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Law firm helps students earn patent

The Brickbusters sign the patent for Friendchip. Pictured (from left to right) are Foley Patent Agent Arthur Siebel, Avonna Niegelsen, Brietta Coen, Hannah Schulgen, Sarah Scanlan, Olivia Sween, Mary Schrieber, Lucy Schrieber and Foley’s Nicholas Zepnick. Not pictured is Aiden Coen. (Photos courtesy of Foley)

Stemming from a middle school LEGO League project, a group of now-high school students has signed their first patent with the help of a Milwaukee-area law firm.

St. Peter’s Middle School science group, the “Brickbusters” participated in the 2017 World FIRST LEGO League competition, a youth organization that promotes STEM subjects through hands-on learning. The challenge was titled “Animal Allies,” inspiring the group to research and develop “Friendchip.” Designed to assist animal owners, Friendchip is a microchip sensory system that can be implanted into animals. The chip reads the animal’s vital signs and information and, once scanned, will report to an app, comparing the data to that of a healthy animal of the same size or breed. Should the signs indicate the animal is sick or in need of medical attention, the stats can be sent directly to the veterinarian from the app.

“We wanted to help animals tell their owners how they were feeling,” said Mary Schrieber, a Brickbuster and now senior at East Troy High School.

The team, comprised of eight students (seven of which were young women) from grades 6 and 7, placed in the top six of 32,000 teams.

Following the competition, a parent and friend of Foley & Lardner attorney Nick Zepnick reached out and asked the firm to talk to the team about patents. Zepnick, a partner and intellectual property lawyer, along with patent agent Arthur Siebel, met with the group. Not knowing the innovation behind their project, Zepnick and Siebel were surprised to learn that the students were already researching the patenting process. From there, Foley and the Brickbusters came together to figure out how to make a Friendchip patent into reality.

“These guys were sort of the dream clients,” Siebel said. “They were super prepared. I don’t think I’ve ever had quite as much material going into writing a patent application as these guys had put together as this six-inch thick binder of material they sent over.”

A multi-year effort with more than a dozen meetings, the team at Foley and the Brickbusters spent over five years working toward Friendchip’s patent. Foley took on the case pro bono.

“To us, it was really driven middle school students who many might have just pacified, but we took them very seriously and invested a lot of time and energy. It was this opportunity to give back to our community,” Zepnick said.

With the students as clients, Brickbusters were there every step in the process, Foley communicating the revisions and information sent from the patent office and working collaboratively to keep the project going.

On Jan. 25, Foley notified the students U.S. Patent No. 11,229,361 had been granted.

“We were just so excited…we finally made it,” said Lucy Schrieber, a Brickbuster and now Junior at East Troy High School.

Describing the “woohoo moment” of receiving the patent approval, Zepnick said, “No one in the history of mankind had come up with the idea or an obvious variant of it. So, this group of young women, plus one, really did a lot of awesome work and really showed that we need to be taking our youth seriously. We need to take the next generation seriously because at least this group meant business.”

Siebel agreed, “This was a pretty crowded space as far as the technology goes. We were just really glad that we were able to work with the examiner and work with the team to find some common ground that we were able to move forward with.”

As many of the Brickbusters move on to college, East Troy senior Sarah Scanlan plans on attending St. Norbert College to major in accounting and minor in law. With regards to what’s next for Friendchip, she said, “We’re just going to network along the way while we’re networking ourselves.  We’ll just keep in mind our patent and we’ll see where it takes us.”

Mary Schrieber plans on attending the University of Wisconsin-Madison for political science agriculture with the hopes of becoming an agricultural lawyer. Lucy Schrieber would like to pursue a career in the medical field and hopes to determine her path as she begins her senior year this fall.

“We still want to talk about it with the people we meet because we’re going to make a lot of important education, personal and profession connections as we move on,” Mary Schrieber said.

A copy of the 12-page patent can be viewed here.

Foley & Lardner meets with the Brickbusters for the first time to discuss patenting and intellectual property. Pictured (from left to right, starting with back row): Kadie Jelenchick, Sarah Scanlan, Olivia Sween, Mary Schrieber, Nicholas Zepnick, Arthur Siebel, (front row) Lucy Schrieber, Hannah Schulgen, Brietta Coen and Avonna Niegelsen. Not pictured is Aiden Coen.

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