When a patent weights more than a FRC team

I’m not sure if this is the most appropriate place for this topic and please forgive me if it isn’t. Let me put it this way, our ‘mentor’ is not an actual mentor but instead a school faculty that runs the lab. My team is not allowed to have a real mentor since the ‘mentor’ thinks it sounds better when she tell others we build robots purely on ourselves. My team accepted all of this since we really want to participate in FRC and we cannot find any other lab for use. Lack in help from mentors, my team highly depends on online resources; as a rookie team, we got inspired by all threads on CD and all great teams out there, and we do use these ideas in our own design, but none of our design, honestly, is worthwhile for a patent.

However, during the build season, the ‘mentor’ suggested that my team should get a patent for the robot as a ‘mobile ball shooter’, which is ridiculous. As the chief CAD designer and team captain I argued that 1) the robot is just not technically mature enough for a patent and 2) as far as I know FRC is more about sharing technology rather than protecting and competing, doing this obeys my philosophy. However, some on the team do want a patent and would like to pay for the application fee. A group of 10 was then formed, including none form the mechanical group, none from the programming group, all barely ever contributed to robot building itself and one even from outside the team! I know nothing until one day someone from that group asked me to explain the design concept of a specific part. I told the ‘mentor’ and those from the group they are trying to steal the team’s work. The day after, the lab was locked, right in the middle of the build season.

I agreed on the patent thing in the end since some team member told me it will benefit their scholarship application, plus all students who actually built and run the robot were promised will get their names on the patent. Nevertheless, I’m off the team now for college and I recently heard something that really breaks my heart. On the off-season meeting which two of the school FRC teams attended, the ‘mentor’ described me as ‘the selfish captain who used the robot to apply patent for himself’ and announced that my team is not going to compete in 2018 season, all student on my team must merge into the other team and it is a ‘decision’.

As a FIRST alumni who have been in FIRST for 12 years and one of those who got most involved in robotics in China, I swear all of these are the bloody facts. I’ve been team captain on FLL and FTC teams and I’m so proud for those achievements my teams have made. But I’m not proud for my FRC team, and I felt regret founding it. I’m terrified when I saw those despair faces of my team members. I wrote over 50 pages to negotiate and try to save my team but all efforts are useless. I CANNOT understand why a patent worth that much, why people CANNOT understand FIRST is about inspiration, not intellectual property protection, and WHY my FIRST journey should end up like this. It’s 3 AM in Beijing and I cannot go to sleep, this left a wound in my heart.

I know there are nothing technical in this thread and I’m sorry if I mistakenly disturbed anyone, please forgive me for putting it on the CD.

I don’t know any details about patents or what’s really best for your team, but I will give a bit of advice that I have heard on here very often in these kind of threads. The best way to solve conflicts is for everyone to sit down face to face and discuss their viewpoints. At the most basic level, everyone wants the best for the team. When you’re having discussions, make sure that everyone keeps that in mind. If you need to have an impartial supervisor present for the discussions to keep everything civil, perhaps try to bring the teacher mentor or a member of the school administration. A calm, well-mannered, democratic discussion may not end with exactly the result you want, but if everyone considers the facts and everyone’s viewpoints impartially, you should end up with the best result for the team.

First - no apology required. CD is a forum for team organization and fundraising and such issues as much as it is about technical exchange.

If I read your post correctly, you are no longer “on the scene”, and have already put significant effort into correcting the situation in writing. If Ari’s advice doesn’t work, what you need to correct this is a “champion”, someone on the scene with both the power and the will to bring about the change. This may be someone in the school administration (e.g. principal or vice principal) or on the school board. Direct the appeals higher.

And, for what it’s worth, you’re not the only one who’s had a patently useless patent application forced on you from higher authority. This happened at work about a decade ago, and mine was one of three names on a patent application for data collection/processing software that did nothing beyond first-semester Fourier analysis, first-semester acoustic ray traces, and bookkeeping. Further, it was the at least the third generation of replacements which had done the same processing on older computers. Fortunately, I was not the primary on that project (having done only the ray traces), but Dr. V. must have put half a man year into the patent documentation. I don’t THINK that’s the reason he left the office shortly after this project, but it certainly didn’t give him any incentive to stay. (Yes, the patent was denied.)

