The lightbulb moment has happened, you’ve done your research, and decided that, yes, that idea for an invention is definitely a good one. Now what? Before you sign up to appear on the next season of Dragons’ Den, take a deep breath because you’re in for a journey. An inventor’s journey involves designing, protecting, and commercializing.
With barriers to entry lower than ever for the new manufacturers, turning an idea into reality without the kinds of resources and financial backing traditionally assumed to be needed. A recent article on Line//Shape//Space summarizes this paradigm shift of new factors affecting product design by stating, “Design software is completely accessible to everyone through free or low-price monthly subscriptions, financing is untraditional (think Kickstarter), and marketplaces are freely available.”
The New Product Design Process
First, you’ll need to design your product. What problem does the product attempt to solve? What is its purpose? While you may have tinkered with your concept and have a working prototype, you may want to involve professional product developers at some point. Professional product developers can help you with the design of the item itself as well as with prototyping, creating computer aided design (CAD) files for manufacturers, and developing professional presentation materials to help you sell your idea to investors as well as include with your patent application.
According to Innovate Product Design, a U.K. based innovation consultancy group, a computer-aided design/drawing is a key component of the product design process to validate the “manufacturing feasibility of the product, the system design and the internal component integration.”
Protecting and Patenting an Invention
Inventions are protected through a process known as patenting. Several types of patents are available including: utility patents, plant patents, and design patents. In addition to patents, some forms of intellectual property such as books, songs, works of art, symbols, and even sayings can be protected through either trademark or copyright protections.
Protecting an invention through the patent process typically begins with conducting a patent search and filing a patent application. Patent searches are highly recommended to ensure that your idea is indeed unique and patentable. During a patent search, you may discover that your idea is too similar to others or not commercially viable in its present form. This discovery process can prompt you to fine-tune your invention or scrap your idea before spending a great deal of time and money on the patent application process.
Because patent applications are highly technical legal documents with huge implications, it’s vital to have an experienced patent professional handle the wording. Non-provisional utility patents typically include detailed descriptions, drawings, claims (the most important part of your patent application), and an abstract. If your invention is still in the early development stage, you can file a provisional patent which provides “patent pending” protection while providing you with 12 additional months to fine-tune your ideal and apply for a non-provisional patent.
An insightful article by I.P. Watchdog notes the potential hazards of a poorly executed provisional patent application submitted by an inexperienced inventor.
“Poorly done provisional patent applications are almost certainly useless for their intended purpose, but can be used against the inventor later as a weapon to demonstrate there was no invention, or at least that the invention had not ripened past the idea stage at the critical moment the invention was memorialized at the time of filing the provisional patent application. Therefore, it is critically important to understand what is required in a provisional patent application and not to fall prey to those who knowingly or unknowingly prey on unsophisticated inventors.”
Commercializing an Invention
Finally, it’s time to get your invention into the hands of its intended users. Launching a new product is a major undertaking that involves product development, testing, obtaining financing, finding a manufacturer, and finding customers. If you’re a Dragons’ Den fan, you know that investors like to see a track record of proven sales more often than mere proof of concept (though they’ll occasionally go into a feeding frenzy for some inventions).
Getting your invention to move from idea to market is a long, but often rewarding, process. It’s a journey that many inventors choose to take with professionals on their side, guiding them through the legal complexities of the design, patent, and commercialization processes.