Primary school children are being urged to let their imaginations run wild. The quest for tomorrowÂs inventors is backed by the Oscar-winning animator Nick Park. The Cracking Ideas initiative asks ten-year-olds to submit innovative designs using everyday objects to the Patent Office.
The search for a new generation of people such as James Dyson (vacuum cleaners) and Trevor BaylissÂ (wind-up radios) is inspired by the need to keep ahead of increasingly innovative competitors inÂ India and the Far East. Park, the creator of Wallace, an inventor of automated trousers andÂ elaborate knitting machines, and his faithful dog Gromit, was 8 when he decided to become anÂ inventor. Inspired by Jules Verne and H. G. Wells, Park kept a Âbox of useful thingsÂ Â old brokenÂ toys and electric parts Â under his bed in the hopes that one day he, too, would build aÂ space-ship or a time machine: ÂI always wanted to be Wallace and maybe I was to an extent. I lovedÂ metalwork at school and once built a model hovercraft with a little motor and propeller. But IÂ also used to invent ideas to send to Blue Peter, like the squeezy bottle which squeezed outÂ different coloured wools or a highly sophisticated nutcracker. The problem was that I could neverÂ find any balls of wool or nuts that fitted into them.Â The world of animation is the perfectÂ compromise, he says, because the inventions are rarely tested by reality. Growing up in PrestonÂ and one of a family of seven, he says that his inspiration was his father, Roger, who died inÂ 2002. An architectural photographer and Âprolific inventorÂ, he was always tinkering in the gardenÂ shed, either building a caravan from scratch or working on ever more complex go-karts.
The uninhibited creativity of the cheese-eating Wallace and Gromit was the perfect vehicle toÂ inspire children, according to Lawrence Smith Higgins, the marketing director at the PatentÂ Office, which is behind the nationwide competition. The office has designed three programmes asÂ lesson plans for teachers, which encompass the story behind inventions such as Lego and tell howÂ advertising sells adidas boots, to help children to kick-start their creativity. Mr Smith HigginsÂ said that the goal was not merely to encourage children to be creative, but to appreciate thatÂ their ideas could have a commercial value: ÂItÂs their property and they could make money out ofÂ it,Â he said. ÂIf we could turn out another Nick Park or James Dyson, we will have more thanÂ achieved our aims.Â Mr Smith Higgins said that in recent years his office had patented an electricÂ games glove designed by an A-level student. The competition runs from June 4 to July 18 and 50Â schools have entered. The winning school will have its design modelled by Park.