Note: This article is part of a series on how to write a great patent application.
The outline is used to further define and refine your invention. This is a place where you can organize all of your thoughts. As you work on the outline and even the patent application, you need to continually be refining your understanding of what the invention is. You do that in the outline.
What I mean by further defining and refining the invention is that you need to understand the design constraints of the invention. Those refer to the maximum and minimum values of the structures or steps of your invention yet still allow you to achieve the stated benefit.
Take some time to list all of the benefits of your invention. For each benefit, list the structure(s) (i.e. parts) and steps that achieve that benefit. Next, jot down the design constraints for each part and step.
List the parts (i.e. structure)/steps and the benefits of the invention
Start the outline with the benefits of the invention
A benefit refers to the functional advantage of your invention. For example, the invention may make something faster, cheaper, easier, more secure, etc.
The easiest way to identify the benefits of your invention is to look at your sales webpage or your unique selling proposition (i.e. USP). Your product will have a list of benefits you are trying to sell to the client. These are the benefits you are trying to get a patent on, so they need to be included in the patent application.
Throughout this resource, we will outline a patent application for a Manfrotto PIXI Mini Tripod. See the image below:
In order to better understand the premise of this article, you have to do two things:
- Watch the following video on how the tripod operates. We will be referring to this product throughout the patent application writing resource.
- Read the tutorial on how the device works. I took the tripod apart and explained how it works.
The benefits of this tripod are:
- It is quick and easy to adjust the swivel head.
- It has an ergonomic handle.
List the structure of the invention
Now that we know the benefits of the invention, we need to list the structures or steps that achieve those benefits.
Start with the basics. You need to list the parts of the tripod. If you don’t know the particular parts, you can Google them. You should try to use common names for the parts, but in some instances, you will need to make up a term.
After a quick Google search, we have determined that the parts of a tripod are:
- Ball head
- Head (swivel)
- Body of ball head
- Surface is textured.
- Push button
- Spring to bias button out
- Crown (top part of the hat)
- Wedge-shaped member
- Biased to lock head with spring.
- Push to release head.
- Pushes the slider toward a lock position.
List the steps of the invention
The steps of the invention refer to the process steps taken to achieve the invention’s benefits.
You can write this section from the perspective of a person or machine/apparatus performing the steps. Alternatively, you can detail the steps from a manufacturing standpoint.
For example, the user’s steps could be:
- Gripping the legs of the tripod when the legs are in the closed position.
- Attaching a camera to the head.
- Depressing a button while simultaneously holding the camera:
- The depressing step may comprise the step of traversing a slider toward a shorter side of a wedge-shaped member.
- Releasing the wedge-shaped member from a ball of the tripod’s head.
- Swiveling the head to adjust the position of the camera to the desired position.
- Releasing the button.
Now, it’s your turn. Do the same type of brainstorming for the other benefits. You need to include as much as possible from your brainstorming session in the outline.
Stay positive. Don’t get discouraged. It’s hard work to write a good patent application. Be creative too. You may find new avenues to get a patent on your invention.
List the design constraints for the structure and steps of the invention
In the tripod example, let’s think about the possible design constraints for the ball.
One of the constraints is that the ball material has to have a high coefficient of friction so that the wedge can press on the surface of the button with enough strength to prevent the head from rotating after the button is released.
Define the invention
It’s time to define the invention. The invention of the product refers to the structure (i.e. the parts, the shape, the materials and the relationships between the parts) that helps you achieve the benefits of the invention. You just wrote down all of the parts (i.e. structure) of the invention. Use those parts to describe how things work.
In our tripod example, the structure that enables the quick and easy head adjustment consists of:
- The button.
- The spring.
- The wedge-shaped member.
- The slider that traverses between a locked position and unlocked position.
In broad terms, the invention is directed to a quick and easily adjustable head of a tripod. But that is not the invention. The invention has to do with the parts (i.e. structure) of the tripod that enable this benefit. In our example, those would be the wedge-shaped member and the slider.
We can use these parts to describe the invention: “Here is my version of the tripod. The invention is a quick and easily adjustable head. This feature is accomplished with a spring-biased button. When biased outward, this button traverses a slider that presses on a wedge-shaped member. That member also presses on the ball of a head to set its angle.”
Do the same type of brainstorming for your invention. Let your mind explore all of the ways to achieve the benefit being claimed.
List options, variations, alternative embodiments, an MVP and the optimized version
Now that we have the basic parts of the product and the design constraints that achieve the benefits, we need to fill the outline with options, variations and alternative embodiments. These are used to help you claim different aspects of the invention if needed later on.
Options refer to non-preferred structures and steps. For example, the preferred material for the tripod may be aluminum. Alternatives may include steel, carbon fiber, etc. You need to list other options for your invention in the outline.
Variations refer to non-preferred aspects of the structures and steps. For example, the force required to depress the button may be one pound. However, the variations may include ranges between 0.5-5 pounds. You need to list the variations of your invention in the outline.
Alternative embodiments refer to other types of parts. For example, the tripod has short non-extendable legs. However, a tripod may also have extendable legs. These alternative embodiments need to be listed in the outline.
MVP stands for minimum viable product. Business people refer to the MVP as the minimally COMMERCIALLY viable product. For patent applications, the MVP relates to the minimum version that achieves the benefits REGARDLESS OF ITS COMMERCIAL VIABILITY. For example, the MVP could be an extra-large tripod. This extra-large tripod may not be commercially viable because large tripods typically hold heavy equipment and the spring may not be strong enough to support the weight of the camera. Nevertheless, for patenting purposes, the MVP will include large tripods as well.
The optimized version of the invention is your preferred version. This is what an inventor often thinks of as the invention—the optimized product that you will be selling in the market.
In short, you need to list all of the aspects of your invention in the outline.
Disclaimer: Use the information in this article at your own risk. It takes many years to learn how to draft a well-written patent application under the guidance of a senior patent attorney.
How to write a patent application?
- Step 1: How to write the abstract and title of the patent application?
- Step 2: Download a sample outline, numbering worksheet and patent template
- Step 3: How to develop the outline of your patent application?
- Step 4: How to show your invention through the drawings?
- Step 5: Which section of the patent application should be written first?
- Step 6: How to write a claim for your patent application?
- Step 7: How to write the detailed description section of your patent application?
- Step 8: How to write the brief summary section of the patent application?
- Step 9: How to write the background section of the patent application?
- Step 10: How to write the summary paragraphs of the Detailed Description and Brief Summary sections?
- Step 11: How to write the abstract and title of the patent application?
- Step 12: Reread your patent application over and over again