What is the Collegiate Inventors Competition?

The Collegiate Inventors Competition, a program of the National Inventors Hall of Fame and Invent Now, is a national competition that recognizes and rewards innovations, discoveries, and research by college and university students and their faculty advisors. The Competition encourages students who actively pursue invention. Students frequently come from science, engineering, mathematics, and technology studies but creative invention can emerge from any course of study. The Competition also recognizes the working relationship between a student and his or her advisor. The program was introduced in 1990.

Who are the sponsors?

Sponsors of the Collegiate Inventors Competition are the AbbVie Foundation and the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

Is this a grant to help me pay for college?

No. The Collegiate Inventors Competition is not a traditional scholarship program and does not provide direct tuition assistance. The Competition recognizes innovations, discoveries, and research by college and university students and their faculty advisors by awarding unrestricted cash prizes.

What are the awards?

$100,000 in cash and prizes is awarded to the top three entries in each division. Advisors of winning entries receive cash prizes as well. Other prizes may be awarded at the discretion of the judges.

What are the requirements for entering the Competition?

The application consists of: general student information; an essay including a brief description or abstract of the invention; information on the faculty advisor; a letter of recommendation from the faculty advisor; a literature/patent search and summary; and any relevant supporting or supplemental materials you wish to submit (examples: charts, graphs, CDs or DVDs, slides, samples, etc.). In addition, entrants must fulfill the student status requirements. The entry must be written in English.

What are the requirements for students selected as finalists?

Students chosen as finalists must attend the final judging session and awards presentation in Washington, D.C. in November to be eligible for awards (airfare and hotel will be paid for by the Competition). Additionally, finalists may be asked to officially confirm their status as students.

How To Enter

What types of inventions are submitted?

The Collegiate Inventors Competition receives inventions of all types from all fields.

Each entry must be the original idea and work product of the student/advisor team, and must not have been (1) made available to the public as a commercial product or process or (2) patented or published more than one (1) year prior to the date of submission to the Competition.

The invention, a reduced-to-practice idea or working model, must be the work of a student or team of students and a university advisor. If it is a machine, it must be operable. If it is a chemical, it must be complete with evidence of successful application of the idea. If it is a new plant, color photographs must be included in the submission. If a new or original ornamental design for an article of manufacture is submitted, the entire design must be included in the application. In addition, the invention must be capable of being reproduced.

Do I need to submit the actual invention?


I have told a few people about my invention. Can I still enter the Competition?

It will depend upon the circumstances and the manner in which you shared the information about your invention. You cannot enter the Competition if your invention (1) is no longer patentable under 35 U.S.C.  §102; or (2) has been issued a patent for more than one year prior to the date of submission to the Competition.

Who is eligible to enter?

Students must be enrolled, or have been enrolled, full-time (in any U.S. college or university) at least part of the 12-month period prior to the submission entry deadline. In the case of a team with a maximum of four (4) students, at least one member of the team must meet the full-time eligibility criteria. The other team members must have been enrolled, at a minimum, on a part-time basis sometime during the 12-month period prior to the entry submission deadline.

Do I need to be a U.S. citizen in order to submit an entry to the Competition?

No. However, you must meet the eligibility requirement of student enrollment in a U.S. college or university.

Can I submit more than one entry?

Yes. There is no limit on the number of entries a student or team may submit in a given year; however, only one prize per student or student team will be awarded.

Can a post-doctorate fellow or researcher submit?

Yes, as long as he or she can meet the stated full-time student eligibility requirement or, if part of a team, can meet the stated full-time or part-time student eligibility requirement.

My advisor is at another institution. Can he or she still be my advisor?


I don't have an advisor who worked on this project directly with me. Am I still eligible to enter?

Yes; however, you must designate an individual to serve in the capacity of an advisor for purposes of the Competition and that person must submit a letter on your behalf. Your advisor may be a counselor or faculty member who knows you and with whom you feel comfortable describing your invention/research.