Siqi

As Ari suggested, arrange a face-to-face meeting with the interested parties; the school faculty member, a few student representatives, someone who represents your funding sources and a FIRST representative in China.

Some suggested points of discussion are:
[ul]
[li] objectives of the program from each of the interested party’s point of view including:[LIST][/li][li] what FIRST intends the vision and mission of the FRC program to be[/li][li]what the vision and mission for your team is to be[/ul][/li][li]What changes are necessary to achieve the vision and mission of your team and FIRST[/LIST][/li]I am not sure what the laws regarding patents are in China. In most other countries, you cannot patent something that is already in the public domain. Perhaps the school faculty member is unfamiliar with this concept. Perhaps the school faculty member is not aware that the ‘mobile ball shooter’ your team built has likely been built thousands of times by other teams, some of them in China. Is the school faculty member’s name on the patent application?

Bold for emphasis.

In the U.S., this would be a ridiculously easy patent to challenge. And I mean ridiculously easy. You’d simply send the PTO (Patent and Trademark Office) a message, should it be under consideration at all, that this was not an original concept, and include some documentation from other teams’ robots from the 2017 season. PTO would review and probably throw the patent application out. (If you really wanted to twist the knife, you’d include 2006, 2009, 2012, and 2016 robots as well–that would prove prior concept. If you really, really wanted to prove a point, you’d throw in any patents for “baseball pitching machine” that you could find, as that was a major inspiration for many of the 2006 robots, and many of those are also mobile though not powered.) It’s happened with other technologies that the PTO threw out a challenged patent due to “prior concept”.

I’m not entirely sure about the Chinese equivalent of the PTO doing that, though.

Basically, the point to make is that the concept is already patented, there are literally 3000+ other similar devices around the world, and perhaps most importantly, the patent will not stand up to a challenge because of those facts.

Patents in China are quite different than in the US. You might want to find out how they work, before making assumptions

I think the point here is that team 6375 is being discontinued, not about a patent.

I would like to speak to you, Siqi Chai. I was on a team that went to CRC in 2016 (team 16) and 2017 (team 323/3937) and I am sure we saw each other there at some time. If you would like, you can send me a personal message on Chief Delphi and tell me your WeChat. I will add you on WeChat and we can talk there. I would like to talk with your mentor about this issue and provide some of my opinions for him. Here are my opinions:

Patents are very important, yet also very confusing and stressful. In this case patenting a robot does not seem like a good idea, but I think it is great that you all want to patent your designs! I think your team should continue because you clearly did not mean to take part in a big battle about the patent, and it all looks like a misunderstanding. I want to see your team at CRC in 2018, too!

Best,
John Taylor Novak

This is more about a broken heart than even a lost team. I am sorry that your “mentor” spoke badly of you to your team. I have no advice, but I do understand how you feel.

I have taken kids to the CRC in 2016 and 2017 and it has been a great experience and we hope to return next year. I hope you reach out to JT. He’s a pretty good guy.

~ Meredith

Thanks Ari. In the past few days I’ve been trying to arrange a meeting with the ‘mentor’, the school head master, the team members and all their parents come together to discuss on the conflict. I asked the succeed team captain to prepare a paper to prove the team is in all ways qualified as a FRC team and how we can avoid conflict in future. Luckily I’m currently the only person who have really argued with the ‘mentor’, others either kept silence or followed instructions. Keeping my team members not involved in the actual conflict maybe the only correct thing I’ve done. They knew the patent thing is the reason although the ‘mentor’ did not explain why we are not competing in 2018, and the ‘mentor’ knew they are unhappy about this, but still everything is in cold war mode and is under control. I assume the meeting will be well mannered, with the presence of parents and headmaster. I think I should better not show up in the meeting. On the other hand however, there is a possibility that the ‘mentor’ only compromises under the great pressure from parents and headmaster, and later on everything goes wrong again. Nevertheless, a well mannered face to face discussion should be the best way to solve the problem.

If the team members and parents really do desire keeping the team, at least some of them are going to have to step up and speak, or it is likely that nothing will come of this. If you are the only one who speaks out, or no one does, the administration is likely to accept that everyone who will be involved with the team this year is OK with the decision. Silence is likely to be taken for consent.

