We often consult with clients that come to us after having used some type of invention submission corporation. Usually, the client explains that he or she has spent $5,000 – $10,000 to have their product idea patented, and they would now like us to help them develop a prototype (or help them with the rest of the product development process). Many inventors assume that when they have a product idea, the number one goal is to get the idea patented. So they turn to a company that offers invention submission and patent assistance. It’s frustrating to see that the inventor has spent thousands of dollars on a patent that, in my opinion, isn’t needed yet.
The above scenario is very common, and I would suggest that patenting your product idea is not the number one goal in developing a product. If you have an idea for a product, step back and think about the following question for a minute. What is your goal? Is your goal to get a patent? If so, call a patent attorney, get your patent, frame it, and hang it on the wall with pride. But, I’m guessing that when you really think about it, your goal is not to get a patent. I’m guessing your goal revolves around getting to the end of the product development process – to see your product on the shelf or to make money from your product idea? If I’m right, obtaining a patent is not the first step you should take to develop a product. The following is a 3 part series that, I hope, will help you understand why I think filing for a patent isn’t the first step you should take in developing your product and understand when filing for a patent makes the most sense.
Also, while I argue that filing for a patent is not the first step you should take, please don’t confuse “don’t patent your idea yet” with “don’t do patent research yet”. Patent research IS one of the first things you should do. It doesn’t make sense to spend money now only to find out later that someone has already patented your idea.
Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer. These are simply my opinions based on my experience. You should discuss your specific case with a competent professional before proceeding.
Part 1 – 4 Reasons You Should Not File a Patent – Yet
1. IT’S EXPENSIVE
It costs a lot of money to develop a product. Filing a patent is no exception. A typical patent filing costs around $10,000. As described in more detail in Part 3 of this series, the cost could be more or less. But, if you’re creating a product development budget, $10,000 is a good number to use for the patent process. So, assuming you’re like the typical inventor and you don’t have access to unlimited funds, I would not recommend spending $10,000 at this point in the product development process on something that doesn’t get you any closer to getting a product on the shelf or sold to a manufacturer.
2. YOU MAY NOT HAVE A GOOD IDEA
For two reasons:
1. You think your product is a great idea. But, is your product marketable? Do the people you plan to sell your product to think it’s a good idea? Will they buy your product? If you patent your idea first, and then later find out that you don’t have a marketable product, you will have just spent $10,000 for nothing.
2. You may not have a good idea because it’s too costly (or impossible) to manufacture. At some point in the product development process, you will need to determine if your idea is manufacturable and, if so, what it will cost to manufacture. During that process, you may find out that it is physically impossible to manufacture your product, or you may find out that it is too cost prohibitive to manufacture your product. If you patent your idea first, and then later find out that it is too costly to manufacture, you will have just spent $10,000 for nothing.
3. THE PRODUCT DESIGN ISN’T COMPLETE
An idea, no matter how well thought out, is not the same as having a completed product design. A completed product design contains all of the necessary information that will be required to manufacture the product. Included in that information will be a 3D CAD database. If you were to work with Impulse Product Development, an expert product development engineer will take your product idea and develop each individual component of the product in 3D space using the latest CAD software technology. In addition, each individual component will be placed into a 3D virtual assembly that allows you and the engineer to analyze the form, fit, and function of each individual component and the product as a whole in 3D space. The completed 3D CAD data will include all manufacturing details and assembly details for each component of the product. Also included in the completed design will be a bill of materials that explains the materials and processes that will be used to manufacture and assemble each component of the product.
As the product begins to take shape in the 3D CAD software, the product development engineer will begin to notice many functional and manufacturing challenges that may not have been considered when the idea was originally put to paper. Under normal circumstances, this is not a problem. The engineer uses his creativity and expertise to work through the challenges to bring the design to a functional and manufacturable state. However, if you already have a patent for your idea, an additional challenge is presented to the engineer.
Once a patent is filed, the design of the product must conform to the patent explicitly. If, during the design of the product, a challenge arises that requires a change to the design, and if that change causes the design to divert from the design submitted in the original patent, you will, most likely, need to file for a new patent that covers the new design. While the product development engineer is, in some cases, able to resolve any challenges without compromising the design that was submitted in the patent, that is not typical. In most cases, the design will be compromised, and a new patent will need to be issued.
Therefore, if you patent your idea before the design is complete. You may end up paying for the patent process, in both cost and time, twice.
4. YOU DON’T NEED A PATENT YET
As discussed above, many inventors run out and as their first step they file for a patent. They, rightfully so, want to protect their idea. After all, the number one reason to file for a patent is to protect your idea. You don’t want another individual or corporation to ‘steal’ your idea and market it as their own. But how are they going to find out about it? During the infancy of the product development process, there isn’t anything to protect. It’s just you and your idea. Eventually, you will want to get a patent to protect your idea from other individuals or corporations, but initially, there is no need to protect the idea….no one knows about it.
I would argue that during the product design, engineering, and prototyping phases of the development process, you don’t need a patent…even if other individuals and/or companies are helping you through those phases of the product development process. You can protect your idea with a simple non-disclosure agreement. If you were to bring your idea to Impulse Product Development and work with us to design, engineer, and prototype your idea for you, we would expect to sign a non-disclosure agreement with you before discussing the first detail of your product idea. A non-disclosure agreement is a standard legal document that essentially says that any information that you disclose regarding your idea must remain confidential. The period of confidentiality usually runs for 1 year from the last time that business was conducted between the two parties. It also includes verbiage that discusses the penalties should the confidential information be disclosed. This document can be used with any individual or corporation that you discuss your idea with. I have known many individuals who have presented non-patented product ideas to corporations by using a non-disclosure agreement for protection, and I’ve personally collaborated with many individuals on the development of their product using a non-disclosure agreement. The best part of a non-disclosure agreement is they’re free! If you’d like to use our standard non-disclosure agreement, contact us. We’d be happy to share it with you.
A patent is an important step in the product development process. However, it is frustrating to see people spending thousands of dollars on a patent before they even know if they have a good, marketable, and manufacturable idea. Instead of spending $10,000 on a patent, spend $10,000 developing your idea into a fully thought out product design and prototype that you can then use to show your product to potential buyers or potential investors.
Again, I’m not a lawyer, and it is in your best interest to discuss these issues with your lawyer, but in my opinion, you can sufficiently protect your idea with a non-disclosure agreement until the time is right to file for a patent. When is the time right to file a patent? We’ll get to that in part 3 of this series, but first let’s discuss why you should develop a prototype of your idea before filing for a patent.
Impulse Product Development is a team of experienced product development professionals, based in Indianapolis, Indiana, that are ready to work with you through the entire product development process If you’d like to learn more about the product development process or if you would like to discuss your product idea with Impulse Product Development, contact us.