The Contributions of American College Student Inventors

The term “inventive contribution” is applied to a person’s contributions to a new idea. Inventors’ contributions are evaluated based on the time it took to complete the conception, the experiments that reduced the idea into practice, and the information that distinguishes the invention from prior art. If a person joins a research project after the conception is complete, they cannot be inventors.


The University of Minnesota’s contribution to higher education is reflected in the national and local inventor communities. More than 200 higher education institutions are members of the National Academy of Inventors, which recognizes outstanding contributions made by college and graduate students in the United States. The University of Michigan, for example, is in the midst of a new innovation boom. The university’s Francis S. Collins and colleagues identified genes responsible for diseases and have since been awarded several patents. The University has created more than 30 startups and is on a roll with the inventions they have produced.


Inventors who are employed by the University have a certain level of protection against infringement. In such cases, the University will treat the student as an employee of the university, and will be able to assert ownership of their inventions. However, students may choose to seek their own protection against infringement. Nevertheless, there is an important distinction between authorship and inventorship, which will be discussed below.

In many cases, the student’s invention is not related to the professor’s profession. The student will work with University resources to develop their invention, or develop it as a part of a university-approved extracurricular activity. This process can take many years, and it is important to understand that postdoctoral researchers must work closely with faculty and graduate students. However, the benefits to the inventor’s career will outweigh the risks.

The contribution of a graduate student is particularly significant. Without the graduate student’s contribution, the physician-scientist wouldn’t have been able to complete his invention. This contribution was far beyond the graduate student’s normal skill. Throughout his project, he worked with the graduate student to create new techniques for knocking out a gene. But, the contributions of the graduate student are crucial to the invention as they were a necessary part of the conception.


There are many university-based inventions that have huge income potential. Florida State University has created 1,900 patents that have generated over $1 billion in revenues. The university’s faculty has created inventions that address social problems, such as the solar-powered toilet. A recent invention, the artificial leaf, creates hydrogen fuels from carbon dioxide, water, and sunlight. This invention is helping to combat climate change and atmospheric carbon sequestration. The University of Texas is one of the world’s most prolific state university patent producers, granting approximately 207 utility patents a year. One notable patent is the FreeStyle Navigator system, developed by graduate student Adam Heller.

Inventions created by college and graduate students are protected by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. However, there are important differences between authorship and inventorship. Not all contributors can qualify as inventors. The campus technology transfer office will make the initial, non-legal determination of authorship and contributions. A patent attorney will make the final determination of inventorship, applying the legal standards of inventorship under U.S. patent law. The attorney may examine notebook pages or other tangible proof of authorship.

In the United States, student inventors can receive royalties for their inventions and share in the revenue. Depending on the type of invention, the monetary rewards will vary. Many universities have university-based patent offices. These offices handle licensing agreements, patent applications, and technology transfers. In addition, many university-based inventions have the backing of the National Academy of Inventors, a member organization of the Inventors.

Many universities have partnered with other institutions in their efforts to support student inventors. The Atlanta BEST program, for instance, includes a partnership between Georgia Tech and Emory University. University of California, Irvine, offers fee waivers for its extension schools. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill holds monthly meetings for its career cohorts. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill hosts regular meetings with student inventors and entrepreneurs to foster innovation.

The University of Washington is another example. The Washington Research Foundation supports graduate and undergraduate students, as well as emerging scientists at UW and Washington State University. It recently donated $1.65 million to the ARCS Foundation Seattle Chapter to support the annual ARCS scholar awards at both universities. This award recognizes outstanding contributions to American science and technology. You may want to look into the opportunities these programs have to offer.

UMN Technology Commercialization

The University of Minnesota (UMN) is a public land-grant research university located in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The university is organized into 19 major academic units, and is the ninth largest main campus in the United States. The UMN campus consists of the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and Falcon Heights, a suburb of St. Paul. Students are taught in a wide range of academic disciplines.

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