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TMM Special Edition -- Cranking Up Inventions
August 25, 2009


Welcome to this special issue of The Money Messenger!

The Money Messenger brings you the latest on your kids and money.

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The Money Messenger

In This Issue

Welcome to a special edition of The Money Messenger focusing on kid and teen inventions. This mid-month bonus issue looks at why kids and teens can be inventors, examples of kids and teens who've had great ideas and some resources to help wind your way through the invention maze. Let's get started!

Note from Jennifer

My kids seem to be inventing things all the time. Mostly, their ideas don't have much practical use. They run on the border between inventions and art projects. Still, there are some ideas that have been very inventive and almost mechanical. While we haven't done anything with their ideas yet, there may be a great idea just around the corner to pursue.

Maybe you have an inventor in your house already - or you just want to encourage your kids (or yourself) to think more creatively. Inventions are solid ways to do that. Most of us have nuisances or problems that we've resolved with some creativity. There are likely lots of other people who are in the same boat who would love your solution.

Additionally, in the current economy as well as for the future, innovators will continue to be in demand. Whether it becomes a job, a teen entrepreneurial venture or a family business, inventions are a great way to have fun and have more control over your family finances.

The feature articles in this special issue look at a variety of topics for kid and teen inventions. The first article looks at why kids and teens can be some of the best inventors. The second article has some great examples of kids and teens who have come up with great ideas and had success with them in a variety of ways. And finally, the last article looks at some valuable and trustworthy resources to have your idea evaluated.


Feature Article
Can Kids Really be Inventors?

Absolutely! Kids and teens actually can have several advantages when it comes to inventing. Of course, not every kid is a born inventor but you might be surprised at what they can think of. Here are just some reasons why kids and teens can be great inventors.

  • They can see the latest trends more easily. Chalk it up to how quickly technology and products get introduced in the marketplace now. The teens of today can spot trends and think of new ways to do or use stuff than the earlier generations.
  • They are naturally curious. This applies to kids more than teens but younger generations want to know how things work and why things are done in a certain way. It's the older version of "why?" that seemed incessant when the kids were 3 years old.
  • They want to improve the world - or at least their little corner of it. The kids and teens of today are interested in endangered species, the environment and their fellow humans. And they want to help. Some of these kids do that by volunteering but others take the path of inventing products that can make life easier.
  • They are not afraid to fail. Adults can be tempted to not try new ideas for fear of failure. Kids and teens don't see it the same way. If they have an idea, they want to see if it works - not come up with all the reasons it won't.

There are plenty of reasons that kids can't be inventors, too. Most of those reasons have to do with legal limits because of their ages. With their parents' (or other adults') help, those can be minimized or dealt with. The key is to find the right help for the particular situation since inventions and original work can involve patents, trademarks and copyrights.

Here are some basic definitions from the United States to get you started:

  • A utility patent is issued for the invention of a new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or a new and useful improvement thereof. Approximately 90% of the patent documents issued by the US Patent and Trademark Office in recent years have been utility patents, also referred to as "patents for invention."
  • A design patent is a patent granted on the ornamental design of a functional item. Ornamental designs of jewelry, furniture, beverage containers (such as the classic Coke bottle) and computer icons are examples of objects that are covered by design patents.
  • A trademark is a word, phrase, symbol or design, or a combination of words, phrases, symbols or designs, that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one party from those of others. Some of the best examples of this are the logos that kids recognize immediately such as the golden arches (McDonald's) and the Nike swoosh.
  • A copyright is a form of protection provided to the authors of “original works of authorship” including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works, both published and unpublished. The easiest examples are books where kids can look inside the first several pages and see the copyright information. However, radio programs, TV shows and information on the Internet are also subject to copyright laws.

With so many options for creating something original, many kids and teens are already inventors. Continuing to encourage this creativity can be a key to them having a great business or product idea to start their own businesses.

Feature Article
Kids with Great Ideas

Sometimes it's hard to think of kids and teens having great ideas that can really introduce new inventions or change the way things get done. The advantages they can have are to be creative and to not think they can't. It's been happening for years. Here are just a few cool examples (don't miss the dates!).

Allan Chu is 17 years old and was tired of how slow the Internet can be when downloading data. So he invented a way to speed it up! He came up with an algorithm that compresses data so it can be processed and loaded more quickly. (An algorithm is a step by step mathematical procedure that solves a problem especially by a computer.) Allan entered a math, science and technology competition and won first place with this great idea. (Courtesy of Chevron's Inventions by Kids.)

But you don’t need to be a math and science genius to devise something clever. Have you ever heard of a Popsicle? In 1905 an 11-year-old boy named Frank Epperson invented it. He accidentally left his favorite fruit drink with a stirrer in it outside on the porch overnight. The next day when he got up the drink was frozen. He went on to patent his idea and is the creator of the Popsicle, Fudgsicle, Creamsicle and Dreamsicle. (Courtesy of Chevron's Inventions by Kids.)

Another wintertime invention story comes even farther back in history. In 1858 at the age of 15, Chester Greenwood was ice skating and was frustrated by his ears getting very cold. His hat wasn't working and neither did the wool scarf he tried wrapping around his head. He went home and made 2 ear shaped loops from wire. Then he had his grandmother sew some fur on the loops. These became the first ear muffs which he patented. Chester ended up making a fortune on his invention by supplying the US soldiers with ear muffs during World War I. (Courtesy of Chevron's Inventions by Kids.)

For the final wintery invention, we meet K-K Gregory. On a cold and snowy winter's day, this 10 year old was out building a snow fort when her wrists started to hurt because they were cold and wet. She solved the problem by inventing Wristies, and wore them under her coat and mittens. She tested the invention with her scout troop who encouraged her to make more. She applied for a patent, trademarked the name, and started a company! (Get even more information about K-K at

With such a variety of ideas, it gets easier to see how kids and teens can come up with inventions which are just really new solutions for problems they see. Encourage your kids and teens to look around and be creative in devising solutions. They might just invent the next Popsicle!

Resources for Young Inventors

One of the most challenging things for inventors of all ages can be finding the right resources to help them. There are plenty of "companies" that will evaluate your idea - but they charge you fee after fee and often do little to help inventors either work out their designs or find a market for it. This can be even harder for kid inventors.

Still, there are good options for both things. They are not all free but they have reasonable prices particularly considering the valuable information teen inventors can receive. Here are some places to start.

  • The Wisconsin Innovation Service Center is part of the University of Wisconsin focused on "...helping existing and aspiring entrepreneurs make profitable new product ad market development decisions." They have a variety of assessments available (for a fee) and an outstanding track record and reputation for working with inventors.
  • Innovative Product Technologies "...assists innovators and entrepreneurs in evaluating the likelihood for success of an idea before committing significant time and money to a full-scale marketing effort." There are a variety of consultations available for a fee. Similar to WISC, this group has a solid reputation and track record.
  • Especially for kids, the Idea Locker powered by By Kids for Kids has a number of opportunties as well as a community for kids and teens to use their imaginations and participate in contests. There are helpful videos and suggestions as well as several success stories. It has plenty of controls for parents to know what is going on and is very well-organized.

Check out some of these resources and get started!

Final Note

I hope you have enjoyed this special edition of The Money Messenger. See you in a about a week for the September regular issue which will focus on money games for all ages. Whether you are trying to teach your younger kids how to count money or challenge your teen with budgeting and investing, there are plenty of game options to make the lessons more fun.

If you have questions you'd like to see addressed for that issue, just use the Contact Form or email me at

Talk to you soon!

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