Patents received by FIRST Teams

I’m trying to track down *FIRST *teams that have earned patents. Anybody have a good list? A simple list would be excellent. Contact info and patent numbers would be unreasonably fabulous.

Andy Baker and Mark Koors were granted a patent for the ball drive system that team 45 built in 2003. The patent number is 6,802,381. See the following threads, also: and

The Thunderchickens (217) applied for a patent for their continuously variable transmission used in 2002. The application number is 20040166981, with more details available here: The patent does not appear to have been granted. Paul Copioli would probably have more details. See this white paper also:

I’m definitely curious if there are others.

I vaguely remember hearing talk that Team 167, Rockwell Collins & City High School & West High School, applied for a patent for their work on a CVT in 2003. This same work earned them the Championship Delphi “Driving Tomorrow’s Technology” award.

I recall talking with a mentor from 276 (Youngstown, Ohio) about that team’s patent on a walking drive system. I think he said the patent application was filed in 2003 or 2004. The team’s history page mentions the patent application but does not cite its number – so I don’t know if the USPTO actually issued it.

There may be a reason why there aren’t more patents issued to FIRST teams, despite the inventiveness that occurs all around the world during build season. As cool as it is to get a patent, it can be a very expensive process. It doesn’t make much sense to file unless you can expect to generate a financial return of, I would suggest, in the order of several tens of thousands of dollars.

I would expect that FIRST teams have made many patentable inventions, but have realistically looked at the market and said, “It isn’t worth it.” to patent. I don’t want to suggest that it isn’t worth your while to patent… I’m sure Dean Kamen would correct me on THAT… but you have to ask why you are patenting. Generally the idea is to make a profit.

Now if a team/inventor has handy access to some free patent expertise, has created something novel, useful and not obvious, and would like to spend a few bucks (and many, many hours of writing and researching) to get a patent they could start by filing a provisional patent. These are relatively inexpensive, are not examined, and will hold your patent for you for a year while you assess the market. At the very least there is an excellent chance you will learn a great deal about patenting even if your invention is not likely to be marketable. When teams speak of filing a patent, they may be referring to a provisional patent, and thus we may hear of teams talking about patents but those patents will not be converted from provisionals into full patents.

Just my .02 on why you might have a fairly short list of FIRST related patents…


P.S. Two other tips if you have invented a profitable product and choose to go down this path: keep careful records and be VERY sure you know who the inventors are (it is not always easy to document who made “inventive contributions” to the patent) and be very careful about public disclosure of your idea. Discussing it with other FIRST teams, or FIRST judges, or basically anyone not on your team who hasn’t signed a non-disclosure statement before you file can limit your ability to claim the patent in some jurisdictions. (Just because you file in the USA does not mean your invention is automatically protected in other nations, many of whom have patent laws that differ from the US in significant ways.) If your patent IS sufficiently profitable you can expect it to be subject to legal challenges… if you don’t have a “tight” patent, or the funds to defend it… it really isn’t worth much more than something cool to put on a resume. Not that there is anything wrong with that…

One of the quickest, cheapest and easiest ways to protect your patentable ideas is whats called a ‘poor mans’ copywrite.

Take a copy of all of your documentation and put it into an envolope and then go to the post office and have them postmark across each seal of the envelope. As long as the seal remains intact, that envelope becomes a legal sealed and dated document that could be used to prove that you had the idea first.

Many people use this form of copywrite to protect themselves while going through the patent process.

Should also follow-up with all the FIRST MIT Inventeams.

I also heard that, instead of a patent, you can do a real copywrite of the written idea for less than $200.

I know the team itself didn’t earn the patent, but Paul was always talking about how some component (I’m sorry, I can’t remember which) that was developed for 33’s robot ended up on some DaimlerChrysler product.

A search of 33’s team members on here would likely lead you to better information on that…

That really is more of an urban legend than a practical idea. See Poor Man's Copyright |

What is done in industry is to keep a written notebook where each page is dated, signed by you and by a witness. The witness is important. This counts as a legal document as well.

Copyrights are property of the author at the creation of the work in a recorded medium, electronic or physical. They do not have to be registered. Hence they only have a cost in the case of a dispute, i.e. legal fees.

