The Importance of Prototypes for an Invention
No matter how good your idea may be, it isn’t worth much until you can find a way to build a business around it. Yes, while there are successful inventors out there who strictly license patents out to companies, they are extremely rare and typically have a pre-existing relationship with an industry.
If you’re the inventor looking to disrupt an industry or revolutionize our lives we’re rooting for you! But it’s important to keep in mind that taking an invention from an idea to reality is far from easy.
One of the key steps in the process that many would-be inventors miss is the creation of a prototype and subsequently, a mockup. As obvious as an idea might be once the inspiration strikes you, there are numerous reasons why it’s a great idea to go about making a quality prototype for your project.
How to Get Started Prototyping
The best way to get started on a prototype is to write a description of it, draw it. The main goal? Get the idea out of your head. This will start to expose some of the basic assumptions and details in what you’re thinking and help you refine the overall idea. Starting to think about what the final shape and features of the product will be is key at this stage. Additionally, keep in mind what kind of materials and construction the item will have. Ask yourself: How will this idea will actually be made?
Next, try to make a list of the product’s most important features. What about this item needs to be in place in order for it to be a success? What essential parts of it do you envision? What will make your invention the invention?
Finally, if you’re dealing with a physical product, it can be a great idea to create an actual model of the item in question. It’s best to build a model of the product as inexpensively as possible. This second stage proves to investors or anyone you might show your idea to that the prototype is indeed workable. There are a variety of 3D printing services and tools out there to help you create a working protoype, as well as just good ol’ fashioned craftsmanship.
Get Something Made, Perfect is the Enemy of Good
At this stage of the game, your invention is clearly defined. You should know what it will look like, and how it will fulfill the needs of consumers. Once you have a physical prototype of the item, it’s essential to step into a bit of rudimentary market research.
Start with a patent search and make sure you invention is actually patentable. Travel down the aisles of stores where products similar to your invention live. Take a hard look at what is already out there and make sure you invention is better than other pre-existing products. I recommend that all first time inventors follow Peter Thiel’s 10X rule as well as his general advice for startups. (since if you’re trying to grow a business out of this idea, you’re pretty much running a startup.)
At a basic level, the product or service you’re attempting to sell has to be 10 times better than existing products–without that, consumers are unlikely to switch.
Creating a Working Prototype
If you get through the steps above and still want to continue the next thing to do is create a working prototype. This working model of your idea does not have to be perfect or look as good as the final manufactured product. It’s important here to assure investors that the product that the invention works as it should. This will also help people clearly see that your idea does everything you said it would. Best of all, a working model can also allow you to elicit valuable feedback from your potential customer base.
At this stage of the process, it can also be invaluable to keep an inventor’s journal. This handy reference keeps you organized and let’s you track the progress and sticking points of your invention over time. You don’t necessarily need to use a physical book, or even something like a project management or task list tool.
Now, how do you turn your idea into the real thing?
When finding sources to build the product, it is alright to ask friends, family and acquaintances. If you’re worried about confidentiality or your idea leaking out, make sure that you utilize a non disclosure agreement (NDA). This can keep your idea in a good place, as well as protecting you in the process of getting a patent later.
If cost is an issue, various materials can be substituted for what will be actually used when the product is taken to market. The working prototype, like the ideas generated on paper, does not need to win any beauty contests. It is simply put together to show that the idea is functional and will do what it says it’s going to do..
Prototypes Are Essential
While we all want to run with a good idea when we have it, but creating a viable prototype will save you a lot of grief down the road. While it can be annoying to take some time away from marketing, filing, and getting funding for your potential product, creating a solid prototype is an essential step to success.
Is my invention patentable?
Every would be inventor or entrepreneur has that moment in their life, where with a flash of lightning it hits them. The idea. The one that can change the world and solve the problems that has been facing society for too long!
So you have the idea, and you think it’s never been done before. In fact it’s so good, you’re probably thinking it’d be a brilliant idea to just monetize the thing and start a company so you can connect people with your brilliant idea.
Your idea might be this good:
But as the story of this iPhone case with a built in selfie stick demonstrates there are competitors out there who can also move quick.
Indeed the very factories you might want to produce your products could be hot on your heels.
In the hyper competitive world of today the last thing that you want to worry about is wasting valuable time and resources hunting down a patent to protect yourself domestically and internationally.
Before you get too far into dreaming, ask yourself, is my invention patentable?
What Determines Whether an Invention Can Get a Patent?
First things first, let us understand what is an invention and a patent. An invention is the creation of something new, unique that has not been done before. A specific answers to a problem that has never been done before. On a non-theoretical level a patent is the legal right granted to its creator for an invention to manufacture, use, or sell for a certain number of years not less than 20 depending on which state the patent is issued in. There are obviously more nuanced than that, but this is generally a good basic understanding of patents. You can learn more about the different types of patents here.
