his/her invention, certain that no one else has thought of it and expectant that it will be financially profitable. Young inventors are also just as enthusiastic but for different reasons. Their inventions are solutions to everyday problems and for them inventing is fun. Young inventors have ranged in age from first through sixth grade, and they come from traditional as well as gifted student classes. They are, most often, working on lessons in inventing or creative thinking.

The initial requests, for a class presentation on patent searching, have come from teachers who have heard that St. Louis Public Library (SLPL) has patent information and they want to know if someone is available to speak to their classes. At this point, the discussion focuses on class size, grade level, and what the teacher wants the students to learn. With younger students the focus is usually on creative or inventive thinking. With older students, the teacher may want them to learn the basics of patent searching. It is unlikely that elementary school students are actually going to apply for a patent. Nevertheless, it is worthwhile to check with the teacher about this point. If any of the students are thinking of applying for a patent, then they should use the same caution in disclosing their inventions as adult inventors.

SLPL groups have included as few as five students and as many as thirty. All have had at least one teacher and one or two parents accompanying them. When the group arrives at your PTDL, begin by explaining that your library is a Patent and Trademark Depository Library, a place where inventors can come to study over 6 million United States inventions and learn if an invention has already been patented.

Early in the presentation, it will be useful to give a definition of "patent". For younger students, this definition can be as simple as; “A patent is a way of protecting your invention.” More detail can be added to the definition depending on the age and level of understanding of the students. Such detail may include requirements for a patent (new, useful, obvious, and full disclosure) or types of patents (utility, design, and plant) with examples of each.

Do You Know Anyone Who has a Patent?

If the students are working on inventions for their class assignments, this is a good time to ask them about those, assuming they are not actually seeking patents. They are usually eager to discuss their inventions, which are often clever. Be sure to encourage everyone to participate. Giving non-food prizes to students who answer your questions is helpful but be certain that each child gets at least one prize so no one is excluded. It may also be worthwhile to ask if anyone knows someone who has a patent. One of the students at St. Louis Public Library was excited to find his father’s patent using the Cassis Patentee-Assignee DVD-ROM.

Students, teachers, and parents are always given a two-sided packet of information. The left side of the packet contains articles about young inventors and their inventions. The right side contains articles about young inventors who have also received patents. The front page of each patent is attached to the article about the inventor. The young inventors featured in the articles range in age from six to seventeen years. The purpose of the packet is to show the group that young people have been successful inventors, so the group members can be also.

Much of the material in the packets came from the Patent and Trademark Depository Library Program Office’s Subject File on Child Inventors, ( See Table 1). Another article is from a local newspaper about a young St. Louis area inventor. Other items in the packet will vary according to the age of the students and the focus the teacher has requested. Basic Facts About Patents, or General Information Concerning Patents, booklets available from the United States Patent and Trademark Office or from the PTDLs, may be too difficult for some groups but perfect for others. Bookmarks or promotional pieces for your library’s children’s programs are also good enclosures.

Table 1. Selected Examples of Inventions and Patents by Young Inventors

Inventor Name Patent Number Invention Age
Buck, Melissa J. 5, 042, 105 Mop Head Cover
Culver, Silas   Foggles 8
Dittman, Sydney 5, 231, 733 Tool for Grasping 4
Dittman, Sydney D344, 662 Round Knobs 4
Galloway, Betty   Bubble Toy 10
Garry, Stefanie   Adjustable Broom 10
Hudspeth, Brett A. 5, 379, 915 Chalk Storage 9
Klein, Kathy M et al D 311, 023 Animated Alphabet  
Lanmon, Chelsea M. D 343, 233 Diaper  
Low, Elizabeth 5, 322, 718 Glove Hand 9 (4)
Low, Jeanie S. 5, 094, 515 Folding Step 13
Mercer, Alan S. Jr. 5, 085, 327 Sports Equipment
Patch, R. W. 3, 091, 888 Toy Truck 6
Rastogi, Akhil D 329, 810 Pouring Spout 7
Schroeder, Becky J. 3, 832, 558 Luminescent Writing 9
Sharp, David 5, 056, 546 Non-slip Walking Assist Device  
Villella, Larry   Circular Sprinkler 11

*Information provided in this table is based on independent research conducted by various USPTO staff that include: Jim Davie, who is an established researcher on the History of the U.S. Patent System and Jim Hirabayashi, who produces U.S. patent statistical studies and forecast reports.

*Information maintained for research purposes in the PTDLP Office Files.

