Grade 6-8

Improving on the Original

Updated: July 22 2011,

What makes something worth marketing? This lesson focuses on the distinction between marketing a new product or licensing it to someone else to market.


light bulbInventor? 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!

Learning Objectives

  • Distinguish between inventions and innovations.
  • Describe circumstances that have led to some famous innovations in history and brainstorm innovations that could be made to existing products.
  • Name four methods of protecting the intellectual property of a new idea.
  • Explain why someone might license an invention or innovation rather than market it themselves.

Resource List

  • Innovation Illustration: This activity allows students to work together to expand on a brainstorm of ideas. A printable version allows students to work independently or in small groups, as well as to work on additional ideas following the lesson.
    Interactive Activity
  • Match Game: This is an interactive matching activity teachers can use to assess students understanding of this lesson.
    Interactive Matching Activity


Activity One:
tooth brushEntrepreneurs 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.

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

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

The students will share their lists with the rest of the class. Did any groups come up with ideas that no one else thought of? Students will use this Interactive organizer – Innovation Illustration – to work in small groups and elaborate on three of the ideas that their group came up with. The students will identify key elements that make each idea innovative, then they will fill in the chart to show what the unique features of their ideas are. They will use the space provided in the printed version to illustrate the new use their 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.

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

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

The students will visit the USPTO “WhoWhatWhenHowWhy”kids’ pages to help you figure out whether they need one of the outlined protections.

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

Activity Four:
Now that they’ve identified their entrepreneurial side, the students will come up with an innovation, they also will learn how to protect their ideas until they 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?

The students will work with a partner to think through their idea. What is its real usefulness? Who will use it? In addressing these questions, the students will think about the items they 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

The students will use this organizer to write down their 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?


Have your students complete the following matching activity to see if they can distinguish between inventions and innovations and remember the ways of protecting their ideas.

Interactive Matching Activity