How many students can enter as a team?

A maximum of four (4) persons may comprise each team. At least one member of the team must meet full-time student eligibility criteria, and the remaining team members must meet the part-time student criteria at a minimum. Note that a team cannot be formed for the sole purpose of entering the Competition.

If my team consists of undergraduate and graduate students, in which category will we be placed?

You must self elect whether to be considered in the “undergraduate” or “graduate” category. If, during the course of the judging process, it appears that the work is primarily that of the graduate student(s) or vice versa your application may be reassigned to the more appropriate category. If the team consists of a majority of graduate students, it will be considered in that category.

How do I get an application?

The online application for the 2016 Competition will be available in spring 2016.

Intellectual Property

Do I forfeit my intellectual property rights by submitting an entry to the Collegiate Inventors Competition?

No. The goal of the Collegiate Inventors Competition is to recognize, award and encourage student innovation. We do not seek any ownership interests in your invention. We strongly encourage all students to begin the appropriate intellectual property protection process as soon as possible.

Is the Competition viewed as a "public disclosure"?

Entering the Collegiate Inventors Competition does not require you to make any “enabling” disclosures; that is, we do not ask you to give us information that would allow a person of ordinary skill to duplicate your invention. As such, we do not view your entry as a public disclosure. In addition, all individuals reviewing your entries are bound by nondisclosure agreements. Invent Now only uses the titles and very short descriptions of the inventions for publicity purposes.

Do I need a patent to participate?

No. However, keep in mind that in order to obtain patent protection in the United States, the inventor must file a patent application within one year of the date of public disclosure or commercial use of the invention. In most foreign countries a patent application must be filed prior to any publication or commercial use. For information on how to file a patent application visit www.uspto.gov.

I have filed a provisional application for a patent. Can I still enter the Competition?


My patent application is pending before the USPTO. Can I still enter the Competition?


I haven’t submitted a provisional application for a patent or an actual patent application. Can I still enter the Competition?

Yes; however, keep in mind that in order to obtain patent protection in the United States, the inventor must file a patent application within one year of the date of the initial public disclosure or commercial use of the invention. In most foreign countries a patent application must be filed prior to any publication or commercial use. For information on how to file a patent application visit www.uspto.gov.

Where can I find information on filing a provisional application for a patent?

I sent my invention idea to a company I saw advertised and the company is supposed to be researching and marketing it for me. Can I still enter the Collegiate Inventors Competition?

If you meet all of the eligibility requirements and your work has not been patented or published for more than one year prior, then you may still enter the Competition; HOWEVER, individuals should be extremely cautious when dealing with invention promotion companies. Please conduct research to make sure that the company you are working with is reputable. Both the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the USPTO have online information designed to help consumers avoid invention promotion scams and improper business practices among such companies.

To view the Federal Trade Commission’s Consumer Information on Invention Promotion Firms, go to http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0184-invention-promotion-firms.

To view the USPTO publication “Top Ten SCAM Warning Signs” go to

Patentability / Literature Search

Do I have to do a patent search and why?

Yes, a literature and/or patent search is an essential component for determining originality of the idea presented in your application. In addition, your search will be used by the judges, along with their own research, to help distinguish your invention from other inventions and concepts previously described.

Can I conduct my own patent/literature search or do I need to hire someone to do it for me?

For purposes of the Competition you can conduct your own patent search. Please see the Resources section of the website for sample patent searches and guidance on conducting a search. In addition, the Technology Transfer Office at your institution may be able to assist you in this process.

I have never conducted a patent/literature search. Are you expecting me to conduct a “professional” patent search?

No. However, we are expecting you to make a good faith effort to identify inventions, discoveries and articles that are similar or related to your work (prior art) and to distinguish your invention from that prior art. See the Resources section of our “Enter the Competition” page for guides and resources to aid you in conducting your patentability/literature search. In addition, you can find examples of patent/literature searches submitted by past CIC winners.