*Because the USPTO does not maintain patent data by age of inventor, the accuracy of this information should be verified and checked against additional sources of information.

Young Inventors and the Patent Search Process

Some teachers may request that the patent search process be discussed. For some students, the video titled “Conducting a Patent Search at a PTDL” from the Patent and Trademark Depository Library Program Office on doing a patent search at a PTDL may be useful. Many younger students, however, may not understand the examples used in the video. It may be helpful to select a popular toy that has a patent and structure the seven-step search process around that patent. The seven step search process will involve use of the: Index to the Patent Classification System, Manual of Classification Class Definitions, Cassis Bibliographic and Class DVD-ROM discs, Official Gazette of Patents, and a complete patent. The Seven Step Strategy and search process is a recommended method, used at the USPTO and at PTDLs, for searching patents. This search process is more accurate and efficient than keyword searching alone.

A Search Example

The Koosh® Ball is a good example for a discussion of the various types of intellectual property since it has utility and design patents for the ball and trademarks for the various Koosh® products. If this is the example chosen and the students are in fifth or sixth grades, then it is useful to place copies of the following pages in the packet:

1) The Index page listing for “ball – amusement devices;”

2) The Manual of Classification pages for class 473/569;

3) The Class Definition for 473/569;

4) The list of patent numbers and titles from the Cassis Bibliographic Disc for 473/569;

5) The list of patent numbers from the Cassis Classification DVD-ROM Disc;

6) The Official Gazette of Patents page for the Koosh® Ball’s utility patent, 4,756,529;

7) The complete patent, 4,756,529.

With these pages, the students, teacher(s), and parent(s) can follow along as the various steps are explained. The title of the utility patent for the Koosh® Ball, “Generally Spherical Object With Floppy Filaments to Promote Sure Capture,” may be a surprise to the group. It is, however, a good example of the technical language used in patents.

If the students are in the primary grades, then all of the above-mentioned pages may not be needed. It may be more helpful to use the design patent (D317,489) for the Koosh® Ball as the example for younger students since its title, “Throwing Toy,” is easier to understand.

The Index to the Patent Classification System can be compared to the index to a book. The concept of classification in the Manual of Classification (MOC) can be compared to the Dewey Decimal Classification or the Library of Congress Classification, since each one groups similar items. The former groups similar types of patents, the latter two group similar types of books.

Demonstrating the Cassis Class Definitions and Cassis Bibliographic and Classification Discs may be easier than discussing them using only the pages from the packet. If the group is small enough, then the students can surround the Cassis DVD-ROM computer workstation. If it is a larger group, then overhead projections or live computer demonstrations may be more suitable. To encourage participation, ask for suggestions of keywords to search on the Title and Abstract Fields of the Cassis Bibliographic Disc. If no one responds then enter terms of your choosing. As with the Koosh® Ball example, this presents another example of the technical language in patents.

The students may also want to suggest particular classes/subclasses to try on the Cassis Classification DVD-ROM Disc if they have gotten to that point in their own searches.

It may be helpful to compare the Official Gazette of Patents page to the complete patent to explain what each contains and how they differ. As with other parts of the presentation, it is possible to use as much or as little detail as needed, depending on the age and understanding of the students.

Additional Teaching Suggestions and Approaches for Young Inventors

The suggestions above are not exhaustive. Other presentation ideas
may include:

  1. Using a patent for a product manufactured in your city or state as the search process example;

  2. Using the United States Patent and Trademark Office Homepage’s Kids’ Pages, at This is a great source of patents and trademarks related to various seasons and holidays, i.e., Halloween, Thanksgiving, and winter. The Kids’ Pages also has sections to click on geared to various ages. Twinkle Lights is for kindergarten to sixth grade, Bright Lights for sixth to twelfth grade, and Guiding Lights for parents, teachers, and coaches. Kids’ Pages would be a good site to use in a live computer demonstration as well, because it is informative and entertaining;

  3. Having a display of circulating books on famous inventors and on inventing, from your library’s children’s services. Read a short passage from one of the biographies. Or, perhaps you can enlist a children’s librarian to do the reading; or

  4. Having a display of toys and games, which have been patented.


Whatever ideas are used, keep in mind that the students need to learn what the teacher has asked for as part of the lesson plan, but that the lesson can be enjoyable. If the students have enjoyed the time they spent at the library, then perhaps they will return for future class assignments. That is important in the short term. It is also important to encourage their inventive and creative thinking because they are our future inventors and patentees. Whether in a public, academic, or state library, it is worth remembering that young inventors are also our future library supporters. Both are critical in the long run.