Kids invent the darndest things, and the U.S. patent office wants to see them


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You’d think that the last thing needed by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, which as of last fall had a two-year backlog of pending applications, would be more people submitting their ideas. But it is actively trying to become the mother of invention to keep America competitive as China, India and other countries rapidly churn out more scientists and engineers.

In new ads launched today, the patent office, along with the National Inventors Hall of Fame Foundation and the Ad Council, encourage children to invent stuff. The public service ads, which build off a campaign started last year and will appear on TV, radio, the Web and billboards, are aimed at kids between the ages of 8 and 11. The TV version features a boy showing off a very typical boy idea: bicycle tires with suction cups. Hint: it’s not a real invention, as you could probably guess when you see the kid riding on the ceiling in the video above.


The idea is to use humor to inspire the next young Steve Jobs or Bill Gates. The ads tell kids, ‘Anything’s possible. Keep thinking,’ and direct them to Invent Now, a social networking site sponsored by the same groups. Children can upload designs of their inventions, comment on other kids’ ideas and play games. The site even walks them through the steps needed to get a real patent. It’s like a mini-lesson in intellectual property law (which could come in handy if they’re Scrabulous fans.)

Since its launch in April 2007, 72,000 people have registered on the site and 1,200 children have posted inventions. Their ideas include plans for bionic wings (helpful if the suction-cup tires fail), microwave pants and a bug robot, which ‘swats little bugs, eats little bugs, sucks up pollution, sucks up natural disasters and turns them into food’ -- all on two triple-A batteries. That’s not bad for the inventor’s suggested retail price of $500.

-- Jim Puzzanghera

Puzzanghera, a Times staff writer, covers tech and media policy from Washington, D.C.

Video courtesy of U.S. Patent and Trademark Office