You may think I’ve finally lost it by taking on a frustrating issue such as patenting. Furthermore, I’ve spoofed on a beloved icon such as Bob Ross and his coveted painting series. Fact is, I have been editing and writing patents as a freelancer and am enjoying it.

This is about my experiences in a quest for you readers to get your idea patented and pursue your entrepreneurial side. At the very least, I hope to increase your value as an employee by enlightening you so that you can at least work with the corporate lawyers in your company (or your external firm). By the way, I haven’t finally lost it. I lost it years ago. I could use a check-up from the neck up for sure.

Because I am about to write about a law-based subject I must state that I am not a lawyer or patent agent nor am I giving any legal advice. I’m simply writing about my observations as a freelancer who mostly deals with writing and editing patents. I have also searched patents for myself and as a freelancer. I have some experiences to share there as well.

When I mentioned this subject to Stephen Taranovich my editor, he commented that one of the more iconic industry contacts referred to his disdain for patent trolls or vultures who misuse patents and often wait for companies to fall on hard times and seize their IP for next to nothing in cost. I have experienced this first hand while representing technology on behalf of clients. To say the least, it “ain’t purty.” The same fine people that cut benefits and outsource also like to pay nothing for technology they make billions off.

Gateway to patenting

Patenting is like any government-based task; it is performed according to a set of rules. Throw in the fact that you deal with laws and lawyers, and you will send most people running.

Patent reviewers are the government's gatekeepers. I may address that role in the future as well as the many others in patenting. For now, I realise that patent reviewers are humans like you. They are hired to do a job no matter how restrictive they appear to be. At times, I’ve been that restrictive person as an editor. I’d rather be hard on those drafting patents than to have to face rejection and Office Actions.

Hopefully writing about these observations will steer you around that area of disappointment and the associated costs... as you are most likely paying a lawyer at that point. Nothing is more blissful than a patent that sails through the first time without rejection. This is often an elusive goal especially for first timers. You must pass the reviewer in order to do so. As with most situations, understanding their priorities makes life easier. This is very interesting as the patent office goes through cycles of priorities as told to me by those reviewing court cases. Knowing the current trends and focusing on those aspects could save your patent from hitting a snag and being rejected.

I myself have had my fear of patents mostly due to the unknowns of the process and rules. I tried to patent an idea once and was rejected so the patent was abandoned. I can look back and perhaps reflect on what I would have changed in an effort to shore up my abilities for patenting my own ideas. Things have changed since then with the advent of the provisional patent. Knowing what I know now I would change my approach for my own effort (without advising anyone on theirs).

Putting colours to pictures

I will have to walk a very fine line while writing as I am not a lawyer and must shy away from anything that even smells of legal advice. Therefore the majority of this material will be told in third party or from an observer’s standpoint.

Paragraph nine and we are finally getting to the fun stuff. That’s what happens when you write in a lawsuit happy society. Most of my text is dedicated to legal mumbo jumbo rather than talking about the subject itself. The fact is that I am really enjoying patenting for many reasons. Most of those reasons actually parallel the engineering experience, especially technical writing such as conference papers, data sheets and application notes. In fact, it’s fairly easy for an engineer to become a patent agent as the test is more understandable to those with technical backgrounds. I’m not there yet, however I’m getting closer. I will surely be writing about my experiences with the agency quest. For now, it's on with the fun stuff.

It's now pep talk time. Out of the 50 or so patents I’ve edited, written and researched, how many do you think had an exact duplicate of the invention already claimed? One did. That’s right, one. In other words, your idea may already have been claimed previously, but there may be novelty that you yourself can claim. Two claimed ideas in functional combination may have potential as a novel idea so there is hope. "Novelty" and "prior art" are two of those terms that are simply “new” and “claimed before,” respectively (in loose terminology). Hopefully I will catch myself speaking the language so that I can explain the common terms.

One fun aspect of patenting is that you are describing an idea in words and pictures. This parallels drawing a schematic and performing the calculations. For an application note, one goes further by including verbiage. Although patent writing lays a few mines in the path in terms of wording that sufficiently explains and protects the idea, these two efforts are very similar. Throw in the “rules” of patenting in terms of structure and all you are really doing is writing to a specification. The process is also similar to writing an IEEE conference paper while adhering to their guidelines. Therefore, your frustration level may subside as you become more familiar with the process. At some point, seeking a lawyer or patent writing firm may be a good choice. One must consider their ability to write a patent that is sustainable while protecting their idea. Because we all have different levels of abilities, there are certain points where seeking assistance may be the best choice.

The best part of being a patent editor and writer as well as researching patents is that you grow an appreciation for human creativity. It's amazing what people come up with. It’s also amazing to discover that an idea for a present day patent was actually first disclosed in the 1890s. I see way cool stuff daily. I also put ideas into words and pictures enabling dreams to be at least disclosed and protected if not enabling them to come true. Life is good in this role.

As a technical writer my resume reads "adept at adjusting to any audience from Cub Scouts to CEOs and professors." Patent audiences are a bit more limited in the fact that they are written for someone skilled in the art to recreate the idea. This narrows down my audience and makes drafting patents easier. My desire to recreate ideas in wording is supplemented by my hobby of oil painting where I must understand perspective and depth. Although I rely on an illustrator for my final figure development, I find myself drawing the basic images. I then label the components in a manner that is similar to reference designators for a schematic.

What was I thinking?

It’s fun stuff, however, the projects last several days rather than months like an engineering project. That is perfect for my short attention span as was writing product introductions and application notes. Notice I didn’t say datasheets as some of multifunctional devices have page counts approaching one hundred. There is a lot of detail and dedication in a project with that much enormity. I find myself losing interests in paintings before they are finished as well and often start a new one before completing an old one. In my defense, there are times I must let the paint dry or admit my creativity has reached its burn out level and therefore I must defer to a fresh start another day.

I do the same thing with my writing; I churn it out and then come back later to read it when I’m not so immersed in it. This is the same as stepping back ten feet from a painting and seeing it as an observer would. Seeing the overall picture helps to link the words, sentences and paragraphs like the eye integrates the brush strokes, contrasts and colours. I often find obvious omissions or misinformation the second time around that I miss during the drafting phase.

Patents are like any piece that I write. Viewing it the next day sometimes causes me to raise an eyebrow and say, “What was I thinking?” For the most part however, I can describe the majority of the inventor’s ideas the first time out. My technical background and years as a hobbyist mechanic and engineer really help in this area as I have a good feel for how things go together. As a writer, I’m improving on how to explain it in words. Fortunately, patents also have figures to assist in that effort.

Off we go on this venture towards enabling your ideas while appeasing the government. I hope to make it easy and understandable. As always, I will steer the subject matter based on audience inputs. Just remember, these are merely observations based on my experiences. They are not legal advice in any way shape or form.

Next: What ideas should be kept secret? »

This article first appeared on EE Times Europe.