Many universities have student incubators on campus to help students with product and business development. If your school has an engineering department, this would be an excellent place to start.
For example, the Rochester Institute of Technology offers its students an intensive program to support business and technological innovation. Wayne State University has created a program for technology startups in Detroit called Tech Town; the UC Davis College of Engineering helps innovative students get on the fast track with resource and funding support; and Boston University’s incubator accepts student tech startups as well as others in the biomedical engineering and related fields.
Many colleges and universities also offer student innovation grants, like this one from Purdue University, and this one from Georgia College. Use your favorite search engine to find about more about the numerous grants available to student inventors.
The takeaway is that most colleges and universities will have some resources available on or near campus that they can guide you to. Additionally, many – like Wayne State – have created programs for the broader community, so you should also investigate those connections. Sometimes a town’s or city’s chamber of commerce and other business groups (e.g., Rotary Club) offer grants and resources for young entrepreneurs, especially with patentable ideas.
You also want to check with your school advisor or a knowledgeable faculty member regarding the patent rights to anything you’re working on. It’s not uncommon to find that if you’re a student using school facilities and resources, the rights to your innovation could belong to the university, so make sure you check into that carefully before proceeding.
First, the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has developed a partnership program with multiple law schools across the country to assist independent inventors and small companies who qualify for pro bono (free!) patent services. You would need to contact each school directly, so here’s the list.
Additional information about the patent pro bono program is available here. This is a very useful interactive map where you can also find information about participating law schools, relevant news and events, and general information specifically tailored for under-resourced inventors.
Second, many colleges and universities that are not partnered with the USPTO program still offer students – and sometimes non-students – assistance. For instance, schools like the University of Illinois have long offered student innovators free help in completing patent applications.
If your school has a law school, contact them for guidance. Even if they haven’t (yet) partnered with the USPTO, they’ll likely have some on-campus resources, or be able to guide you to someone who can help you with the process.
If your school doesn’t have a law school, there are other options. Many universities have a Student Legal Services office on campus. While many don’t offer legal assistance for patents or intellectual property, they may be able to guide you to another resource that can help you.
Another great resource is the engineering and science faculty. It’s not uncommon to find faculty members who have had some direct experience with filing patents. You can also sometimes discover programs that are designed to promote innovation and involve patent filing.
Finally, public and university libraries offer a wealth of materials beyond books to help you. Engage a librarian to help you access applications, template applications, and other information and tools you’ll need to successfully complete your journey along the startup highway. Such information includes events such as workshops, talks, and other programs that are usually free or offered for a nominal admission price.