Local architect Harry Montague has an invention on his hands--and on his back--that makes remarkable sense in a world of congested highways and often inaccessible public transportation.
Montague has invented a standard size 10-speed bicycle that folds into a backpack.
The energy-saving advantages of such a concept are immediately evident. Moreover, the bike's construction, Montague says, is structurally superior to other collapsible bicycles on the market. In addition, it fits into a case that, in turn, fits underneath an office desk.
While the idea in itself may give rise to expectations of a revolution in the bicycle industry--not to mention what it might do to the market for bike racks--Montague says his chances of making a million off his creation are very slim, mainly because of the intransigence of U.S. industry in general and bicycle companies in particular in this country.
"I wrote to about 40 different bike companies saying that I'd show it to them," he said. "I got three letters back--from Schwinn, Murray and Raleigh. Basically, they ignored it. If Schwinn is selling thousands of bikes, they don't want to switch gears."
Although Montague has a patent pending on the bike, his skepticism about marketing his invention is compounded by his knowledge of patents, a field he has researched extensively for the Open University of Washington course he teaches on inventions.
"You don't do this sort of thing without doing your homework," he said. "Once you get a sense of what you're going to invent, you run over to the Patent Office at Crystal City. That's when you find out there are 100 patents for any one product on the shelves."
Montague adds that the trend in patents is changing, that most U.S. patents today are filed by large companies rather than by small inventors like himself.
"Even in England, where they give out grants to small inventors, they say inventing is a dying art," Montague said. "Sixty percent of the patents today are going to chemical companies, when it used to be 70 percent going to small mechanical inventors."
But industry and government aside, Montague has found that the first obstacle his backpack bike faces is acceptance by the man on the street.
"I went walking down Connecticut Avenue with the bike on my back," he said. "People were unwilling to look at me, like I was walking with a crutch or something. Finally, I passed some elementary school kids. They were the first ones to say 'Look! He's got a bike on his back!' "