BREMERTON — What engineers primarily do is come up with ways to solve problems.
“Patents are part of our legal system and how to protect those ideas and intellectual property,” said Marvin Pitts, a Washington State University instructor in Olympic College’s mechanical engineering program in Bremerton.
“They don’t physically build the stuff, they come up with the idea, with the designs, for all the products. Intellectual property is very much what an engineer creates.”
OC and WSU have partnered to allow students to work toward four-year degrees from WSU at OC in many programs, including engineering.
One of the courses Pitts oversees is the Capstone Design class, in which one or two groups of senior engineering students work with a Bainbridge Island company, Clarovia, to develop a provisional patent proposal. The patent is awarded in the students’ names, and they then have a year or so to solidify their application to receive a utility patent. These patents give the students the intellectual property rights over ideas, which can be manufactured and sold by them, or sold to a company to be manufactured.
Ten patents have been awarded to Capstone Design students since the program’s inception in 2012.
“The students come up with a number of different ideas, things that, based on their experience or what they’ve been doing, would be a good thing to have,” Pitts said. “They take those ideas, look at them in terms of marketability, and whether or not there’s something in what they’re talking about that hasn’t already been covered by a patent … then they take that idea and they do something the folks at Clarovia call ‘divergent thinking.’ ”
With Clarovia’s help, the group brainstorms as many different applications and configurations of their idea as possible to ensure it’s all covered by the patent. Pitts said Clarovia uses a “ham sandwich” analogy — the idea could be as simple as two slices of bread with a slice of ham, or it could have multiple slices of ham, different kinds of bread, condiments and more. The idea is to have the patent cover all the variations.
“Then you write those all up into the patent [application],” Pitts said. “Clarovia will work with them, help them to identify the items, identify all the different claims that could be made, work with them on the very particular language that has to be used.”
Pitts said that of the 10 awarded patents, he believes four have advanced from provisional to utility patents, and at least two of those four have been sold to a company or are in the process of being sold.
“I think it’s really unique and important that these patents are in the names of these students,” Pitts said. Writing the patent is all done by the students, with help from Clarovia, which doesn’t make a claim to the patents it helps write. Pitts stays as removed as possible so the patent can’t be considered in any way his intellectual property, which would in turn be owned by WSU.
“Anything I come up with as an employee of WSU, WSU has a claim to, because I do intellectual work for the university,” Pitts said. “But my students are not employees of WSU, so the things they come up with, WSU does not have a claim to.”
Meet the students
One group working with Clarovia in 2018: Navi Dhesi, 23; Lexi Higgins, 22; Ryan Sandoval, 21; and Sam Hair, 23.
Dhesi went into engineering because he likes math and often helps his father fix things around the house, and it was a natural progression.
Higgins became interested in engineering after fixing and modifying Nerf guns for a senior Nerf war in high school.
Sandoval said his love of math and knowing how things worked led to his engineering major.
Hair said after cycling through many different ideas for a career, “in the end it was just looking at how things worked” that intrigued him.
They have different reasons for studying engineering, but one common purpose: get an idea patented.
They haven’t yet officially decided on their project, but the current plan is a personal projector — much like the kind used in classrooms to display materials on a large screen, only smaller, portable and able to be used in myriad ways.
“It’s a tool you could use for anything,” Sandoval said, “like in the kitchen for recipes … or for engineers/mechanics who are working out in the shop on a car. Say you need bluerints, something like that. We just thought about it for everyday life.”
Hair added, “We tried to design it like one of those flexible neck lamps, something you could suction to a wall or any surface. It would be battery charged, WiFi enabled, the works.”
They’ll be working with Clarovia first to see if the idea isn’t already patented, then will brainstorm the different ways they could make their “ham sandwich” and, finally, write the patent for submission.
“It’s been really cool getting to work with [Clarovia],” Higgins said. “They are really cool people and have done amazing things throughout their lives. They really built us up, made us feel like all our ideas we were throwing out there were really smart. It was really encouraging.”
Sandoval added, “All their previous patents have been really amazing and cool. We just want to be next on the list.”
The group’s patent is expected to be completed by the end of April or early May. After that, the four plan to continue working together to receive their utility patent and ultimately manufacture their projector.
“It keeps us together, working as a team even after we graduate,” Sandoval said.
Dhesi said they came up with the idea thanks to their workspace.
“I think it kind of sprung from our cubicle for the design team,” he said. “It’s kind of small, and there’s one computer that not everyone could really look at at the same time.”
Dhesi said one of the appeals of their idea is how broadly it can be used in everyday life.
“The other projects are really cool, too,” he said. “One of them is designing a battery for a submarine. There’s a lot of different projects. I like how ours is really open ended.”
Higgins said one of the cool things about the course is the sense of ownership it has instills.
“It kind of makes it feel more like our idea, our project, rather than being assigned,” she said. “It makes us more involved and motivated to do really well.”
All four students have their immediate post-graduate plans figured out. Dhesi, Higgins and Sandoval have jobs lined up at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. Hair will be working at Keyport Naval Base, where he interns.
— Michelle Beahm is online editor for the Kitsap News Group. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
CAPSTONE DESIGN PATENTS
The following innovations were developed by students in the Olympic College Capstone Design Program:
• “System and method for dynamically configurable power distribution control and management system: An energy management system for monitoring and communicating characteristics of an intelligent energy storage device.” Patented in 2012; purchased and filed by Eagle Harbor Holdings.
• “Method and apparatus for dynamic configuration of a multiprocessor health data system: A health monitoring system which can collect data generated from multiple health, fitness, and environmental data generating devices by a health application running on a portable smart device.” Pending patent in 2012; purchased and filed by Eagle Harbor Holdings.
• “System and method for real-time guidance and mapping of a tunnel boring machine: An integrated navigation system that provides real-time parametric guidance information to a tunnel boring machine.” Patented in 2013; purchased and filed by Eagle Harbor Holdings.
• “Dovetail binding system for splitboard: Splitboard boot bindings for backcountry splitboarding.” 2014, provisional patent expired; marketed to K2.
• “Single action tire mount.” 2014, provisional patent expired.
• “System and method for a multipurpose modular smart tool.” 2015, provisional patent expired.
• “System and method for aerosol overspray control.” 2016, provisional patent expired.
• “Multipurpose blender with programmable motor and interchangeable rotary element.” 2016, provisional patent expired.
• “Method of implementing a mechanochromic pressure gauge for a pressurized vessel.” 2017, provisional patent active until April 24, 2018.
• “Interactive modular surfaces.” 2017, provisional patent active until April 21, 2018.