By Lee Ann Fox, SBDC Consultant and Carol deStefano
Many people have a “great idea” for a product, and eagerly look for ways to make their idea come true. Here is Part I in a two-part article on the eight essential steps to take you product invention from concept to market.
Part I: Laying the Groundwork
Step 1: Do your research
It is important to seriously evaluate your product idea, so do some online (and in-store, if applicable) research to determine if your product idea is truly fundamentally different from products already on the market. In order to validate the market for your product, you must show a need for the product and determine whether consumers would intend to purchase your product.
- Look up companies that produce products in the relevant industry. Do they offer any products similar to yours? If so, what are the advantages of your product over what is already on the market?
- Conduct a preliminary survey to determine the consumer interest in your product. What is their intention to buy? (1 in 5? 1 in 10?) How much are they willing to spend? (e.g. Would they buy it if it were $2? Would they buy it if it were $200?)
Step 2: Design your product
This can be a simple drawing or a professional engineering drawing. If budget allows, this is a good time to make and test your first prototype model.
- Start cheap and try to build the first prototype on your own at this stage.
Step 3: File for a “patent pending”
Before you spend the money to file for a patent, search the US Patent & Trademarks Office (www.uspto.gov) for any patents similar to yours. Applying for a provisional patent to get “patent pending” is the most cost effective first step. A full utility patent requires the use of a patent attorney and can be very expensive. With a “patent pending,” you’ll have one year to apply for the full utility patent.
- Be sure to keep meticulous written and witnessed records to prove the date of product concept and to show continuous work on your concept.
- A patent gives protection of an invention to the person who filed it, but it does not stop infringers from copying your invention. “Crooks” will steal an idea, whether it’s patented or not. So, be sure to limit the number of people you share your idea with.
Step 4: Build a better prototype
Now that you’ve already built your first prototype on your own, and tested it, you should be ready to build your next, more sophisticated prototype. Work out any “bugs” and fix any problems you’ve identified from your first prototype or drawings.
- If you are going to present your product to a manufacturer, they will want a working prototype and a pending patent. So build the best prototype you can, or contract a model maker for help.
Next: Part II