Patents are given to stop other individuals or companies from the commercial creation, use, import or distribution of a licensed invention without prior permission. The big picture goal with a patent is that the government can issue a short term monopoly on a product so that a company (or you) can generate enough revenue from it to have been worth making the investment.
Procedures for granting patents, exclusive rights extend and patentee requirements vary between countries and according to state rules and international agreements. Any patent application must include claims that give a reasonable definition of the idea or invention, and how a practitioner in the field could reproduce it. Each claim defines a particular claim right and must satisfy appropriate patentability requirements which include novelty, usefulness, and important of all, non-obviousness. Patents can get complicated so it is important to have a patent attorney, as well as understand what a patent attorney does when filing a patent.
What is Patentable? 6 Questions to Ask Yourself
So far you probably answered the question “Can I patent my invention?” and it is a “YES”. But here are a few things to consider or rather think about before you patent.
1) Do You Actually Have the Rights to Patent The Invention?
Is it your own invention that you are patenting? Patents are appealed for in the actual name of the originator. Being able to contribute a larger amount of finances to a product does not qualify you to own the patent. In addition, an employer may result in owning a patent issued in the name of the inventor if the inventor’s employment contract comprises of a pre-assignment clause or the patent was developed as a component of the inventor’s job. In most cases, the employer can hold contractual advantages to the invention or idea which in any case the inventor attempts to license or sell or make use of the invention without employer’s consent, a breach of contract action is undertaken against the inventor. It’s generally a good rule to thumb to assume that if you come up with an idea on the job, company time, or using company resources that you are probably precluded somehow from filing a patent.
2) Is the Idea Useful?
Is the idea being patented useful? An invention passes this criterion if it is competent of use and provides some benefit. This is unlike a copyright or trademark. Patents grant security to actual ideas or inventions while a copyright protects the interpretation of an invention and is mainly used in creative works e.g. movies, software, and books among others.
3) Is the Idea Obvious?
Is your idea obvious? This suggests that the invention in question cannot be something the public know about. The test is whether your invention is easily knowable to people with skill in the art in which the patent is intended. To get a bit silly, you can’t just patent something like forks that everyone already uses and understands. Courts will mainly study the scope and content of your invention in comparison to that in that industry and difference of the alleged originality and what is already in the industry or any other evidence to suggest your idea is not public.
4) Is your idea a novel?
To qualify for a patent, an invention or idea is required to be a novel, that is, your invention should not have been made public before the date of the application not even by yourself. If the invention is made public, made available to the people or disclosed in the prior patent application, then the patenting is denied. Know whether your idea is patented by doing deep research, browsing articles and libraries make sure it’s an original invention.
5) Does your Invention Fall Into a Categories that are Precluded from Patents?
Not all inventions qualify for a patent and thus laws of nature, abstract ideas, physical phenomena such as lightning, and non-useful objects are not patented, Patents are granted for processes such as business processes, machine software or implementing methods, a machine which can execute a function, new composition e.g., make-up, pharmaceuticals and artificial creations, and article of manufacture, that is, a machine or an object to do a job.
A good idea or invention will remain the world’s best secret till it is brought out to the world for everyone to use and buy. If your idea or invention is really good, then get a provisional patent for it Filing a provisional patent application that well and fully describes the invention establishes priority. For Example in the U.S., the first patentee to file is awarded the patent. The application allows you to say “patent pending” granting a win of the race.
6) Most Importantly Has It Been Done?
Before applying for a patent, make sure you do a patent search known as “Search for Prior Art”. I’ve compiled a complete guide with two strategies that inventors should use to quickly search for a patent, or a pre-existing business. Ideally you’re casting as wide a net as possible since there can be businesses operating on your idea without your knowledge, or patents that have been granted with no public presence or business (no matter how good you think the idea is).
Key mistakes made include not recording your process, not doing research correctly, not having a working prototype, or hiring professionals that hijack your work.
Other Considerations Before Proceeding
An idea is not useful without at least a prototype or a real-world example to showcase your idea or invention. A prototype is a 3D version of your discovery. This gives you the opportunity to tap into your creativity. It is exciting to see your idea turn real and tangible. A prototype depends on your idea, your budget and finally your goals. Its advantages include enabling you to test and refine the functionality of tour idea, help you describe your product more effectively and finally help others take you seriously with a level of professionalism.
Starting a new business is a tough proposition, but it’s important to keep in mind that with proper preparation, and the foresight to avoid mistakes you can significantly improve your chances of success.