I retired in April 2013 after 25 years as a librarian at the British Library specialising in inventions. This included running numerous workshops; writing books on inventions and a work blog; carrying out searches for clients; and one-to-one meetings with inventors. [more]


24 February 2015

Teaching intellectual property at school

Recently I ran a class teaching intellectual property to high school students at the American School in London.

I've done this several times now at the same school for their Technology and culture elective course, which is taught by Mariam Mathew. I hadn't been in a school since 1972, and it did feel strange at first !

For the first time I was the teacher, with a class plan covering what I wanted the twelve students to learn. I was wielding the chalk, only there wasn't a piece of chalk in sight. Apple® equipment was everywhere, including in front of them (the school uses that platform exclusively), and the students were clustered around a long table rather than in the rows of desks I was used to. The atmosphere was relaxed and talkative rather than formal.

There was also a readiness to have informal learning in groups, where conclusions were given by a spokesperson. I don't remember that ever happening at the schools I atteneded, yet these are perfectly normal in everyday life, especially work. Here's a photo of the class.

The aim of the course is to bring out the interaction between technology such as software and people -- it is easy to take it all for granted. When I was at school computers were never mentioned, while now schools would be considered failures if they were not tightly integrated into everything.

My 75 minute class explained the basics of intellectual property -- patents for function, designs for looks, trade marks for branding products or services, and copyright for authorship -- and I passed around a coffee cup sleeve and lid to show how such mundane objects contained these elements. One had the patent number on it of Beverage container holder, as illustrated below -- the classic sleeve with a green logo which wraps round Starbuck® coffee cups. It covers the machinery for making the sleeves.

I also mentioned software a lot. The two most popular posts on my blog are about Snapchat® and WhatsApp, which are patented apps. I've never used them, but when I asked if anyone used them nearly every hand shot up. Like it or not, software is already part of young people's lives even if they don't stop to think about how they are thought of, made available and protected as concepts. The mind boogles at what might be happening in thirty years' time.

I set the class the task of identifying as many features in Apple as they could think of and presenting their results, and finished by briefly demonstrating how to use Espacenet. I then let them loose to have a go on the database themselves.I think they enjoyed that most of all ! It set their imaginations free to look for anything that interested them, although a few were dazed at the prospect and couldn;t think of anything until I prompted them.

Of course, a 75 minute class could only be a taster of what a complex subject like this is about. I found the experience stimulating and fun, and would be happy to run similar classes at schools or colleges in the London area.

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