10 Things Every Inventor Should Be Doing
So you’ve had that “ah-haaa” moment and you’re certain you have the next great invention. In the middle of doing something, making something, fixing something, whatever it was, a moment of dreamlike epiphany came upon you and you discovered a much better mousetrap. People will say, “Why didn’t I think of that?” …but you just did, so now what do you do? We’ve outlined 10 things that you should do now that will help point you in the right direction now that you’ve decided to pursue your great invention.
1. Conceptualize, Sketch, and Write Down Your Ideas
The very first thing we suggest once you’ve had an idea for a new invention is to start conceptualizing. This just means brainstorming different ways to tackle the problem. You’ve found a problem that needs solving and you have a vague idea of one good way to solve it but there are likely several other ways to make it work besides that first thought that popped into your mind.
Once you have an idea or two start sketching out your ideas. This will not only help clarify the various concepts surrounding the invention you’ve envisioned and solidify a primary design direction but it will also help come up with more uses, better features, or even condense the design to be simpler and more elegant. See our article on Conceptualizing and Sketching to help with additional ideas on how to make this step a little easier.
2. Benchmark the Competition
Now that you have a good idea of what the primary concept is and some alternatives, start looking around for it. Bench-marking in this instance means doing a broad search of the retail market for products similar to your concept. Even if you’re idea is pretty far from the next closest thing you’ve found during your bench-marking search, it’s still a good idea to spend some time studying anything in the ballpark, even if it’s a combination of two other products, to get a good look at them.
There are a lot of features and options you could investigate in a bench-marking study so check out our helpful article on Bench-marking for more info. After you’ve gained a good understanding of what’s out there you may find yourself revisiting your sketches to make improvements and adjustments based on your findings.
3. Make a Crude Prototype
What do we mean by a “crude prototype”? Just that it should be simple and quick. Take it as far as your craftiness and mechanical inclinations will allow. No one along the product development path will require that you be the one to make an amazing perfect prototype. There are Product Designers, Engineers, and cool technologies for that. What you should focus on is just confirming that the invention is more than likely feasible with some items you can find around the house and your local home improvement and craft stores. It doesn’t need to work perfectly at this stage, you’re just trying to get a comfort level that with some improvements it could really work great and be useful to consumers.
4. Start Using a Non-Disclosure Agreement
At this stage, now you’ve really got something... and it’s called Intellectual Property. You own your idea, it’s considered property, it’s yours, start protecting it. While the likelihood of someone running off with your product idea is actually really pretty low, it is still much better to cover your bases and it’s a very easy thing to do.
A Non-Disclosure Agreement, or NDA for short, (or sometimes called a Confidentiality Agreement or CA for short) is generally a two party contract that binds one or both parties to secrecy regarding certain listed subject matter. We’ll go into more of the specifics of an NDA and all the good things to have in there in our article "What is a Non-Disclosure Agreement?" but for now, know that you should require anyone you need to talk to about your invention to sign one before you plan on getting into any specifics.
5. Do a Preliminary Patent Search
To conduct a DIY patent search you can use the United States Patent and Trademark Office’s free website search engine (USPTO.gov) that gives you access to the database of US patents. There is a little bit of a learning curve with how to use their search engine so remember to check out our articles "How to use the US Patent Office Search Engine" and "An Expert Tip on How to Search for Patents with help from Google" for even more help. Search until you’ve found and saved anything even close.
Once you’ve done a DIY search and you have a good comfort level of what is and isn’t out there, hire a patent attorney to do a search. So why the heck should you do it yourself first then? Well it will save you a lot of money if you find out someone invented the exact same thing 10 years ago in the first 15 minutes of searching and the results can also serve to help in your bench-marking search.
6. File a Provisional Patent
Now that you’ve engaged with a patent attorney and have a pretty good idea of where your product stands in the patent landscape, you should probably have them file a provisional patent. A provisional patent gives you one year to figure out all the specifics and details of the invention before you need to file a non-provisional patent (the full blown patent).
By the end of the one year period, you don’t necessarily need to have a market ready product fully designed, you just need to have the intellectual property claims figured out (something your patent attorney will help significantly with). For the immediate term, the provisional patent puts a stake in the ground and time stamps the general concept with what specifics you may have figured out already. Check out our article "What is a Patent?" for even more info on both provisional and non-provisional patents.
7. Product Design, Engineering, & Prototyping
Now comes the fun part! Making it all work and function! While we have this step listed after filing a provisional patent, there really isn’t any reason you can’t start this step at the same time, in parallel to working with your patent attorney. Additionally, your engineering team may offer up some improvements right off the bat that make your idea even better still (it’s kind of their job!).
We’ve outlined the Product Development Process in detail in another article but know that this is where all the details of form, fit, and function are worked out through designing, testing, and adjusting the design using 3D CAD modeling, 3D Printing, and various physical tests to evaluate performance.
8. Get Feedback from Focus Groups
A common flaw we see in inventors is they assume they know what their customers want but have never actually asked them. Getting unbiased feedback from people that don’t know you’re the owner/inventor will let you know whether you need to make some changes.
It is a lot cheaper to make changes now, than when product is already sitting on a shelf in the store. When getting feedback, be ready for the good, the bad, and the ugly but know that the purpose is to combine all that information to make the product the best it can be. If it’s all positive feedback, then awesome! If you find out your invention needs some tweaks, well that’s just part of the process.
By the way, by now it should go without saying, have any participants sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement (a good NDA will cover you if they make any great suggestions and ensure that you own their additions and improvements too).
9. Get Production Cost Quotes
Once you’ve gone through the product development process and you have a solid design that generates positive feedback you can start getting production pricing. Pricing varies greatly with the technology you use to manufacture the product and how many units you’re ordering. Your engineering team will play a big role in walking you through this process and you’ll very likely have already discussed the best technology very early on in the design process.
Whether you’re planning on starting a company yourself or licensing the product to another company, having the production pricing in-hand will help you in either scenario. The price-point will define a lot in building your business and will certainly prove valuable in licensing negotiations if everyone knows what the production costs look like at a few different unit volumes.
10. Launch the Product!
The last step is the biggest… and that is to launch the product out into the market and work your butt off to make it a success! Anyone who watches the TV show Shark Tank knows all about the challenges from here forward but there are a ton of resources for the entrepreneur so check out our Resources page to learn more about programs and opportunities for funding, guidance, mentoring, and more. You really don’t have to go at it alone, there are a lot of people willing to help and teach you along the way.
As we’re sure you’ve found, there isn’t a lot of quality information out there for inventors. If you liked this article and found it informative, please share it with your like-minded, creative, inventive friends, coworkers and family. If you need any product development assistance, feel free to Contacts Us by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org, filling out the simplified contact form below, or giving us a call at 407-721-4390. We’re always happy to help inventors through all the stages of product development!
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