Predicting The Future Through Patents
PREDICTING THE FUTURE THROUGH PATENTS
Daniel Bacon loves two things: mountain bikes and bike patents. On his website, Daniel breaks down the complicated language used to draw up patents and condenses it into a few easy-to-digest sentences. We wanted to see if looking through some of the latest patents from top bike companies would reveal technologies we might be riding in the future. We also just wanted to learn more about Daniel’s second love for patent drawings. So, let’s dive right into it.
DANIEL BACON—THE MAN BEHIND THE WEBSITE
I’m a patent engineer for a small startup called Fenix.AI. I’m writing and deciphering patent documents in the AI, semiconductor, telecom and display fields for huge companies that do hundreds or thousands of patents every year.
In my free time, I’m building a website called Wheelbased.com where I take my patent experience and mix it with my hobby of bikes. Patent documents are notoriously difficult to read, as they’re both an engineering document and a legal document. They’re full of really juicy information that manufacturers would never release if they didn’t want explicit legal protection. So, I’m taking hard-to-read/hard-to-find patent documents that are freshly released from the USPTO and breaking down the idea/novelty/parts into a more manageable and fun format. I don’t want people to be daunted by a pseudo-science paper. Those are horrible to read. Additionally, I am presenting these ideas without any marketing input. I’m writing exactly what the companies want to be protected and exactly how the ideas work. In the end, I’d like this to be a repository for the newest bike technology, whether it ever makes it to production or not. I also make sure they all have a quick description, because I know lots of people only want the broad idea in four sentences or fewer.
So far, this venture has been much more successful than I had imagined, with many industry insiders reading what I’m putting out (including you). And this isn’t a new idea. There are IP watchdogs in many of the larger industries. Until now, the bike industry didn’t seem to have anyone checking patent filings regularly, which is where I’d like to be. I’m hoping I can be a hub of information for everyone interested in what’s going on behind the closed doors of these manufacturers.
What sparked your interest in bikes?
My interest in bikes started around 2014 when I moved from southeast Georgia to North Carolina. There wasn’t a riding scene anywhere I’ve ever lived before that. Being within two hours of Pisgah made it easy to fall in love with the sport. I was a kart racer before that and started to pull back from that sport because it was so expensive and demanding. Bikes filled the void for technical interest and the hyper-focus needed for racing. There’s nothing like the feeling of racing—anything. Simplicity is a big part of bikes as well. They’re simple machines (right now), so maintenance is pretty easy. Another big part of riding is going out into the middle of nowhere with my wife. It’s been a great hobby we can both enjoy together. She’s pretty awesome and has taken to riding well, even hitting some of the black runs at the park with me.
Where’s your favorite place to ride?
The best place I’ve ridden is the Pisgah area. I have a hard time thinking of a second place. Bent Creek, Brevard and DuPont are just such a joy. The riding is so good. The soil is amazing, and the Hub is the best place to hang out after a ride. I remember the exact moment I fell in love with riding. I was riding down Greens Lick at full speed and got that full-body rush; that was it for me.
What do you find most interesting about bicycle technology?
Bike tech is in an interesting place at the moment. I’d compare it to the ’70s and ’80s in F1, where technological advancement was moving in leaps while also being modern. I see a new idea every single week, which supports my entire website with a single idea (so far). I also really enjoy mechanical solutions to mechanical problems. Anyone can put a sensor, a controller, and a servo on anything to improve whatever they’re trying to improve, but it takes some serious knowhow to solve a problem with mechanics. I’m also seeing some e-bike-specific suspension designs. Just a few years ago that would have been unheard of. Manufacturers would make a suspension system, throw a heavy tune on the shock and slap it on an e-bike. Not anymore; e-bikes are getting their systems.
How do the bike industry’s patents compare to those of other industries?
There are far fewer than my normal job in the AI, semiconductor and display industries. There seems to be much less competition at the moment because there’s so much low-hanging fruit; but, there is still a lot coming through. In one week, I can see a new chainring, a new suspension, and a new electronic system. The documents are also significantly easier to read, but that may just be the interest I have in bikes. And they have cool pictures. Patent figures are an art form, and some of these drawings are cool to see.
Do you think any controversial ideas are being developed behind the scenes?
Yes, active systems in bikes. More specifically, active systems in race bikes. It’s one thing to put an active system in a commuter bike, which will make for a safer, more comfortable and easier-to-use bike; just like our cars. When these systems make it to racing, we’ll have problems. Active systems will take riding away from the rider and directly into the hands of engineers. I want to see the racers race. On the flip side, don’t ever question the competitiveness of an engineer. Just because he or she is not on the bike doesn’t mean the engineer is not fully invested in the clock. The reality of racing is the engineers control speed far more than the racers and having the resources and brainpower to make anything extremely fast and expensive. I am not saying there shouldn’t be any engineers behind the scenes, but there needs to be an explicit disconnect between data and the bike itself. The current process is: engineers collect data then make manual adjustments based on the data. The process should stay that way.