Collegiate Inventors Competition FAQs

Find answers to the most frequently asked questions about the Collegiate Inventors Competition.

Entering the Competition

The Collegiate Inventors Competition® (CIC), a program of the National Inventors Hall of Fame®, is a national competition that recognizes and rewards innovations, discoveries and research by college and university students and their faculty advisers. Introduced in 1990, the competition encourages students who actively pursue invention. While Finalists frequently come from science, engineering, mathematics and technology studies, creativity and innovation can emerge from any course of study.

CIC receives inventions of all types from all fields. Each invention must be the original idea and work product of the student/adviser 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 year prior to the date of submission to CIC. The invention, a reduced-to-practice idea or working model/prototype, must be the work of a student or team of students, either as a class project or as an independent project. Additionally, the invention must be capable of being reproduced.

Entrants must provide their general student information, an essay including a brief description or abstract of their invention, a letter of recommendation from their faculty adviser or a professional reference, a literature/patent search and summary, and any relevant supporting or supplemental materials they wish to submit, such as charts, graphs, videos, articles or samples. In addition, entrants must fulfill our student status requirements.

Full-time or part-time students enrolled in a U.S. college or university between June 2023 and June 2024 are eligible to enter. In the case of a team, all team members must be enrolled as full-time or part-time students in a U.S. college or university between June 2023 and June 2024. Students who are currently enrolled full time and will graduate in May or June 2024 are eligible. Non-U.S. citizens are eligible as long as they are enrolled in a U.S. college or university and can meet our student status requirements.

No, unless they can meet the stated part-time student status requirement.

To be eligible to win, students chosen as Finalists must attend the final judging round and awards ceremony in Washington, D.C. (Airfare and hotel will be paid for by the competition.) Additionally, Finalists will be asked to officially confirm their status as students.

Similar to a letter of recommendation, an adviser and/or professional reference letter adds credibility to your invention, and it confirms the work you submit is your own.

Yes; however, you must designate an individual to provide a professional reference for purposes of the competition. This person, who must submit a letter on your behalf, may be a counselor, mentor or faculty member who knows you and with whom you feel comfortable discussing your invention/research.

A maximum of four people may comprise each team.

Teams must select whether to be considered in the “Undergraduate” or “Graduate” category. Designations may be reassigned at the discretion of the Judges.

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) has already been patented or disclosed by another party/inventor, or (2) you have been issued a patent for the invention or published more than one year prior to the date of submission to the competition.

No. The goal of CIC is to recognize, reward 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.

No; however, keep in mind that to obtain patent protection in the United States, an inventor must file a patent application within one year of the date of public disclosure or commercial use of the invention. For information on how to file a patent application, visit

Yes. If you have not filed a provisional patent application and need information on how to do so, visit

Yes. A literature and/or patent search is an essential component for determining the originality of the idea presented in your application. In addition, your search will be used by our Judges, along with their own research, to help distinguish your invention from other inventions and concepts. We are expecting you to make a good faith effort to identify inventions, discoveries and articles (prior art) that are similar or related to your work and to distinguish your invention from that prior art.

A thorough search considers all prior art. That is, it considers all known information relevant to your invention, including earlier U.S. patents, foreign patents and nonpatent literature (e.g., newspapers, journal articles, published papers, etc.). To obtain more information on conducting a patent search, visit the USPTO at or consult your school’s technology transfer office.

The USPTO has a free, searchable online database allowing users to search U.S. patents issued from 1790 to the present. Information on how to use the database can be found at In addition, many states have at least one Patent and Trademark Resource Center (PTRC). You can find the PTRC closest to your location by visiting the USPTO website.

Competition Details

No. CIC is not a scholarship program and does not provide direct tuition assistance. The competition recognizes innovations, discoveries and research by college and university students by awarding unrestricted cash prizes.

CIC Finalists receive an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C., where they will network with National Inventors Hall of Fame® Inductees.

Winners in both the Graduate and Undergraduate categories are awarded $10,000 and a USPTO Patent Acceleration Certificate. Runners-Up in both categories are awarded $5,000.

Please note that if a Finalist is awarded competition winnings of $600 or more, a 1099 form will be issued to them at the conclusion of the tax year. The winning Finalist must be legally eligible to provide a completed and signed W-9 prior to payout. Please see the following link for details and instructions:

Entering CIC does not require you to make any “enabling” disclosures; that is, we will 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 including Judges who are reviewing your entries are bound by nondisclosure agreements. The National Inventors Hall of Fame only uses the approved titles and short descriptions of our Finalists’ inventions for publicity purposes.

All Judges are required to sign confidentiality and nondisclosure agreements stating 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, they are required to recuse themselves from reviewing or judging an entry.

Finalists are notified by telephone approximately two months prior to the final judging round and will be featured on the National Inventors Hall of Fame’s website. Entrants who are not selected as Finalists will be notified by email.

CIC Finalists should bring college or university gear to wear on the first day of the competition, as well as professional wear for the second day, when Finalists will formally present their inventions to CIC Judges. Further information and guidance will be provided to Finalists as the event approaches.

Winners are announced during the competition, once the final judging round concludes, and will be featured on the National Inventors Hall of Fame’s website.


The final round of judging will be held in Washington, D.C., and the awards ceremony will be held at the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia, in October.

In Round One, our initial judging panel reviews each entry submitted to CIC. 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 to determine Finalists.

In Round Two, all Finalists or Finalist Teams meet individually with the final judging panel for a formal presentation of their inventions. The Undergraduate and Graduate categories may have different judging panels. After all Finalists have made their presentations and entertained questions from the panel, the Judges deliberate and select Winners in each category.

Round One 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. These Judges, all volunteers, represent government agencies, research institutions, professional associations and private industries. Entries are assigned to Judges based on the particular field or category of the invention.

Round Two Judges include Inductees of 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.

Due to the large number of entries we receive each year, individual feedback cannot be provided to all participants.