Thanks! I think having people from higher authority should solve the problem, but as I replied to Ari, I’m afraid this will turn out to be a temporary solution. I hope everything goes well, still, I’m fear of the lab being locked up again and again during the season, whenever the team make a little mistake. Don’t know how I’m going to blame myself if I see my friends got punished like that.

I was not only forced by the ‘mentor’ on the patent thing, but also by parents and even people from the team. There is a WeChat(a tool similar to Messenger) group made up by the mentor, the students and the parents(in majority) who want to get the patent for their children. There was a week during the build season when my WeChat & phone got rung up like crazy by those parents, asking me to agree with the patent thing and ask me to put their children’s names in front on the patent. It’s ridiculous and I got so frustrated. I do not want others to call a FRC robot a ‘mobile ball shooter’ and I was stunned when I found out how many people in my team, in their premature age, is more enthusiastic in gaining personal benefit, or even stealing, than serving and inspiring the community. The patent thing will keep going on as long as the team exist, and clearly I know I am one of those who initially involved. They could and they should have spent all those wasted time on sharing robotics with primary school children but they did not. For the first time in the past 12 years I feel myself failed in building ‘Gracious Professionalism’ sprint into my team and for the first time I felt myself doing something unFIRST. That hurts me.

One other thing to bring up–and this may not work as well with the Chinese patent system–but I can count the number of patents I’m aware of with FRC in about 20 years on my fingers.

–Coopertition is actually patented (using the 2001 FRC game) by FIRST. (There’s also a couple trademarks that FIRST HQ has–Coopertition and Gracious Professionalism.)
–A ball-drive system and an FRC-scale CCT and CVT have all had attempts made to patent them, to varying degrees of success. (I believe that’s 1/3 or 2/3, based on some CD research.)
–One or two other teams have one or two patents each, both for individual robot components or non-FRC-related items.

(All of the above are U.S. patents. I can’t speak for international patents)

<10 patents across 6000+ teams that have existed at one time or another isn’t very good odds.

Seems like patenting the robot might not work, but patenting components might…

To be honest, the way I’d bring it up in the meeting is this: “A patent is a noble goal. This competition may or may not provide anything worth patenting; should it do so then of course we should pursue it. However, patenting an entire robot–one of X in China, and ~3000 around the world–would be considered to be an example of bad behavior* if the patent were enforced.”

*“Bad behavior” in this case being essentially extorting other–competing–teams to use a design they came up with by themselves. I’m sure that would also go over extremely well at FIRST HQ if somebody were to bring such behavior up to them (:rolleyes:).

Thanks! I will try my best to arrange a meeting as I replied to Ari and I hope everything goes well.

I know little about patent law. All I know is a parent contacted a patent agency and my team handed in a description file to the robot and the CAD. The agency itself seems legal and they charged us amount of money saying they cannot guarantee anything but they will get the rest of things done. The faculty definitely knows there are thousands of better robots out there. Her name is not on the patent. The whole thing is about money, interest and undeserved fame.

I do not want to discuss too much on the patent thing and I will keep myself as far away from it as possible. As I replied in previous threads, it hurts badly.

Okay, I just notice this thread today, and it is 3 am in new york.
I just registerd today just for this thread.
I’m kinda angry for this thread.

I am the funder of FIRST club in my highschool, which is the club that provide resources for both team 5449 and 6375. I’m still a part of the club as a mentor(i’m a senior in college). And of coures i’m not the one he mentioned.

6375 was a new team, just established last year. as mentioned before, the problem of this team is not about the patent(patent in China is as easy as in us), but being discontinued. there are alot of reasons that this team is going to be discontinued(not happened yet). first of all, we dont have enough people to run two teams. the thought of having 2 team started in 2016CRC, and i am the one who made it. at that time, we have 16 team member for 2 team. the only reason for 2 teams is that we can have more practice for new members. I dont know why they have two teams last season. they have enough member and passion, so the new team is there.

things changed this year, some member of team 6375 think they do not have the capability to build a frc robot, so they decide to have a season in 5449, to learn more. and this leads to lack of member in 6375.

however, some member in 6375 dont want their team to be discontinued. well, that is not a problem, we already experienced 5 ftc team in one room before, so 2 frc team is not a big number. but the real problem is, we think 6375 will not beable to finish their robot on time, not include the program.
So we decide to give a chance to 6375: if they can give a proper plan for their next season, we will accept it, and keep 6375.
They did not respond to the chance. and that is the problem now: they want their team, but they dont want to pay anything for it, not even a proper plan.

