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Cyclical — inventing and patenting a product

Background

When I was a senior in college, my wife and I had just moved to a tiny apartment and started decorating the space. We wanted a nice and useful calendar, but we couldn’t find any that fit our desires. So I thought I’d take that as a personal design challenge.

The initial idea

We wanted a reusable calendar because we want to be environmentally friendly, but also because we would be moving again and I didn't want to search for a new calendar next year. The more interesting creative calendars I found were the ones using the same grid and content for all the months. With that in mind I came up with my own version.

Initial calendar idea

I overlapped all the months of the year into a single grid. I was pretty proud of that because that’s something I had never seen before, but when I showed it to Kate, she wasn’t thrilled.

“Can’t you hide the things we don’t need? It’s hard to read"—she said.

I had thought something similar but I was enamoured with my initial idea. She was right, so I decided to keep pushing the concept.

Scrappy prototyping

This time, I started looking for something more practical, not only good-looking. I printed my design on paper and started thinking outside the screen. How can I hide the unnecessary information? I folded the days of the week on the left and right forming a loop, and then I used the same loop concept for the months, but with a different piece of paper.

Paper prototypes

I experimented with multiple versions of that idea on paper, and they looked promising. I created a downloadable template and made a tutorial video on how to build it.

Download template

Improving the experience

This concept allowed the calendar to be reused every month and every year, but paper is not a very durable material which went against the very goal the calendar.

What's the point of a resuable calendar if you can’t really reuse it for too long?

I decided to take the project futher and prototype the idea in wood. I used power tools like a electric saw and vertical drill to create the first prototype, but they didn't work very well for the small details. For the next prototypes, I engraved and cut the pieces using a laser cutter, which gave me the precision I needed.

Laser engraving, cutting and sanding wood pieces
Multiple iterations of the wooden prototype

One big UX problem remained, and that was displaying unnecessary numbers during specific months (dates 29, 30, 31). I tried making those numbers blocks rotate on the vertical axis to hide the numbers. This was particularly fiddly and intricate to make; but ultimately it worked!

Fixed numbers and rotating numbers

The final aspect of this calendar that bothered me was the back of it, because it doesn’t show anything useful, just random numbers. If the calendar is placed where both sides can be seen, the back looks like a mistake. I decided to use the top holes to hook on a simple cover. That simple back cover evolved into a marketing opportunity.

It works!

When I finished making the calendar I realized I had made something pretty original and useful.

  • First of all, it’s reusable. That means you don’t need to waste more paper in paper calendars.
  • It can be bought at anytime of the year, not only during the beginning of the year as regular calendars.
  • It’s simple to use, and it only has 3 pieces. Other perpetual calendars have tens of pieces, which is harder to handle and store.
  • The calendar displays a full month’s information, not only one day, as most perpetual calendars.
The 3 calendar components
Assembled components

Can I patent this?

That’s what I asked myself when I realized the uniqueness of my creation. I didn't know anything about patents, and I was sure I wouldn't be able to afford a lawyer at that point. Before giving up though, I started reading many patents, and then I thought to myself

“this doesn’t seem that difficult after all, I think I can do it myself.”

I decided to start the process on my own until I needed professional help. Turns out, I did the whole thing without a lawyer. This was a long and complicated process, and I’ll be describing it in more detail in a Medium article I’m preparing. Stay tuned!

My patent document

Results

An innovative physical perpetual calendar, patented without a lawyer.

Next steps

One of these days, you’ll be able to order this calendar online. For now, I’m still figuring out how to manufacture it at scale. I’ll probably start my own Kickstarter campaign! If you have an idea or someone who might be able to help me, let me know!