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Patent writing–Lesson 10, Unicycle meets one-wheeled bicycle

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Last time, we used the example of the oxymoronic one-wheel bicycle to show how much more elegant and spare the sketch of a BIG idea can be than the full color high resolution picture of a REAL example of it.

As you get ready to write the patent, you need to be on the lookout for the BIG idea, not just the features of the REAL example. Ideas are bigger, broader, and purer than real examples of them, because when you turn the BIG ideas into the real examples you assemble lots of real-world specific parts to make them work.

Your goal is to produce a patent that stakes out the BIG idea against competitors. After all, that big idea, in its full glory, is what the inventor has brought to the world. Without it, no real example, not the inventor’s bicycle and especially not any competitor’s version of the bicycle could exist. The world would not be as nice a place. The BIG idea spans all of the REAL examples that it has enabled the world—now enriched by the BIG idea—to make.

So don’t handcuff your theory about the BIG idea to things—like a second wheel on a bicycle—that naturally seem to be part of it, merely because they happen to be part of the real example that has been presented to you. Think your way out of that box. Otherwise, you can be tricked into imaging that all of the key pieces that are needed to make the REAL example somehow must be part of the broad concept that the inventor has brought to the world, in other words must be in your recitation of her BIG idea.

Don’t be fooled. The BIG idea—a conveyance that has at least one wheel—like every idea, lives in the mind. That BIG idea may not be realizable without adding other parts; but the need to add those other parts doesn’t detract from the raw, simple, broad idea. In this part of your work as a patent writer, you are hunting for the BIG idea. Not for the BIG realization of the BIG idea. Your goal should be to write a patent that protects that BIG idea in a way that spans all of the REAL examples of it.

You may wonder if it is fair to phrase the BIG idea as “a frame with at least one wheel and a place for the rider to hang on,” a phrasing that will cover a unicycle, a device that the inventor hadn’t thought of. The answer is yes. Her BIG idea was the clever notion that it would be a lot easier to get around town if you didn’t have to ride on cousin Igor’s back, but instead on a conveyance that used a rotating wheel to ride along the ground. That notion works whether the conveyance is her REAL example bicycle, or some newcomer’s unicycle. The unicycle uses her BIG idea in a conveyance that is useful for getting around town and it’s built in a similar way with a frame and a seat.

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