We left the first installment with Luc from the Crystal Clear Watchmaking podcast, having just discussed developing a new watch complication. It was certainly not a standard development process!
This week we discuss the patent application process and how we ended up with a 21-millimeter lug size. Luc has some particularly strong opinions on this, but I think he understood the rationale after we explained it to him.
Please do enjoy the conversation.
Some Patents – Patently Ridiculous?
The patent was so interesting to me because you can patent many things. Some of them, in my opinion, are patently ridiculous, pun intended. Your patent application was initially denied, which blows my mind. Some people have come up with new hairspring shapes, and those have received patents. It seems absurd that bending a wire slightly differently from how everyone else bends wire can be patented. Yet you are making a new watch complication, and they said, “No, we don’t want to grant the patent,” on your first application.
Can you take us through some of your patent lawyer troubles?
Sure, it is fascinating because the patent attorney we worked with was fantastic. The way he went into such amazing detail as we explained our idea and how he framed it in the final submission. He did a tremendous job. Well, I think he did a tremendous job. I am not a patent writer, but the way he wrote the patent application and how he detailed our idea was terrific. When I read the first draft, I was blown away, to be honest.
Then, of course, the critical part is at the end, where you have to make claims about your patent or invention. We had a pretty long list initially. Our lawyer was honest with us and said, look, we will over claim when we put in the initial application. So he expected that a number of our claims would be knocked back as part of the process.
The idea is that through the process, we understand the examiner’s objections and so have the opportunity to either accept the objection or contest it. But we certainly did not expect a blanket rejection. It was quite a body blow when we received the rejection letter because it is one sentence on a standard form.
The rejection certainly gave us a reason to sit and think about the hours and hours of work drafting the patent claim and creating the document. It is an incredibly laborious task, or more accurately, I found it a particularly laborious task. So when the rejection letter arrived with a list of patents which the examiner felt our invention infringed, it was a blow.
Picking Up The Pieces
I printed them all out and set them on the side of my desk, but I did not want to look at them. Then, about a week or two later, I decided to read what the examiner sent and understand his objections. So I sat down and started reading. I read the first patent soon realized that it had nothing to do with our invention. Then I read the second patent, which also has nothing to do with what we were trying to do. And the same for the third one.
I went through five in total, from recollection. Each of the cited patents was very spuriously related to a single hand on a watch face. After the first read, I felt that it was all a bit weird. Then after a more detailed reading of all the information, I concluded that the examiner did not clearly understand what we are trying to do.
Perhaps the examiner came to this late one Friday night and decided to do a quick search, find something on one-hand watches and deny our application. Or maybe we had not explained ourselves well enough in the initial application. It felt like we were both trying to play a bit of a game. Then Daniel and I realized we would have to roll up our sleeves and redouble our efforts. Thankfully, when I spoke to our patent attorney agreed. He said that this was pretty common in the first round and that we should persevere.
Focus On The Patent Claims
We did not see how any of the cited patents related to our invention in any way. So we needed to craft a response to address the patent examiner’s objections and educate him on our invention. That required another round of drafting and then resubmitting the application. By this time, we had narrowed down our claims; I think we might have only ended up with two claims in the end. The patent is very specific. First is the counter-clockwise movement of the minutes on the watch face, and the second aspect is the display of those minutes through the hour hand.
We submitted the application. It must have been reasonably good because we received a one-liner back that said, okay, patent awarded a few months later.
It was the first time I have ever applied for a patent. So I am not sure it is a process I would necessarily volunteer to get involved in again. But, that said, it was very educational from my perspective, and, looking back, I am glad we took on that challenge. It is great to look back on and have that associated with the watch and the brand.
As a watch brand owner, I have a sneaky suspicion that you will end up in a patent office again at some point in the future.
You could be right.
So you guys were talking about how you were drinking a lot, and there were hangovers the next day. Is that how we ended up with the 21-millimeter bandwidth?
There is a story there. Together with the designer, we were working hard on the design. The concept from the beginning was for a classic design but with a twist. So we mixed up different design aspects. For example, we attach our strap with screws, large visible screws that holds a two-millimeter diameter bar, rather than spring bars. This concept usually is done with straight lugs, but we did not want straight lugs. Instead, we wanted curved lugs, but we still enjoyed the screws to add a mechanical touch to the design. Also, the case was not going to be straightforward with straight sides. Instead, it tapers from the bezel to the case back, again to soften the shape.
It Is All About Visual Balance
Initially, we made the design with 20-millimeter lugs. Then we made the design with 22-millimeter lugs, just for comparison. The problem was that 22 mm lugs were too large, and 20 mm lugs were too feminine. So we ended up with 21 mm lugs, which is the same as Rolex; they use 21 mm or 19 mm bands.
If you have not guessed already, I tend not to get involved in the design process. This is because my ability to choose colors and create beautiful shapes is limited. There are many people out there, my wife included, who will attest to that. But it is interesting as I recall this specific decision.
Daniel and I discussed the design in general, and then Daniel flashed up a few drawings for us to discuss. First was the 22 mm version, and it just did not look right. Then he flashed up the 20 mm, and it was apparent even to me that it was too small. Finally, we received the 21 mm drawing, and it just looked right.
Daniel has drawn my attention to these details. On a watch, that one millimeter on any dimension is significant. If it is wrong, the balance of the watch can not look good optically. So that is why we ended up with a 21-millimeter watch band.
Small Details – Large Impact
I have been in the watch business for over 30 years. I started as an international product manager for Tissot in 1991 and was responsible for just one of the product lines initially. Then, after three months, all the other product managers left, and I became responsible for the whole collection. I was with Tissot for over ten years; we did designs like the T-touch and several still selling watches for Tissot today. When I joined Tissot, I was an outsider. In meetings, I would question why the designers would obsess over a tenth of a millimeter, or even less, in the design.
After only a few years, I was also obsessing over the details. I can now see issues in the prototypes, even when it is as small as a 10th of a millimeter. I cannot see it as a tenth of a millimeter, but I can see that something is wrong.
Later I helped some other brands, and they showed me a prototype. I saw there was an issue with the lugs, but the customer thought they were fine. I was convinced there was something wrong, so I checked them with the calipers, and one lug was larger than the other by a tenth of a millimeter. I was just aware that something was wrong. But again, when I joined Tissot, I would have thought this ridiculous. So for me, the 21mm band was important; it was something I could not compromise.
The SNGLRTY Watch Case
This is an area that fascinates me. As you may know, we have two different cases, one for each of the collections. These are the Ohi-2 and the Ohi-4. Each has a different movement, and we can go into this in more detail later. But we wanted to use the same design for the watch case but still differentiate between the Ohi-2 and the Ohi-4 by their case. There is an additional challenge that the movement for the Ohi-2 is one millimeter thicker than the movement for the Ohi-4. The case for the Ohi-2 has a flat Sapphire crystal and a very curved case back to accommodate this. This helps to make the Ohi-2 more affordable and adapt the case to the increased volume of the movement.
The Ohi-4, on the other hand, has a slimmer movement, so it has a double domed sapphire crystal and a flat case back. So the cases for the two collections are opposites of each other when you look at the case details, but it is still the same case design. We like to play a lot with these details.
The Conversation Continues
Next time we discuss microbrands, why we chose to make SNGLRTY in Switzerland, and Daniel lifts the lid a little bit on how the world of Swiss watchmaking works.
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