Celebrating a healthy, equitable and environmentally-friendly invention!

In order to keep your balance, you must keep moving. That is what life and bicycles have in common - at least according to Albert Einstein. So what makes this invention so unique? Every year the UN celebrates World Bicycle Day on 3 June, honouring the "simple, affordable, clean and environmentally fit sustainable means of transportation". Not only does the bicycle contribute to cleaner, less congested cities, it also makes rural areas of the world more accessible. For example, with a bicycle, a new world of opportunities opens up to people in developing countries who cannot afford a car. Suddenly, hospitals, schools or markets that would take a long time to reach on foot are just a relatively short bicycle ride away. This will help to improve access to healthcare and education and enhance economic prospects for many, not to mention the positive impact riding a bicycle has on one's health...

But where do bicycles actually come from? According to a publication by the German Patent and Trademark Office, the forerunner of the modern bicycle was the "Laufmaschine" or running machine, invented by Karl Freiherr von Drais in 1818. Similar to a toddler's balance bike, it consisted of two wheels but instead of pedals, it was powered by the rider's feet - hence the name (see below). Even though the invention looks very simple, it fundamentally changed mobility at the time: it helped Drais to cover the distance from Mannheim to Schwetzingen and back (approx. 30 km) in just one hour, surpassing even the fastest means of transport at the time - the stagecoach.

(click to enlarge)

Drais received a patent for his invention, but this only had a limited territorial scope. It was not even valid all over Germany but only in the Grand Duchy of Baden, one of the 39 states of the "German Confederation". At that time, each of these states had its own system of patents, "privileges" or other forms of protection for technical inventions. 

Even so, Drais' invention is a good example of legal rights assigned to an inventor in a specific geographical territory even before a modern patent system had been established. For Germany, in this example, the first nationwide patent system was put into place more than 50 years later, in 1877.

Despite their age, these rights still form part of the state of the art and even if they are no longer retrievable in many patent databases, they might still be relevant for searchers.

To pay tribute to this historic invention we would like to invite you to participate in a search challenge. Are you up for it?


Although bicycles have come a long way since the days of Karl Freiherr von Drais, there is still one area of technology related to bicycles that is constantly being improved, especially in the last two decades. Can you guess what this might be? If not, try using PATSTAT Online with the query below and create a cross-reference chart to compare the 2000s with the 2010s to know for certain which area of technology this is. (Hint: it's all about the cyclist's comfort.)

SELECT DISTINCT a.appln_filing_year, a.appln_id, a.appln_auth, a.appln_nr, a.appln_kind, a.appln_filing_date FROM tls201_appln a JOIN tls209_appln_ipc i ON a.appln_id = i.appln_id WHERE i.ipc_class_symbol LIKE 'B62K%' -- Change IPC symbol here AND a.appln_filing_year BETWEEN 2000 AND 2020 -- Define year range here ORDER BY a.appln_filing_year, a.appln_id

If you don't yet have PATSTAT Online but would like to know which area of technology we are talking about, why not sign up for a free trial? Otherwise, you will have to wait until the next edition to learn the answer.

Through its environmental policy, the Office is committed to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This article touches upon the topics of good health and well-being, reduced inequalities and climate action and therefore contributes to UN SDGs 3, 10 and 13.

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