Turning your idea into an invention is one thing. The next goal is to turn that invention into a marketable product. The USPTO receives hundreds of thousands of patent applications every year — most of these never reach a store shelf. So how do you, an intrepid and determined inventor, succeed in transforming your invention into a successful product?
Do Your Research: Make Sure Your Product Has a Market
I know it isn’t fun to hear, but there’s something that every inventor should be told right from the beginning: very few inventions end up making any money. Plenty of inventions lose money, and 90% of startups fail.For your invention to become a successful product, you’re going to need to go above and beyond.
According to Fortune, the number one reason startups fail is that they tried to sell a product that people simply didn’t want in the first place. 42% of failed startups surveyed reported a lack of market demand as the primary reason their companies failed. This is why it’s very important to determine whether or not your invention is marketable before you devote yourself fully to product design and development.
Bringing a product to market is a costly enterprise — you’re going to have to invest in the process. Unless you’re independently wealthy, you need to have a realistic idea about what the market is looking for and what sort of prices the market will bear.
For your product to succeed it, it has to perfectly reflect market demands. It’s important during the preliminary research phase that you get a sense of who your customer base will be. Know who will want to buy your product, what they are looking for, what they expect and what they need. Remember that, while your invention might be your baby, it’s going to have to impress and satisfy your consumers. Otherwise, your baby won’t be able to make it in the world.
Get a Patent
Getting a patent is essential, both for the sake of establishing your intellectual property and for bringing your product to market (or for product licensing). Acquiring patent protection is one of the most important steps in turning your idea into an invention and finally into a profitable product.
The fist thing you’re going to want to do is to make sure that you can get a patent. You can start by performing a preliminary patent search using the USPTO’s patent database or Google patents. You can also look through online forums and stores to make sure no one else is selling or publishing about something like your invention.
The goal of the preliminary search is to rule out any obvious barriers to your acquiring a patent. If someone else is already selling your product, you won’t be able to get a patent. Similarly, if your invention has been described in any publication (in USPTO publications or otherwise), then you aren’t going to be able to get a patent.
Once you’ve done your own preliminary search and haven’t turned up anything, it’s time to do a professional patent search. A qualified patent attorney will be able to perform a much more effective and exhaustive search than you will ever be able to do, and you can almost guarantee that there will be at least some prior art turned up that will affect how you eventually go about filing your patent application. Without a professional patent search, your application is very likely to conflict with previous claims in the massive UPSTO database.
Next, you’ll probably want to file a provisional patent application. You can do this without the help of an attorney, and they typically only cost a few hundred dollars. This will give you a year to develop your idea, build a prototype, and get your house in order before you follow through with the full application later. The provisional application will let you get to work on developing your invention in earnest without having to worry about someone else coming in and snatching the patent before you’re ready.
For more information on patents, check out our Patent FAQ
Make a Prototype
Developing a prototype is one of the funnest and most rewarding parts of the product development process. This is the first chance you will have to see your vision realized fully in three dimensions. You’ll learn a lot about your invention during the prototyping phase — what works, and (more importantly) what doesn’t. Seeing your invention come to life for the first time is one of the most exciting moments in the product development cycle.
Because of how educational the prototyping process can be, you definitely want to have successfully made a functional prototype before you file your utility patent application. In prototyping, you may discover that some non-trivial aspect of your design is not viable, and you definitely don’t want a design change at this stage to invalidate your patent application. This is where that provisional patent we talked about earlier comes in handy.
There are different kinds of prototypes for different purposes. There are really two main types of prototypes to think about:
- Functional Prototypes: These are the real important ones when it comes to the product development process. The purpose of a functional prototype is to build a working 3D model of your invention that works. It doesn’t have to be pretty and polished, but it has to demonstrate that your invention can do what it’s supposed to do.
- Presentation Models: Presentation models are also 3D models of your invention, but they do have to look pretty, and they don’t necessarily have to be fully functional (though it’s generally useful if they are). The purpose of presentation models is to show off your product idea to potential investors or consumers. They are valuable marketing, focus testing, and fundraising tools before you reach the stage where you can produce the actual product itself.
Prototyping beings with a sketch. Draw your invention to the best of your abilities in your inventor’s journal or elsewhere. Be as detailed as you can be, with notes, descriptions, multiple angles, etc.
The next phase is to build a mockup. This is like a precursor to the prototype — you can think of it as a 3D sketch of your design. It doesn’t have to functional, you just want to get an idea of how this thing will be in space.
Next is the important part, the creation of the prototype itself. For a functional prototype, you’re going to want to create a fully-working model of your invention. It can be rough and unpolished, but you want to make it from materials that will, at least, be equivalent to those that you plan to manufacture with.
With rapid prototyping and additive manufacturing, it is easier than ever to create both functional prototypes and presentation models.
Crunch the Numbers: Work Out a Business Plan
Most inventions never end up making any money for the inventor who conceived them. In some cases, this is simply because the invention wasn’t marketable. And that’s fine — not all inventions are made in order to make money. Some people just like to invent stuff.
But for most inventors, the goal is to make money. That’s what turning your invention into a product is all about. And in order to overcome the odds and to do this successfully, you need to treat the product development process as a business right from the get-go. Once you’ve established that there is in fact market potential for your invention, you need to start thinking about the strategy that will take you to profitability.
This means you have to do some number-crunching. You need to figure out:
- Market size
- Product development costs
- Manufacturing and distribution costs
- Selling price
- Profit potential
In short, you need to know how much it will cost you to put your product on shelves, and how much you will have to sell the product for in order to make a profit. It’s very important to consider the competition in all of this. In all likelihood, you’re going to be competing against more established brands that are able to produce their units more cheaply than you can. This means that you need to have a strategy for capitalizing on whatever edge your product has which inspired you to invent it in the first place.
In working out your business plan, you’ll want to carefully consider the following:
- What is your product for? What is the need that is being met? How does your product meet that need better than other products out there? This becomes your value proposition.
- Who is your product for? Knowing your consumer base is essential both to how you market your product, and also to how you develop it. Know who you are selling to, know how to communicate to them. Understand what they want, what they need, and how to connect with them.
- What is You Game Plan? Set achievable and useful goals that you can tackle systematically. Each step along the way should take your closer to your goal of achieving and maintaining profitability. Envision where it is that you want to be, analyze where you are, and come up with a realistic roadmap for getting you from here to there.
Cad Crowd offers CAD design and product development services for entrepreneurs throughout the product design cycle. From patenting to 3D modeling design through to manufacturing and 3D printing, we’ll connect you with the services you need to bring your invention from idea to product. Get a free estimate today.