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I'll be applying to the undergraduate programs of several US universities this upcoming fall. A chief component of the college application is the extracurricular activities portfolio, of which inventing occupies a large part of for me.

To date, I have 4 inventions in varying stages of development, none of which I have disclosed publicly. I intend to research and develop my projects through college and with enough funding, I hope to eventually take them into the world once I get a little older. For now though, I would like to make them (currently all are prototypes) a part of my college applications. However, I do not want to compromise the security of my inventions. I do not have provisional patent applications submitted for any of the inventions.

Do I risk my chances of ever patenting these products by disclosing them in my college application? Would this qualify as prior art? I'm not worried about an admissions officer taking the ideas, I just fear the risks I am not aware of.

A popular thing for STEM applicants now is to include a portfolio of projects for admissions officers to review. I could do so on a private website or file that only the admissions officers with the link could see. Is this advisable or would this also be prior art? To clarify, a portfolio is an external component that I can attach to the application, but is not the official application itself.

I guess my question boils down to, are there any consequences of listing (and maybe briefly detailing in a sentence) my unpatented inventions in a college application?

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To respond to you specific questions:

Do I risk my chances of ever patenting these products by disclosing them in my college application? Would this qualify as prior art? I'm not worried about an admissions officer taking the ideas, I just fear the risks I am not aware of.

You must avoid public disclosure. I'm assuming that a college application is considered confidential and would not be publicly disclosed. If so, it would not be prior art.

A popular thing for STEM applicants now is to include a portfolio of projects for admissions officers to review. I could do so on a private website or file that only the admissions officers with the link could see. Is this advisable or would this also be prior art? To clarify, a portfolio is an external component that I can attach to the application, but is not the official application itself.

I personally wouldn't want to disclose the details of an invention in any way that could potentially become public without the signing of a confidentiality agreement (CDA). I don't see college admissions officers signing one of these.

As @Julie in Austin suggests, the best approach is to keep the actual specifics of the invention strictly confidential. I'd recommend describing the general area of application and status of your efforts, but not the details. It is highly unlikely that college admissions staff are capable of assessing the technical merits of your inventions anyways.

The comment by @George White is important. The world has pretty much all gone to a first to file system. You take a real risk by not filing applications of having someone file before you. If this happens, you lose out even if you actually invented first. Once you are a student, you may want to talk with your college/universities intellectual property department. They may be able to help you with patent applications. Even if you have to share ownership of the patent, this can be a better deal than losing control of an invention.

By the way, I'm not a lawyer and this isn't legal advice.

  • Dude. I've had patent agents and lawyers who couldn't understand my inventions without a lot of coffee and time in front of a whiteboard ;). My understanding (and also not a lawyer ...) is that unless there is an explicit NDA, it doesn't matter what an admissions person might do. I have some physical therapy inventions up my sleeve and I've yet to find a physical therapist willing to accept a dollar as "reasonable consideration" for agreeing to non-disclosure. That's how fanatical I am about disclosing nothing without something that at least smells like a contract. – Julie in Austin Jul 31 at 14:38
  • @JulieinAustin Perhaps you misunderstood me. I completely agree with you. I explicitly stated that I wouldn’t disclose anything without a CDA. – Eric Shain Jul 31 at 19:28
  • @JulieinAustin Resistance to CDAs may depend on field. In my world of medical devices, getting people to sign CDAs is pretty much standard procedure. By the way, I can't remember the last time I was referred to as "Dude". Perhaps a Texas thing? I am also your up-voter, so I really do agree with your answer. – Eric Shain Jul 31 at 21:07
  • Eric - I'm not sure if "Dude" is a Texas thing, or just my circles thing. I meant it in a positive way. – Julie in Austin Aug 1 at 2:23
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It’s hard to understand the exact nature of your question because a “project” isn’t an “invention”. Also, you don’t have to disclose the “novelty” of an idea or project to express your interests or abilities.

Let’s say that your invention is a folding paper mutilating spindle, which allows paper to be folded, spindled and mutilated all in a single step. You could describe it as a “paper destroying device useful in securely preparing paper for 3rd party recycling”. If you needed to, you could also explain that your invention “allows the paper processed by my invention to be used in recycling because it doesn’t chop it up into tiny bits.” So, you can disclose projects within describing the inventive steps, which are the key to a patent.

To your next question, do NOT file a provisional unless you have a path to filing a regular patent application. A provisional patent starts the clock ticking and without the means of paying the regular application fees — search, preparation, filing - you lose out.

Good luck!

  • Thank you for your answer. I should have clarified, while yes, they are projects, they are really inventions. By projects, I mean to say that I developed a prototype of the invention and then subsequently tested it. I do see your point, though, and I will try my best to disclose them in this manner. And yes, I'll hold off on the provisional application until I'm ready to take the next step! – EnergyDeveloper Jul 30 at 19:45
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    An argument for filing a provisional sooner rather than later - The U.S. is a first-to-file country. If you do not have the funds to file a non-provisional within the year you can re-file the provisional, you might have made improvements during that time. Filing early has the advantage that you are more likely to be the first-to-file. A downside is that you will not be able to file internationally on unless you do so within the first year. A related factor is that writing a patent application that ultimately has value is difficult unless you have made a study of the process. – George White Jul 30 at 21:50

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