On September 17, 2011, I attended the Signing of the America Invents Act at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology. A young lady named Rebecca Hyndman, who is a senior at the high school, introduced President Obama, which took place immediately prior to his signing the Act into law. Rebecca was chosen for this honor because at the age of just 14 she acquired a patent for her own innovation. Recently, I ran into her father, Kelly Hyndman, at another IP event. While discussing the AIA signing ceremony, I asked Mr. Hyndman if he would mind my interviewing his daughter for our blog. With his blessing I conducted the following Interview via email, which I received back from Rebecca at the end of November. Unfortunately, as many of you know, I had to have emergency spinal fusion surgery and was unable to publish her interview prior to now.
So (as Gene likes to say) without further ado, here is my interview with Rebecca.
Renée – Where did you grow up, how old are you and what grade are you in?
Rebecca – I grew up in Loudoun County Virginia, I am 18 years old and a senior at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology
Renée – What is your invention?
Rebecca – My invention is to have containers with floor tiles for lids rest on the wooden floor joists with a system of troughs for catching water. The containers are removable from the floor. The invention would be useful for maximizing use of vertical space in bathrooms and kitchens.
Renée – What is your patent name and number and what date was your patent issued?
Rebecca – My patent number is 7,726,080. The title of the invention is Under Floor Storage. I filed my patent on January 4th, 2008 and it was granted on June 1st, 2010.
Renée – What made you think of your invention? What problem(s) were you trying to find a solution to?
Rebecca – I was staring at the bathroom floor etc. I imagined a container under every “floor tile” (which is actually linoleum in my bathroom, to be specific, but that doesn’t really matter). I was kind of just tired and staring into space, thinking. I wasn’t actively trying to solve any pressing problem, but thought of the idea and what it would solve at the same time.
Renée – What did you learn about the patent process as an inventor and were you happy with the process?
Rebecca – I learned about the patent process because my dad is a patent attorney, and was happy with the process.
Renée – Did you represent yourself during your examiner interview or did an attorney do it for you?
Rebecca – My attorney came with me, but the discussion was mainly between the examiner and me. I needed my attorney since I couldn’t drive yet. (Note Rebecca was only 14 when she filed her patent in 2008)
Renée – What have you done with your invention since you created it? Are you selling it, did you license it to others, etc.
Rebecca – I am further developing it so that I can build it. This consists of figuring out specifics such as material and better methods of waterproofing the system. It’s just a general process of thinking of all the things I didn’t cover originally that could potentially lead to problems. For example, for the new design, it will no longer be possible for someone to fall through the floor after the container has been removed from it.
Renée – Are you working on any new inventions currently? You don’t have to tell us what they are if you need to keep it confidential at this stage.
Rebecca – Yes. They will all take longer than I expected, however, because I keep learning reasons why my plans would not work.
Renée – Do you feel that getting a patent at such a young age has helped you in high school?
Rebecca – Getting a patent in itself hasn’t helped, but the aspiration to invent has helped me. I have several ideas for future inventing projects, and when I learn about something in school that could potentially apply to my idea, it makes me more motivated to study it, even if it is complicated. The idea of getting a patent as a reward for creating an invention does play a role in inspiring me to invent, but if patents did not exist, I would still invent things.
Renée – What was it like being chosen to introduce the President of the United States for the signing of the America Invents Act into Law at your school, which you also had the pleasure of witnessing while standing right by his side?
Rebecca – It was cool. My dad had heard he was coming to TJ to sign the Act, and asked if maybe I could help in any way, since I have a patent. My principal walked into my BC Calc class the Thursday before Obama visited, and I expected it had something to do with the Obama visit. I soon learned that the White House staff had selected me to introduce Obama. I was nervous when I learned this, because I am actually rather shy. I consented, though, and went through with the process. I practiced a whole lot, and it all worked out.
Renée – Do you feel your high school, which so stresses science and technology, has prepared you for college or for a career more than a traditional high school may have?
Rebecca – Definitely. Post-AP courses are a big part of this, because they teach students how to use instruments. TJ also has mentorship programs with places like NIH, and encourages students to apply for internships. The environment of the school is also helpful. Upperclassmen help underclassmen and help “direct their paths.” Senior research projects also help us focus on real-world applications of our academic knowledge.
Renée – Did you get the opportunity to talk to President Obama one on one either before or after the signing of the America Invents Act?
Rebecca – Yes. He entered the building through the wrestling room with press and his bodyguards. He met our principal, and then our SGA president. He asked her what she wants to study. She said she wants to be an engineer. He said, “We need engineers.” He asked me what I want to study. I said biochemistry. He did not say that we need biochemists, but I still plan to become one, or something similar. He then said something like, “So I heard there was someone with a patent?” It was pointed out that it was me. I then explained and showed my patent to him.
Renée – What’s next for you? Have you decided on a college and career, or do you not yet know what you want to be “when you grow up?”
Rebecca – I have not replied to any college, though I have been accepted by two so far. I want to study biochemistry, because I like chemistry, and biochemistry would help me be more versatile.
Renée – Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Rebecca – I keep an inventor’s notebook. I recommend that for anyone who is an inventor.