Inventing and how to do it. Part three

Invention, Dyson, virtual reality

Making an invention real and making it your own

(see also Part One and Part Two)

Invention might be a lightbulb moment but inventions often go though a series of stages like this; 1) ask a good question 2) get an idea 3) decide how that idea can work in practice 4) assess the market (check that your idea has not already been tried) 5) design your invention and think about how it will be made with an eye to cost 6) patent your invention if it is original 7) prototype and refine 8) find a backer or manufacturer or buyer

The process of inventing can take some time.  It took me 10 years to get Curvorama to market but that included a couple of false starts.  Apparently James Dyson made 5,127  prototypes for his vac. So don’t quit the day job. If you make prototypes you can take it gradually, making what parts  you can yourself.  This will often throw up “useful problems” to solve. At some point though, you will need to involve other people and other companies.

Be careful who you tell

If your idea may be patentable (see below), or if you want to keep it under wraps for any other reason, you will need a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) for those people or companies to sign before you tell them about it.  You will find a standard template online for this.

Get help

You may want to make a more sophisticated prototype and this is now possible at reasonable cost.  3D printing and short run machining in plastic are getting cheaper but you will need to find a product designer to do the working drawings for you.  To do this they will use a 3D program like SolidWorks. They can also advise you about design, tooling etc but it’s a good idea to immerse yourself as much as possible in the technology. I was fortunate to meet a man called David Snowball who was about to retire from the injection moulding business.  He sat me down and taught me all about it from first principles.

Patent application

If you think your idea may be original it’s well worth trying for a patent.  It’s a lot less expensive than you probably think (the real costs kick in later) and the Patent Office will be extremely helpful. That’s their job, but it is also their job to be sticklers for procedure so it’s important follow the rules to the letter. Getting a patent applied for gives you a priority date in case someone else comes up with the same idea. The Patent office will send you a free pack about how to apply.  It’s all very clear and straightforward.

Getting to market

Once you have a working prototype and/or a convincing presentation you may try to get a company interested in your idea.  When pitching your idea remember that any company will see your product in the context of their own business.  Try to allow for this and do as much market research as possible.  Curvorama was initially taken up by a company that had a factory in China that needed work.  There are several routes to market.  My first commercial product, PictureWall, was financed by Business Angels.

Once an innovator always an innovator

The whole process can be exciting and, in my experience at least, is easier the second time round.  If you do bring a product to market you may well want to do it again.  PictureWall became obsolete and Curvorama and ShowSuit replaced it. We also ventured into an entirely different market with SaferFitterGreener, StreetFeet and CrossRoads

Good luck.  If you have not already seen them you might be interested in Parts one and two of this series.