all above is not the reason for my anger.
my anger comes from how he discribed my mentor, the head of the team.
unlike America, funding a team is extremly hard in China. many reason, most of them related to money and land. at the very beginning, we only have $6k for 2 ftc team. we did well that season, and that’s the third year FTC entered China. (I was in another campus of my highschool for first 2 years, and I got 1 champion in area, 1 final nationaly, and a chance to st.louis) this is not the only lab that offerd me funds and lab in main campus of my high school. and the reason I chose her is she is the only one not asking for ranking in match. and that’s how most high school lab work in China. most of funding of our club is come from our school, and we pay the rest of them. She is the one who tried to get as much funds as possible for us(for some reason, sponsership is nearly impossible in my school at first).
She spend her vacation, spare time for the club. She never force us to do anything, instead she try her best to met our need, which is the reason we can have 3 ftc team and 2 frc team at the same time while most school only have 1 ftc team.
And what she get? A “BAD MENTOR”? the mentor word even have mark on it.

okay, I’m talking too much, its nearlt 4am. I might post more if you guys want to know more. And by the way, we are by far the largest highschool FIRST club in China.

I had a bad feeling it would come back to this. Do your desires really reflect a majority or at least a significant portion of the current team? If not, walk away.

I was wondering if we would hear another side to this story.

If Jerry is correct in stating that the funding is mostly from the school, then the Headmaster (or their representative) must be present in meetings.

If this is really true, you can tell those that are pushing for robot patents that this is not FLL where teams are rated more highly if their solutions for the Research Project are more innovative, often leading to patents. In FLL, the innovative solution does not actually have to work and does not have to be practical. In FRC, innovations have to actually work and be practical to be of any value to a team.

A better way to look at FRC is that it is a way of “learning the fundamentals” by learning the intricate details of how to effectively use techniques and mechanisms that others have already designed/developed, hopefully under the guidance of mentors from industry who use these techniques on a daily basis. This preparation is what will make the students more likely to come up with truly original innovations when they get to university or the working world; innovations that are truly worthy of a patent.

Calm down first. I know how much you’ve contributed to the school’s robotics team and I admire you by heart since the very first day I’m in the lab. You are the authority in the field of robot making in this lab, but I’m sorry mate, you are not the authority on this topic. Of course you know what the teams in the lab have achieved in the past few years, but I’m the person who worked on the team day and night so I know things better.

I’ve neither blamed the school nor classified the mentor as 100% negative. Yes she gave us the permission to use the lab in the past seasons; yes she cares about the teams’ performance. Nevertheless, you have to admit that on the patent thing, which is the topic I’m discussing on, she is wrong. Why should I carry those bad names and why my team get discontinued for this? You said that the major reason is instead the mentor think we are not strong enough to be a FRC team; however I think this is the least solid reason to deny a team.

FIRST is about getting everyone a chance to STEM education and one just do not own the rights to judge other people’s potential. There are lots of teams out there that build simple robot but achieve high scores. Yes my team was not awarded any banners during this season, but I don’t think our ranking as a rookie team have proven that we are not qualified as a 2018 FRC team. What we’ve done is getting 30 students involved in robotics and we realized our value as a team. We’ve covered all budget by ourselves, each team member agreed and spent 20000CNY on the team. We did not use a penny of school budget and we don’t care how much we spend as long as we can work on the team. We are improving and we’re now sponsored by SolidWorks and we are working so hard on Bosch’s grant application, thus it makes no sense questioning our budget. The only thing we need from school is a permission to use the lab and we even will be willing to pay for that if it is necessary.

In addition, it is not fair to say that we do not have the ability to make a robot. The 25 pages training schedule is only a part of our plan and we are learning every single day. We wrote our own version of FRC Survival Guide for incoming students. We contacted university professors to present lectures on control system and we got instructors out there willing to help us with mechanical problems. We are not allowed to have mentors but we did found people to help us for next season. Yes these stuff are not seeming enormous but we are at least enthusiastic about what we are doing and that is the reason why we deserve a chance. Four months till kick off, just too early to make assumption on what the team is going to achieve in March 2018. FIRST is supporting us, our parents are supporting us, the school is supporting us and we believe in ourselves; we will get enough budget by ourselves for this, we are willing to spend time on FRC since we are passionate, why the team must be discontinued? Lack of ability should not be the proper reason.

