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OK I’ve been involved in 3D printing for four years now and so it’s time to take things up a notch with my BIG PLAN for 2019: pass the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) Exam. What is the FE Exam and why am I taking it? In the USA, the FE exam is typically used by college engineering students as a prerequisite before taking the Professional Engineering (PE) exam in order to be a fully licensed, nationally recognized engineer. But I’m taking the FE exam because it’s a prerequisite for me before I sit for the US Patent Agent exam. What’s the connection to 3D printing? Let me explain!
Since the 1980’s, product designers have been using 3D printing technology to prototype products for their companies. Today, anyone, even kids, can design a product using freely available 3D modeling software, which they can then prototype using extremely affordable 3D printers. But beyond this, kids can also apply to patent their product design! The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) shows how China and the USA lead the world in terms of patent grants with around 400,000 and 300,000 issued respectively in each of the last three years, so I will start with the US Patent Office exam.
If I can pass the FE exam, it will be a great first step to getting a US Patent Agent license. As a Patent Agent, I will be looking forward to helping anyone with a product idea apply for a US patent (including myself of course!). For the young students I have been working with, this will help them in three seriously important ways:
1. Learning from failure. American inventor Thomas Edison once said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” During his lifetime, Edison accumulated 2,332 patents worldwide (1,093 in the USA) for his inventions. Obviously, not only did he embrace failing, but he also very likely learned from his failures in order to proceed to the next step. I think learning to cope with failure is a great lesson for young students, a skill they can use throughout their lives. Prototyping their ideas via 3D printing can provide this invaluable training as they work through different design iterations.
2. Help on college applications. Obviously, securing a patent will look great on a college application. (In fact, the US Patent Office confirmed to me via email that they have issued patents to minors in the past.) But we also know that securing patents takes a lot of dedication and hard work for the inventor; patents are only granted to truly original ideas and designs. But I would argue that a college application with a series of unsuccessful patent applications could also be just as competitive as a successful application. Why? Because failures are just part of any success story. As Edison also said, “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” Show the college admissions board your failures and your ideas to improve on your designs. They will be impressed by your sheer tenacity.
3. College financial assistance. In the start-up world, securing a patent is one of the key ways to locking in investor interest and capital investments. Patents also play a key role securing a licensing deal to earn royalties. In either scenario, there are definitely ways to monetizing your patent. With college tuition costs skyrocketing in the last decades, families need ways to counteract these inflationary forces. Proto-typing and securing a patent could be a seriously viable method to doing so.
Can kids really get a patent? With ever-affordable and accessible 3D printing technology, we certainly have the tools necessary to rapid prototype almost any product idea. Just like how computers were once owned only by huge companies with deep pockets, but can now reside in our own personal smart phones, trends in 3D printing are quickly making it possible for the general public to design for themselves. With kids being more creative than adults, I think it will only be natural to see more patent applications from youngsters and patent grants will follow. Passing the FE Exam this year will help me be part of this massive trend. Wish me luck!