In 1996 I had a patent search done for my idea for a “locking lug nut” for car wheels. The search proved that there was nothing like it on the market, but one of the components of my locking device had been mentioned in a 1947 patent application for an outboard boat motor locking device. The advice from my patent attorney was to “cut my losses” and forget about the patent. I had $1,900 invested for the search and prelim work. It was going to take another $3,000 for the application. My attorney felt I would have trouble “defending” my patent because of the 1947 component. I have not seen my idea on the market, so my attorney did not steal my idea, but he did save me $3,000.

Patents are tough to get and even tougher to defend. One slight change to an item and the patent can become invalid. Years ago a company began marketing “the Club” to protect your car. Not long after the club hit the market, spin offs appeared. They were slightly different, so they did not invade the patent.


PS I have all the documentation for the locking lug nut in a poor mans copywrite envelope in case someone ever puts it on the market.

Now, I don’t know that much about any of these patents, so ignore this if I am wrong, but I find this discussion slightly worrying. It doesn’t seem to me to be within the spirit of competition to patent these things. Teams shouldn’t be in this to make a profit, nor should they be able to. AndyMark’s patent I can understand, but if what you are patenting is an assembly of kit parts, no matter how complex, why the rush to “protect”? Share your designs people, just because no one else has done it first doesn’t mean you should patent it. I’m pretty sure our team could have gotten a patent or two in years past, but it isn’t in the spirit of the game to be so secretive.

I understand that teams can still share ideas, but the signal these patents send isn’t a good one.

I will now procede to look at these examples to see if my worries are justified.

To reply to Beth,
Yes, I have used technology from FIRST robots in over 2.3 Million Dodge/Chrysler/Jeep Vehicles.
No, I did not patent this.
The original item I used was a programmable low pass software data filter. Nothing really revolutionary, but very handy. I wrote this routine in 2004 when working on our 4 speed transmission shift scheduler. A few weeks later, I had a need for something nearly identical in a controller I was developing for the 2005 Chrysler 300. I used my FIRST developed routine for this application and since then it has become part of one of our standard libraries of software components. In 2008 Model Year it will be in every single Dodge/Chrysler/Jeep we make. Since then, I have done this again with several other small, handy items such as a compact table driven linear interpolater, and an programmable digital debounce object.
On the flipside, I frequently use software routines and methods from my Automotive projects in our FIRST robots.

Teams deserve the same protection of their investment as any other company or individual. I think it’s a bit naive to expect that the developments made by some FIRST teams would only be useful to other FIRST teams, and so it seems prudent to take steps to protect our work from those who may be less scrupulous than many of the people involved with FIRST.

You might have the wrong idea of what a patent is and what it does. It certainly doesn’t keep anything secret. Note that by applying for a patent, one makes the information public.

A patent merely gives its owner [temporary] ownership of a product or process. Nothing makes that owner prevent others from using it. All it does is forbid others from profiting from it without the owner’s permission.

In fact for a patent to be valid you must provide enough information that some one “familiar with the art” would be capable of reproducing it. You are in essence giving the information for public use after a limited period of protection.

That really is more of an urban legend than a practical idea. See Poor Man's Copyright |

What is done in industry is to keep a written notebook where each page is dated, signed by you and by a witness. The witness is important. This counts as a legal document as well.

A patent merely gives its owner [temporary] ownership of a product or process. Nothing makes that owner prevent others from using it. All it does is forbid others from profiting from it without the owner’s permission.

Technically, this isn’t quite true. A patent gives you the right to prevent others from using whether or not they make a profit. Practically though, a company isn’t going to sue you for infringement unless you are making a profit or have taken business away from them - why spend the money on litigation unless it saves the company money or allows them to sue for damages.

Which is why my company is developing a “parallel path” for technology protection. Only ideas of commercial value are patented by the company. Those that have value to our customer ( the military ) are treated as a “trade secret”. The process is very similar to our patent process, so everything is documented AND the inventor(s) get paid the same as if they filed the patent, but we don’t have to tell the competition what we’re up to.

Since the US is a “first to invent” country, we are also covered if somebody “invents” the idea later.

Time to go back to devloping trade secrets

I disagree, but that is another argument for another time. What I’ve seen has mostly dispelled my fears, and I retract my earlier comment.

And to Alan, I completely understand what a patent is. What I was worried about was the slide of FIRST into a culture of teams being more interested in protecting their own ideas than learning from others, or even allowing others to do what they have done without permission. To go any further into this would get into a debate about the merits of intellectual property itself, an argument that this forum is not exactly conducive to.