Homer Alaska - Schools

Story last updated at 9:54 PM on Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Inventions lead to courtroom experience

By McKibben Jackinsky
Staff Writer


Mia Alexson, left, and Sadie Lewis act as judges during Fireweed Academy's recent mock trial.

For Fireweed fifth-grader Mia Alexson, coming up with entries for Fireweed Academy's "invention convention" was no problem. Combining her love of skiing with her imagination, Mia created three items for the convention, held the afternoon of March 9.

"My first was a ski pole with a tube inside it that you could drink out of," said Mia of what she labeled a "water pole." It allowed skiers to satisfy their thirst without having to carry an additional piece of gear.

Her "wax catcher" was designed to eliminate wasted ski wax. Her "tip clips" used corks to cover the dangerously sharp tips of ski poles.

Creativity is only one part of being an inventor as Mia and other Fireweed third- through sixth-graders learned. They each were tasked with going through a streamlined patent application process that included researching their inventions to ensure they aren't stepping on other inventors' toes.

Mia discovered the wax catcher was hers and hers alone. Carrying liquid in ski poles wasn't an original idea, but Mia's design offered unique features. The need for ski-tip safety had been addressed by another inventor, but Mia's solution was one of a kind.

To help the students understand the value of patents, copyrights and protection of intellectual property, Fireweed Principal Kiki Abrahamson decided to take the lesson a giant step further — by having the kids stage mock trials on intellectual property issues with real live cases.

The first case, Rogers v. Koons, focused on copyright infringement of photography used in greeting cards and other merchandise. The second case, Monster Communication v. Turner Broadcasting System considered whether a movie biography violated the plaintiff's copyrights by inserting a short clip of the plaintiff's video footage in a biography created by the defendant.

Ginny Espenshade, executive director of the Kenai Peninsula Youth Court, was recruited to help with the effort. Abrahamson reserved one of the Homer courtrooms to add authenticity to the experience. The two 15-minute trials were held March 7.


Photo provided

Student prosecuting attorney Charlie Menke gets some assistance real-life prosecuting attorney Benjamin Jaffa.

"You should have seen the kids ... when they walked into that courtroom, it really came alive. They just lit up," said Abrahamson.

Microphones had to be tested. The student judges were given real judge robes to wear. Witnesses were administered oaths. Attorneys asked their questions.

During the exercise, the students were surprised by visits from Homer District Court Judge Margaret Murphy; Benjamin Jaffa, an assistant district attorney from Kenai; Malia Anderson, a clerk of the court in Homer; and Charlie Walsworth, a court services officer in Homer and former principal of West Homer Elementary School. Espenshade also sat in on the trials, offering assistance as needed.

"I learned being a lawyer is fun. I learned a lot about fair use and a whole bunch of stuff about copyrights and patents," said Charlie Menke, a fifth-grader who played the role of a prosecuting attorney. Charlie even learned that public speaking, at least in a courtroom setting, was "pretty fun."

The judge's robe may have been a bit baggy for Mia, but wearing it made her feel "very bossy," she admitted.

Jaffa complimented the students on their performances.

"He said, 'All I've got to say is you guys were much more together and a lot more polite than a lot of courtrooms I've been in,'" said Abrahamson.

When will Mia's inventions be ready for market?

"I don't know, but some of my friends want them," she said.

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at mckibben.jackinsky@homernews.com