On June 19, the State Department hosted an Innovation Ambassadors event with the FIRST® LEGO® League (FLL). It was an opportunity for my colleagues and I to meet winners of the FLL Global Innovation Award and, more importantly, it celebrated and showcased young innovators from around the world. It provided a forum to demonstrate the importance of intellectual property and explain why we urge countries to pass and enforce laws that promote respect for intellectual property.
More than 150 young innovators, ages eight to 14, gathered to showcase their projects at the State Department and at embassies in Mexico City, Madrid, Santiago, Stockholm, Johannesburg, and Tel Aviv. The three winning teams, chosen from more than 450 competing teams, described their original solutions to challenges faced by senior citizens. I was impressed not only by their inventions, but also by the teamwork, creativity, and perseverance they demonstrated to arrive at their winning inventions.
Under the 2013 FLL theme, “Senior Solutions,” the top three projects included three unique solutions to making seniors’ lives easier and safer: a magnetic electrical plug, a suction grabber, and a smart motion sensor. The teams that invented these winning solutions continue to design working prototypes, seek out sponsors and take their inventions to the next level. They won prizes ranging from $5,000 to $25,000 to help them commercialize their inventions and they began the important work of obtaining U.S. patents. Patent examiners at the U.S. Patent and Trademark office aught them an important lesson: a patent only protects an invention in the country in which the patent is filed, so a U.S. patent only provides protection in the United States.
These young people, like past FLL winners, are empowered to capitalize on their creativity. For last year’s theme, “Food Factor,” a team invented the MadBox lunch box, which is now sold by Lands’ End®. Intellectual property rights are what ensure that young innovators reap the financial benefits of their hard work. Once an invention is patented, the inventor can show rights to the invention and penalize anyone who tries to steal it. This ability is crucial, as it allows creators to earn a living from their talents and gives everyone the chance to benefit from new inventions.
It was great to spend a morning with young innovators from around the world and see the exciting new products developed. At the State Department, we work with foreign governments to improve intellectual property protection so that all inventors, young and old, are able to capitalize on their great inventions and continue inventing to make the world a better place for all of us.
About the Author: Jean Bonilla serves as the Office Director for Intellectual Property and Enforcement in the Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs.