Last time we said how important it is to get it right when you craft your headline about the BIG idea, the bicycle in full glory. And we pointed out that you don’t have to talk in tongues when you throw the words up on your screen. Plain English, even colorful English, will work well. Here let’s put aside the question of which prose style to pick and concentrate on what to say and how to say it in that headline.
Like any good headline, you want to include the words that you need and leave words you don’t need out. Happily, the patent law more or less doesn’t tell you anything about what goes in or what stays out. That’s up to you. I say “more or less” because in the more formal places where you lay out the BIG idea in the patent you are stuck writing it so that it falls into one or another of a few very large idea bins in a way that doesn’t make a lot of sense. Without getting into the exquisite complexity of how the bins are defined and kept apart, I’ll give two examples of bins: BIG ideas for things and BIG ideas for ways to do stuff.
BIG thing ideas are supposed to be about the pieces (things) that make up the BIG idea and how the pieces go together to make the thing. The bicycle, the thing sitting in the garage ready to ride, is a REAL thing version of a BIG thing idea. Yet just because you have a bunch of pieces in mind, you don’t have a BIG thing idea unless you have some notion about how the pieces go together to make the thing.
If you describe the BIG idea of the bicycle as “The BIG idea is at least one wheel, a seat, and a frame” you have failed. Wheels, seats, and frames didn’t just fall off the turnip truck yesterday. They’ve have been around awhile. Just throwing them all together on the workshop floor doesn’t make a BIG idea any more than throwing the words together in the sentence makes something useful in a patent. You must say something about how they go together in a way that makes the BIG idea useful. Maybe something like “The BIG thing idea is a least one wheel and a seat both connected to a frame.”
Now you’ve got a thing made of three pieces and you’ve said something about how the pieces go together. But you have two problems. One is that, as a headline, it’s boring. Nobody is going to read this article. Face it, they’re going to turn to the one about the Marc Anthony-Jennifer Lopez divorce. The other problem is that it really isn’t an IDEA because it’s old. Recall that an antique chair-style spinning wheel had a frame and a seat and a spinning wheel connected to the frame.
You (and scads of other folks) will try to solve both problems by tinkering with your headline to read something like this: “The BIG idea is a thing that you can use to get yourself down to the ice cream store on Lightbulb Street and that has at least one wheel and a seat both connected to a frame.” It’s more fun to read. And it may be new; you likely cannot ride a spinning wheel over to buy that two-scoop butter pecan cone with chocolate sprinkles on it.
But there are problems with this fix and we’ll talk about them in the next lesson.
Okay. You’ve settled on your notion of the BIG idea for the bicycle that the inventor showed you. Let’s say that, roughly speaking, it’s “a conveyance that has at least one wheel and a place for a rider.” Some phrasing of this idea is going to be put in several places in the patent that you are writing. We’ll point the places out later, but for now let’s focus on exactly what words you will use and in what order to phrase this BIG idea. How well the patent will protect the BIG idea depends a lot on your care in doing this job.
In addition to its main purpose of protecting the BIG idea in its full glory, including every possible REAL example of the BIG idea, your word sketch of the BIG idea ought to be easy to follow, fun to read (at least as fun to read as something this un-fun to read can be), clear, accurate, precise, and concise (no, those are not all the same thing). Before we get to the central task, let’s talk about the niceties of the English that you use. These notions about style will be useful for all of the writing you do for the patent, not only for the BIG idea.
Above all, make your writing easy to follow and inviting. In the lingo that you piece together to frame the BIG idea, you have choices. One involves stiltedness. Will you pick common English words as your tools? Or technical jargon? Technical jargon and coined phrases (phrases like “unitary wheel-holding structure”) not only can cause trouble later, but they also make it harder for the reader to grasp your meaning. On the other hand, if you go the normal English route, will you aim for high-brow prose or morning newspaper style or something in between? And can you pick words that are clever and striking and put them together in interesting ways?
Technical jargon and coined phrases delivered in a high-brow boring style may lead you this way on the BIG bicycle idea “An apparatus that can convey an itinerant human from an initial situs to a terminal situs and that encompasses at least one rotating ground-engaging device mounted on a structural framework and a traveler support mounted on the structural framework.” Morning newspaper style can be different: “A gadget that can carry you from here to there and has at least one wheel and a seat both held on a frame.” I like that one better. It’s easier to read and paints a picture in my head. It uses plain English words in their usual way. And words like gadget are mildly amusing.
In the next lesson we will talk about the main job of your word sketch: protecting the BIG idea fully.