Purple Gears Get a Patent!
by Rachelle Garbarine
While it is rare for a high school team to file a patent, the Cardinal Gibbons Team has three filings to its credit. In addition to the forklift patent, which underwent three years of review before it was issued this August 5, the team has filed a second one for a custom treaded wheel; and a third for a claw mechanism that picks up rings. Those two patents are in various stages of review.
Principal Jason D. Curtis said the patents: “are a result of tremendous collaboration and effort by students, teachers and volunteer coaches. It was inspiring to see the group’s efforts to reach this goal, and exciting for our school community to participate in a project that offered such practical real-world experience to our students.”
John Toebes, the team’s coach and a Cardinal Gibbons alumni parent volunteer, said that he was not aware of any other FTC teams that have filed patents. Toebes, who helped start the team over five years ago when his daughter attended Cardinal Gibbons, added that applying for patents teaches students how their ideas fit into the bigger scientific world.
“Through the patent process we want the students to understand the invention process and how to recognize what is new and novel,” noted Toebes, a senior director at the Cary offices of Cisco Systems. “We also use the process to teach them the importance of documenting what you do as well as how to research other attempts to solve the same problems.”
The team conceived all three innovations as novel ways for their robots to solve specific problems in competitions. In the case of the folding forklift, for instance, the robot in that year’s challenge not only had to fit in an 18-inch cube but be able to raise a baton several inches higher than that.
Through trial and error the team arrived at a version of their foldable forklift that could do the job.
Members of the team that year were Ariana Keeling, Marc Celestini, Sean Lanier, Stefano Fenu and Sarah Dyer. All have since graduated from Cardinal Gibbons High School.
Basically, the folding forklift was the team’s answer to the question: How do you lift batons from a vertical dispenser without using your hands? Once the students learned that a forklift that unfolds had never been invented they applied on July 1, 2011, for the patent, which listed each team member’s contribution to the design.
Doing so taught the students something else valuable; Toebes noted. "It taught them that invention is not a solo act."
That is a lesson the 2011 team and those that followed remember. Just ask Aaron Ruff, the team’s 2014 captain who graduated from Gibbons in May.
“Everyone has something to offer when problem solving,” he noted. “It gives you a new way of thinking.”
As for the patent-application process, Toebes said the Texas-based Haynes and Boone, one of the world’s top international patent firms, has helped and continues to help, to make it relatively smooth for each of their filings.
Asked what was most memorable about the forklift invention and its corresponding filing, Toebessaid three aspects stood out to him:
“The first was when the students actually got the invention working and realized the benefits to the approach. It was then that we could see that it was something new and deserving of a patent.
“Second was when we had the video call with the patent attorney and showed him the invention and described how it worked.
“The last was when the students sent pages from their engineering notebook, which they used daily to track their work, to the attorney to document the patent.”
Through the years members of the Gibbons Robotics Team, in preparation for competition, have designed and built a robot from a specified list of parts and then programmed it to accomplish certain tasks. Generally, under competition rules, each team’s robot competes against other teams to earn points by completing the tasks.
Taking their inventions from concept to reality, however, requires patience, hard work and time. But the Gibbons Robotics Team is more than up to the task.
“I like the challenge of it and working with the team to solve problems,” Austin Schick, a current team member and a Gibbons junior, said. Other members agreed.
Indeed, team members work on their robots for months after school. They meet on Tuesdays and Thursdays in the Makerspace, a former theology classroom, turned invention space, where club members “learn about robotics, engineering, programming, design, teamwork, and more,” said technology teacher Jon Armfield. Armfield co-moderates the club with science teacher Diane Ripollone.
“The members of the Gibbons Robotics Team,” added Ripollone, “are amazing young men and women who used their imagination and creativity to create these tools, which has led to patents for them and the school.”
Will there be more patent filings in the future for the Cardinal Gibbons team? “Our goals are simple - to help the students advance in their careers and to recognize that they have the innovation to help drive the future for the world,” said Toebes. “Just thinking about any of them going to their job interview and saying that they have an issued U.S. patent is pretty rewarding.”
Cardinal Gibbons senior and current team member Sean Greene agreed. “Filing a patent is something that very few people can say they have ever done,” noted Greene who serves as the team’s director of modeling. “Even fewer can say that they have re-invented the wheel and we have done both - and more.”