I’m a FIRST alumni and honestly I’m not seeing my FRC team being FIRST enough and that what hurts me. In this lab in the past few years we are pursing too much on technical stuff but just forget to slow down and question ourselves what FIRST want to see from us, aren’t we? I want my team to carry on next year and enlarge its social value. In 2017 6375 provided only 30 people chances to STEM education, but we’ve made our plan and we contacted local primary schools, next year we will provide free FLL suites for those schools and we will try our best to get more people into robotics. These are all made into our 2018 calendar, specified to date. I’ve been spending the whole summer after CRC not only throwing technical stuff into the wechat group but also developing all of these with the whole team. I want the team to get continued and accomplish all those goals, to change the culture and selfishly speaking, to help complete my own redemption as a FIRST alumni.

I’m sorry mate if I let you down. I didn’t meant to either shame the school or the teams. You may not understand my depression and it’s fine. If you are convinced please help the team, or please just leave us alone. Thanks!

Since Jerry left for university before I went to the lab, I can only assume the school is sponsoring. I don’t know if school is sponsoring 5449 currently but at least 6375 is not sponsored(while if the free use of the lab does not count). We covered all the money spent by ourselves as I mentioned in the next thread.(though we did signed sponsor contracts with companies the school do not allow money inflow)

The reason I said the patent thing will carry on is because I believe the mentor and parents will continue be enthusiastic about it though most of the students think we do not deserve.

This is why you need to sit down face to face to discuss this rather than over the internet. Tempers flare in internet arguments, and that’s not productive. Don’t talk at each other, talk to each other.

Okay, I just notice this thread today, and it is 3 am in new york.
I just registerd today just for this thread.
I’m kinda angry for this thread.

I am the funder of FIRST club in my highschool, which is the club that provide resources for both team 5449 and 6375. I’m still a part of the club as a mentor(i’m a senior in college). And of coures i’m not the one he mentioned.

6375 was a new team, just established last year. as mentioned before, the problem of this team is not about the patent(patent in China is as easy as in us), but being discontinued. there are alot of reasons that this team is going to be discontinued(not happened yet). first of all, we dont have enough people to run two teams. the thought of having 2 team started in 2016CRC, and i am the one who made it. at that time, we have 16 team member for 2 team. the only reason for 2 teams is that we can have more practice for new members. I dont know why they have two teams last season. they have enough member and passion, so the new team is there.

things changed this year, some member of team 6375 think they do not have the capability to build a frc robot, so they decide to have a season in 5449, to learn more. and this leads to lack of member in 6375.

however, some member in 6375 dont want their team to be discontinued. well, that is not a problem, we already experienced 5 ftc team in one room before, so 2 frc team is not a big number. but the real problem is, we think 6375 will not beable to finish their robot on time, not include the program.
So we decide to give a chance to 6375: if they can give a proper plan for their next season, we will accept it, and keep 6375.
They did not respond to the chance. and that is the problem now: they want their team, but they dont want to pay anything for it, not even a proper plan.

all above is not the reason for my anger.
my anger comes from how he discribed my mentor, the head of the team.
unlike America, funding a team is extremly hard in China. many reason, most of them related to money and land. at the very beginning, we only have $6k for 2 ftc team. we did well that season, and that’s the third year FTC entered China. (I was in another campus of my highschool for first 2 years, and I got 1 champion in area, 1 final nationaly, and a chance to st.louis) this is not the only lab that offerd me funds and lab in main campus of my high school. and the reason I chose her is she is the only one not asking for ranking in match. and that’s how most high school lab work in China. most of funding of our club is come from our school, and we pay the rest of them. She is the one who tried to get as much funds as possible for us(for some reason, sponsership is nearly impossible in my school at first).
She spend her vacation, spare time for the club. She never force us to do anything, instead she try her best to met our need, which is the reason we can have 3 ftc team and 2 frc team at the same time while most school only have 1 ftc team.
And what she get? A “BAD MENTOR”? the mentor word even have mark on it.

okay, I’m talking too much, its nearlt 4am. I might post more if you guys want to know more. And by the way, we are by far the largest highschool FIRST club in China.