In 1978, Cliff Ensley ’69, ’70, G’71 had an idea to start his own business and just $2,500 to do it. He was used to taking on challenges—there was no stopping him. Growing up, he struggled with a learning disability—at…
A System and Method for Tracking and Managing Skills: TCLC Helps a Rochester Entrepreneur Protect a Bright Idea
It is perhaps difficult to remember a time before the nutrition facts label. Before 1990, information about the calories, cholesterol, fat content and vitamins in the food we eat was sparse and non-standard. Now the label is a mandatory, ubiquitous and familiar part of our lives, the recipe for its success being its simplicity, uniformity and a reader-friendly design—it’s something anyone from a child to an adult can understand.
With a similar idea in mind, Ryan M. Frischmann, a web and application developer, writer and entrepreneur from Rochester has created the Skills Label for use in the education and training industry. With help from the College of Law’s Technology Commercialization Law Center (TCLC), as well as the New York State Science and Technology Law Center (NYSSTLC), Frischmann has moved his idea through intellectual property (IP) landscaping to the patent protection stage.
“The Skills Label—like a nutrition label on food or a résumé of professional experiences—offers a clear and concise way to represent skills someone has learned by performing any task or experience,” explains Frischmann. Using an easy-to-read display, the Skills Label can succinctly express learning outcomes for activities inside and outside a classroom, a short course, a training module, online games and so on. “Essentially, the Skills Label can be used any time learning takes place,” says Frischmann. “It is designed to be adaptable for all types of institutions, such as schools, colleges, executive education and vocational institutions.”
In an age of multiple types of testing, certification, skills acquisition and learning management systems, Frischmann says, “There’s a need to standardize the way testing and skills acquisition is communicated, for teachers, students and parents. Right now, it’s a fragmented landscape, and it is still unclear how a student tracks his or her learning through each educational stage.”
The spark for the Skills Label came from Frischmann’s prior experience working in competency-based learning. “In 2011, I was developing a methodology—and, later, an application—for the ‘Skills Based Approach’ to learning, a way to standardize a person’s list of skills within his or her level of expertise. In 2013, I published ‘A Skills Based Approach to Developing a Career’ to share this methodology with a wider audience.”
In trying to reduce the amount of typing in managing tasks within the application, Frischmann says he thought of creating a new, standardized display: the Skills Label. “When someone clicks on the label, all the information about that person’s learning experience becomes immediately available. By 2016, I had created a workable solution.”
After developing the labels prototype, Frischmann recognized that there was not a predefined standard in the marketplace for tracking learning. He performed a patent search and filed two provisional patent applications for Skills Label in 2016.
“As I was deciding whether to file a non-provisional patent, I decided to approach the New York State Science and Technology Law Center at the College of Law,” says Frischmann. “I worked with them to develop an IP landscape to get a sense of the value of the patent, and NYSSTLC performed a market analysis and an independent patent search. They found some interesting concepts, but nothing that directly conflicted with mine. Skills Label was clearly distinguished as a novel concept.”
“Professor Dean Bell, with the help of College of Law students, researched Frischmann’s technology as part of our summer program,” explains NYSSTLC Associate Director Molly Zimmerman. “The work we did for Ryan demonstrates how the NYSSTLC program helps entrepreneurs determine whether to continue investing time and resources into a new technology.” In fact, Skills Label was as one of 14 summer 2017 projects for NYSSTLC, completed with guidance from Bell and fellow adjunct professors Dominick Danna and Chris Horacek.
After working with NYSSTLC, Frischmann’s next step was to ask Professor Shubha Ghosh, director of TCLC, for help moving the Skills Label concept from the IP landscape stage to the patent filing stage. Ghosh reviewed the patent landscape and provisional application, filed in fall 2016, in time for him to file the final application in August 2017.
“Ryan has a useful invention, and he has submitted a strong application,” notes Ghosh. “The next steps are to beta-test and develop the invention for commercialization. We have been encouraging Ryan to move on to that next step. In the meantime, he is waiting to hear about his patent application and is looking into marketing opportunities outside the United States.”
Frischmann says the skills label will create value by introducing familiarity and a basis for “comparisons of like objects.” So in addition to course credit, students can earn and track specific skills themselves, and the teacher (or institution or textbook company) can put these learning outcomes “right on the label,” placed up front on a book, website, curriculum or task sheet. “In this way, the Skills Label will present standardized information the way the nutrition label tells us about vitamins on a cereal box,” observes Frischmann.
Other aspects of Frischmann’s patent include verifying the accuracy of the expectations and outcomes on the labels, assigning credentials earned, and deriving a return of investments (ROI) for learning resources. “In the long term, the data collected from these labels might provide a strong step towards tracking learning through a lifetime,” Frischmann adds.
Frischmann says he’s approached professors and other educators who say his idea makes a lot of sense. “So now I’m looking to see if publishers or educational institutions will pick up the Skills Label idea, and I’m looking for funding, collaborators and partnerships to move the idea forward,” adds Frischmann. “The reason I wanted to apply for a patent is to protect my idea so that I can approach a potential partner and feel confident that they won’t say, ‘This concept is great … let’s make some tweaks and do it ourselves.’”