So now you have an idea that you think can sell, you have worked out roughly what kind of profit can be expected, and you even have a 3D CAD file ready to send off to those interested in helping you make your idea a reality.
At this stage, it’s always a good idea to create a prototype. There are numerous ways you can do this, from talking with a manufacturer (more on that later), to using 3D printing, or even creating your very own prototype from scratch if you have the DIY skills and necessary materials! This will come in handy for the focus groups (next stage) and also just so that you can get an idea of how this is all working and if you feel positive about your product. Prototyping can also bring to light problems that might not have been apparent from the CAD file alone.
Focus Groups and Market Research
Once you have your prototype, it’s a good idea to consider using focus groups or doing other market research at this stage. This means studying how other products in the market are performing and who your buyer persona is. At the same time, you might want to create an actual focus group for your product, which means hiring a venue, getting people together and getting feedback from them regarding your product. This is to strategy, as it will allow you to see how people react to your product in person. Again, it might be painful to learn things about your idea at this stage, but it’s better to find out now than later!
You can then take the feedback you get and use this to iterate on your product design. Likewise, you can record positive responses and use this as evidence that your product has legs when you’re trying to get a licensing deal or funding (see subsequent chapters).
Protecting Your Intellectual Property
Now at this point, you might find yourself starting to worry. You’ve got a great idea, great design, and you’re all ready to go.
Should you be sending that to manufacturers? Showing it to focus groups? What’s to stop someone from simply taking your idea and using it for themselves?
Of course, this is a real problem, so you need to think about intellectual property law and what you can do to protect yourself.
5 Types of Intellectual Property Law You Need to Know
1 & 2 Patents
When it comes to hardware, the most relevant form of intellectual property protection is no doubt, patent; and its patents that Apple and Samsung have infamously fought over so publicly about.
Patents protect physical creations; they protect medicines, and they protect designs. More specifically, though, they protect the method of execution, as opposed to the original idea. To demonstrate this, consider that the inventor of the chair could not patent chairs, nor could they patent ‘something you sit on’. They may though have had more luck protecting ‘something you sit on with four legs and back.'
As a maker then, you can use a patent to protect the design/engineering innovations that made your product possible, rather than the product itself.
The two types of patents are design patents and utility patents, which protect designs and utilities respectively. In other words, if you have a smartphone, the design patent would protect the look of the phone, while the utility patent would protect the inclusion of whatever new-fangled chip it had in it. Unfortunately for designers, getting a patent is a complex, expensive, and a slow process, however, and your ideas will only be protected in certain regions. They also expire (20 years for utility patents and 14 for design patents), and can’t be renewed indefinitely.
To get more information on patents, check out the Patent Office here.
Copyright law is less likely to apply to makers but can still play a role. Copyright protects stories, writing, music, and even code, to some extent. In other words, copyright protects creative pursuits and comes into effect the moment you complete something. So if you write a blurb for your new product, that blurb will be immediately protected under copyright law, and you can threaten legal action if someone publishes it against your will. What this also means, is that you can’t just take an image from Google Images, and use it in your packet design or on your website. The primary challenge with copyright is in proving that the idea was yours originally. Again, you can find much more information at the intellectual property office.
A trademark is a name or an image that you trade under, and which can be used to identify your business or your products. That might mean your company name then, or it could mean your products or even a branch of your business. Microsoft is a trademark, for instance, but Windows, Xbox, and Surface are all also trademarks owned by Microsoft.
Trademarks are relatively easy to acquire, and will set you back a few hundred dollars, which protects you for ten years. It’s always worth doing a search before you create new products, in case someone should already own the rights. You can do that here.
An NDA is a ‘Non-Disclosure Agreement.' This is a contract used to prevent others from talking about your ideas, which in turn, means you can speak freely with business partners and employees about your projects. Typically, an NDA will be in the form contract and will include a list of things that you can and can’t mention outside of the meeting.
These days, though, many serious companies and start-ups won’t use NDAs, and you can risk looking unprofessional if insist on this. As a rule, people you will consult with have their ideas and plans and aren’t bent on stealing yours. What’s more, ideas are in no short supply – it’s the ability to see them through that matters.
As with most things, the best form of protection is simply to be the first and to be the best. No one will remember the imitators. At some point, you just need to start getting your idea out there and push ahead. Take the plunge!