I’ve been inventing new products and bringing them to market for 30+ years. Inventing is never really “simple.” However, most people need a frame of reference during the invention process, so I offer you the following five steps:
1. Opportunity ID
Do some “fact finding” to scope the size of the opportunity. How big is the market for your new product? Good for a few, a nation, or even a planet? You’re likely to invest blood, sweat, tears, and dollars in the idea; it should be a reasonably big one! The most frequent challenge I find with my inventor and entrepreneurial clients is they don’t probe the market size and need deep enough before jumping into the project. It’s best to scope out the market size and competitive landscape thoroughly before taking the plunge. Spend time understanding product opportunity gaps in the marketplace. Determine what key attributes of your new product would be most valued by consumers. Document your findings well; you never know when a licensee or distribution partner will want to see evidence of the opportunity.
2. Concept Development
Another challenge I see with my clients is preconceiving a specific solution to an opportunity and locking on to that solution as the one best answer. Brainstorming is a great way to overcome this and to think wide before locking on to a one idea. You should consider numerous different ideas to execute against the market need. These ideas should consider the range from “mild to wild” before you narrow down the ones most likely to succeed for business and technical reasons. You never know where you’ll find a million dollar idea.
3. Technical Development
This is where the geeky stuff comes in. During this step, you’ll often need designers, engineers, programmers, or the like. To execute this step effectively, you’ll need someone who gets both the technical and business sides of the success equation. Technical folks can be difficult to wrangle some times. If it’s not you, make sure you get a good leader on your team in this program manager/liaison role. You’ll also need a relatively well-defined technical direction agreement. I use something called a Product Requirements Document (PRD) to make sure all on the team are clear on the mission before they get started.
4. Protecting Your Invention
Protecting your invention actually starts much earlier in the process, but often it’s best to put it here due to the discussion around patents. Protection starts by you limiting who you disclose your new product idea to. Only tell those that truly have a need to know. These confidants should be put under a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) early on in the invention process. These confidants are those that can guide you on market potential, funding, and technical issues. The key protection for your invention will likely be a patent. It’s my opinion that non-provisional patents should only be filed when there is a “reasonable leap of faith” that the specific product you have settled on can be engineered and manufactured to meet the market need including pricing expectations. Ideas are simply too poorly formed to be patented. Once the product is being shown in a sales pitch, it’s too late. Another approach is to file a Provisional Patent Application which grants you the right to mark your idea as, “Patent Pending”. Some inventors file this application themselves which can be done for $125 with the US government. It’s best to consult your attorney to guide you on what’s appropriate for your situation.
5. Pitch for Licensing
Most people I meet with new product ideas don’t really want to be in the manufacturing and sales business. They do however want to make money off their ideas. One of the best ways for these people to make money is to pitch a relatively well-formed idea to a business that would license the product and give you a royalty for the idea and the work you have already done. I generally suggest to clients they put together the following in order to be in a “pitch ready” position.
- Sell sheet that describes the benefits of the product in one sentence and shows a picture of the product in use.
- Concept drawings, models, prototypes, production cost estimates, and other technical development deliverables that can be shown to prospective licensees.
- Patent search and or a Provisional Patent Application filing.
- Competitive market research showing why you’re idea is better than anyone else’s.
I hope these 5 simple steps to inventing a new product get you on the road to moving those great ideas into millions of dollars!