What constitutes a thorough search?

A thorough search considers all prior art. That is, it considers all known information relevant to your invention, including earlier United States patents, foreign patents and non-patent literature (e.g., newspapers, journal articles, published papers, etc.). To obtain more information on conducting a patent search, visit the USPTO at www.uspto.gov or consult your school’s Technology Transfer Office. You can view sample searches and find additional resources to guide you in conducting your search at the Resources section of our “Enter the Competition” page.

Where do I go to do a patent search?

You can view sample searches and find additional resources to guide you in conducting your search at the Resources section of our “Enter the Competition” page.

The USPTO has a freely searchable online database that allows the user to search U.S. patents issued from 1790 to the present. Information on how to use the database can be found at www.uspto.gov. In addition, every state has at least one Patent and Trademark Resource Center (PTRC), a library where collections of patents and patent information can be accessed. You can find the PTRC closest to your location by visiting www.uspto.gov/go/ptdl/.

I’ve conducted my search. Now what do I do?

The two key questions you must answer in summarizing your patent/literature search are: (1) What other inventions, methods, discoveries or processes exist (or have been written about or described) that are similar to your invention? and (2) How does your invention differ from those other inventions, methods, discoveries or processes; specifically, what makes your invention different, unique or an advancement over existing inventions, processes, discoveries or methods?


What is the judging process?

Three first round judges review each entry submitted to the Collegiate Inventors Competition. To ensure blind scoring, the judges do not meet or collaborate with each other in scoring the entries. Their collective scores and rankings along with data collected by independent researchers are used by Invent Now to determine the finalists.

All finalists meet individually with the final panel of judges for formal presentation of their inventions. The Undergraduate and Graduate Divisions may have different judging panels. Students also entertain questions from the panel. After all the finalists have made their presentations, the panel deliberates and selects the winners in each division. The judges’ decision is final.

Who are the judges?

The first round judges are scientists, researchers and other experts in the fields of mathematics, engineering, biology, chemistry, physics, materials science, computer science, medicine, pharmacology, nanotechnology and other disciplines related to invention and technology development. The judges, all volunteers, represent government agencies, research institutions, professional associations and private industry. Entries are assigned to judges based on the particular field or category of the invention.

The final round of judges consist of Inductees to the National Inventors Hall of Fame and special guest judges, which in the past have included experts from the United States Patent and Trademark Office, the National Institutes of Health, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, Abbott Laboratories, AbbVie and the Kauffman Foundation among others.

What criteria are considered by the judges to determine the finalists and winners?

• Degree of originality and inventiveness of the work presented
• Level of completeness or development of the invention
• Potential impact or benefit of the invention to society — economically, environmentally and socially
• Level of student initiative

How does the Competition preserve confidentiality?

All judges are required to sign confidentiality and non-disclosure agreements that state they will not discuss, use or convey any information they read in the entries with any other person(s) outside of the judging process. Applications are screened for any potential conflict of interest before they are assigned to judges. In addition, if a judge is working on a similar project or area of research, he or she is required to recuse him or herself from reviewing or judging an entry.

Where and when does the final judging round and awards ceremony take place?

Washington, D.C. in November.

Notification of Winners

When are the finalists notified?

Finalists are notified by telephone about two months before the final judging round. Other entrants will be notified by e-mail later that month. Finalists will be featured on the Collegiate Inventors Competition website.

When are the winners announced?

The winners are announced at an Awards Ceremony that takes place the day after the final judging round concludes. The top prize winners will be featured on the Collegiate Inventors Competition website.

What happens to the entries after the Competition?

All entries are destroyed at the conclusion of the Competition unless you request that your entry be returned.

Will I receive personal feedback on my invention if I do not win?

Due to the large number of entries we receive each year, individual feedback cannot be given to all of the participants; however, finalists may receive feedback on their presentations to the final round judges.

Additional Questions?

Send an email to collegiate@invent.org or call 800.968.4332, option 5.

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