The Smithsonian Celebrates American Invention at This Weekend’s Innovation Festival

How do you bring an idea to life? The inventors of new technologies will share their stories at a two-day event at the National Air and Space Museum

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National Air & Space Museum

Creative minds working in every corner of the country—in large corporations and humble garages—are inventing the future. In honor of these folks and their inventions, the National Air and Space Museum is hosting an Innovation Festival this weekend. Inventors of a number of new technologies will share how their ideas have evolved into viable products at the two-day event, a collaboration between the Smithsonian and the United States Patent and Trademark Office. 

The Smithsonian recently announced a five-year collaboration with the USPTO, during which the federal agency will contribute funding for public programs and exhibitions related to American innovation at the museums. The festival is the inaugural event, and the Smithsonian and the USPTO are jointly organizing a family festival at the American Art Museum this coming spring and a major exhibition on intellectual property at the National Museum of American History in the summer of 2015. is hosting a special website with stories that highlight the innovative spirit at the Smithsonian and beyond.

With the Innovation Festival and future endeavors, the USPTO is looking to offer adults and children a chance to interact with new technologies, in the hope of inspiring future generations of inventors. This weekend, visitors will see various tools and equipment—from augmented reality to skateboards—developed by inventors and innovators within businesses, universities and the government. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service will present a speedy test for detecting a plant virus, and a group from the University of South Florida will invite visitors to take its rolling dance chair for a spin; the chair gives those with disabilities a new means of artistic expression. Patent examiners that worked on the projects will be on hand to field questions about the patent process.

Smithsonian experts and others will be giving talks on the hour. David Allison, associate director of the National Museum of American History, and Bruce Kisliuk, deputy commissioner for patent administration at the USPTO, will speak about the collaboration and future programming. Pierre Comizzoli, a research scientist at the National Zoological Park, will discuss efforts to preserve cellular life at room temperature for centuries, and NASA astronaut Don Thomas will talk about how his background as a holder of two patents helped him be innovative in space.

Staff from the National Air and Space Museum, National Museum of American History, National Museum of Natural History and the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum will lead hands-on activities for families to enjoy. With help from the American History Museum's Spark!Lab, for instance, visitors can try their hand at designing a video game controller or a robot. 

"Through this collaboration with the United States Patent and Trademark Office, we will create a program that not only celebrates American ingenuity but also reflects the 21st century expectations of our visitors," Smithsonian Secretary Wayne Clough said in a press release announcing the agreement in September.

This isn't the first time that the Smithsonian and USPTO have teamed up. In 2011, the USPTO helped create educational public programming to accompany "The Great American Hall of Wonders," an exhibition of art, engineering diagrams and patent models at the Smithsonian American Art Museum chronicling the science and technology that drove rapid change in the United States in the 19th century. (Fittingly, the building now housing the museum served as a patent office full of models from 1840 to 1932.) That same year, the museum also hosted "Inventing a Better Mousetrap," which featured 32 patent models that were displayed at the original patent office. The Smithsonian's Ripley Center also staged the USPTO's "The Patents and Trademarks of Steve Jobs: Art and Technology That Changed the World" in 2012. 

The Innovation Festival will be held this Saturday, November 1, and Sunday, November 2, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the National Air and Space Museum. 

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