Inventor? Innovator? Which are you? Inventors design new products and come up with innovations for old products every day. In Entreduction, you learned what inventions and innovations are. In this lesson, you will identify some famous innovations and come up with some of your own. Innovations are useful changes made to existing products. How do inventors and innovators protect the ideas they come up with? When would it make sense to market an innovation – or license it to someone else? Entrepreneurs are people who take an invention or innovation (it may even be their own!) and bring that product to market. They take all the risk of failure, but they also reaps the rewards of success. This lesson will help you learn how to protect your ideas. It could also help you start the process of deciding whether to market them yourselves or license them to someone else--an entrepreneur-- to market. Let’s get you thinking about your entrepreneurial future!


In this lesson you wil identify some innovations that came about quite by accident, brainstorm some innovations of your own, identify ways to protect the invention or innovations you come up with, and debate the benefits of licensing an innovation versus marketing it yourself.


Activity One:
Entrepreneurs solve problems by coming up with new ways of doing things. Often this happens quite by accident – taking an existing product and using it to do something completely different is called innovation. Students will work with a partner to browse the stories on innovation in “Points to Ponder ” and or "Twinkle Stories " from the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Read the "WhoWhatWhenHowWhy" page to learn more.

"Points to Ponder"light bulb

  • Which inventions or innovations strike you as the most surprising?
  • Which seem the most obvious?

Activity Two:
Your teacher has a series of common household objects available to you. Pick one as a class and work with a partner to brainstorm new uses for it. Your teacher will give you a start signal to brainstorm as many new uses or innovations as you can think of in five minutes. See which group can come up with the most new uses for the object in the given time period. As you work in your groups, follow the rules of brainstorming: everything gets recorded; there are no right or wrong ideas; don’t evaluate ideas during a brainstorm – anything goes!

tooth brushShare your lists with the rest of the class. Did any groups come up with ideas that no one else thought of? Use this Interactive organizer – Innovation Illustration – to work in small groups and elaborate on three of the ideas that your group came up with. Identify key elements that make each idea innovative, and fill in the chart to show what the unique features of your ideas are. Use the space provided in the printed version to illustrate the new use your innovation provides.

Activity Three:
Now that you’ve come up with these great ideas, what next? What do entrepreneurs do to protect their ideas? Ideas are a kind of property called “intellectual property.” Just as we have laws that protect people’s physical property, we also have rules and regulations to protect intellectual property.

Visit the U.S.P.T.O site. In “Points to Ponder” on “Trademarks” and “The Art of Toys” you will find out what kind of intellectual property your ideas are and what you can do to keep them safe until you are ready to capitalize on them. Define the four types of protections you can have for a product or idea.

"Points to Ponder" on "Trademarks"
Go to the following pages at the Points to Ponder website.

  • Which of the protections makes the most sense for the innovation you’ve created?
  • How will you apply for the proper protection?

Visit the USPTO “WhoWhatWhenHowWhy” kids' pages to help you figure out whether you need one of the outlined protections.

  • Which one makes the most sense to use?
  • Why?

Activity Four:
Now that you’ve identified your entrepreneurial side, come up with an innovation, and learned how to protect your ideas until you are ready to do something with them – What next? Is your idea worth pursuing? Entrepreneurs take risks. Are you a risk-taker?

There are two ways you can do something profitable with your idea. You can go into business for yourself and market your idea; or, you can license it to someone else to do that for you. What will you choose?

Work with a partner to think through your idea. What is its real usefulness? Who will use it? In addressing these questions, think about the items you read about in “Twinkle Stories.”

  • Is your innovation something that can change the way people see the original product?
  • If so, are you the person to do it, or should you try to license your idea to someone else? Either way, you may be on to something. Don’t give up!

Interactive Organizer - Innovation Illustration
Use this organizer to write down your own innovation and its unique qualities on paper.


  • What have you decided?
  • Can you “sell” your idea to potential customers?
  • Do you think you could you convince someone else to do that for you?
  • What are some costs in trying to market your product yourself?
  • What is the potential benefit?


Complete the following matching activity to see if you can distinguish between inventions and innovations and remember the ways of protecting your ideas. Interactive Matching Activity