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2011 Soy Division Winners (Product: Non-zinc Denture Adhesive)

When people think Soybeans and Corn, they usually do not think cosmetics, computer circuit boards, helmet pads, or nanomolecular car polish. But these are exactly what some of the most recent top contestants in the Soybean and Corn Competition thought—and they stood to win as much as $20,000 for their entries. At the beginning of every fall semester, the Soybean Board and Corn Board send the callout for the competition, and challenge students to develop ideas for new products made out of soybeans or corn. Students from many different colleges at Purdue enter, but those who will be most successful soon realize they need strong information literacy approaches to compete.

Amongst the competition’s many requirements, students must submit patent search reports and marketing reports. But these innovating Purdue undergraduates are not left to struggle through the patent and marketing databases alone—a formidable task, considering that most students’ may never otherwise need to investigate one or the other set of databases for their majors. Charlotte Erdmann, Associate Professor of Library Science, and Mary Dugan, Assistant Professor of Library Science, aid students as they work their way through these challenges.

Early on in the competition, students have to determine whether their idea has already been created and patented. Erdmann assists students in working with the patent search databases available through Purdue Libraries’ Guide to Patent Resources on the Web and in the Engineering Library and PubWest, a special group of databases from the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Students must submit information about whether patents already exist for the product they are seeking to create or even if there are patents on products which are similar to their innovations. Many students do not begin with an idea of what other products have already been patented and have no idea of how to go about finding this information. For some, Intellectual  Property is a nebulous concept at best. Erdmann not only helps students understand how to acquire this information but also aids them in figuring out how to understand it.

When students arrive at the marketing phase, they can then turn to Dugan. Students must find marketing information to write up a report, and they must also develop a marketing plan for their product. However, most students who enter do not come from the School of Management and are not sure what to do with the marketing. Dugan helps students learn how to look for information in the marketing databases on products that might be similar to their own or even the same product but made with materials other than soybeans or corn. They gather information about these other products, determining what companies sell them, how well they sell, and what kinds of people tend to buy them. They then synthesize the information for a marketing report.

Although students do stand to gain an impressive monetary prize from this competition, they inevitably gain a lot more. What they learn about information literacy through the competition will certainly help them produce more excellent entries, but it also prepares them for the kinds of work they will no doubt be doing when they leave Purdue and begin working with products for the companies that will employ them.

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