Moving Your Idea Along

The process for commercialization of an innovation/invention is not linear but there is a definite order within the process with occasional cross over and revisits. There are also some GO – NO GO instances where decisions need to be made.  For instance the CRI prefers to model the commercialization process based on 4 themes; Innovation & Ideas, Technical Feasibility, Market Feasibility and Financial Viability. So far I have stayed within the theme of Innovation & Ideas (So You Have a Great Idea) and briefly discussed Technical Feasibility.

Now it’s time to visit Market Feasibility.

Who exactly is going to buy your innovation/invention? Not just who would use it – that could be misleading.

There are no short cuts here and lots of guessing but the internet makes this a whole lot easier than it was before. A good look at your competitors may help you with this. Be aware that your competition is anything that people will spend that same dollar on. The first automobile’s competition was not another vehicle but a horse or anything else that people used to get from point A to point B.

Even if your goal is to sell your idea to someone else to manufacture and market you still need to understand who is going to buy your innovation/invention. How can you convince someone to buy your idea if you have no idea who will buy it from them?

In So You Have a Great Idea I used a picture hanging tool as an example. Let’s use that same tool to illustrate this. Anyone that wants to hang a picture is our potential customer. But our picture hanging tool comes with a self-leveling mechanism that makes the cost a bit much for only hanging one picture. At this point we need to identify customers that would be willing to pay more than the usual cost of a conventional picture hanging tool (hammer & nails). This could be an art gallery. Then we need to ask the question are there enough of these customers to justify going ahead with our idea? And just as important what is so good about our tool that they would be willing to give up what they currently use to buy ours?

These are all questions that can be researched and enough information gathered to know if it is still worth pursuing and all before any significant time or money is spent. The key here is to be honest and realistic. This is not an excuse to get bogged down in the research but meant to be one of those checks to see if it is indeed worth the effort. According to Entrepreneur.com in their article Get Your Product to Market in Six Steps ‘Finding out how to get your product to market is often more relevant to your success than the features and benefits of your invention.’

The CRI and our partners have a wealth of experience to draw on and once you have done the basic work of clarifying your idea and the marketplace for that idea it’s a great idea to give us a call or send us an email.

We can help with everything we have talked about here as well as the next steps.

 

 

Time to Rethink Patent Pending?


Patent Sign 1
Over the last few years I have been involved in a few successful patent applications but personal experience doesn’t always represent the whole picture so when a client reflected on a different experience with the patent process I figured I’d better do some research on the subject. I called the patent lawyer we often refer clients to. Nathan Woodruff was very helpful and I definitely learned some things. For instance, I was under the impression that either your application was accepted and you received your patent or it was rejected and you were done. Not so our patent lawyer tells me. In fact a significant amount of the applications are rejected on the first examination. The next step is then to respond to the Examiner – and this process can be repeated more than once, and often is.

patent1Nathan suggested you could compare the process to selling your home. You as the seller are quite optimistic about the value of your home (idea), whereas the buyer (in this case the patent office) is quite pessimistic about that same value. After you go through the process – like multiple offers and counter offers – you often reach an understanding or agreement and potentially the patent application is approved.

The other thing that I now have a better understanding of is this whole notion of ‘patent pending’. In Canada you have up to 5 years to request an examination of your application. Responding to the Examiner just leaves your patent application in this pending state. I suppose one of the positives with this pending state is your idea or invention will not be published for the world to see. This may be important as you work on testing or perfecting the technical aspects or even your marketing strategy but ultimately you will not have the protection that a patent was designed to offer. You will not be able to defend or protect your idea/invention from those potential copycat competitors.

Something else you may want to keep in mind as with a lot of things, the longer it takes the more it costs. I am certainly wiser and I sure appreciated being able to call on an expert.

The Next Step for Your Great Idea

next_stepOK your idea passed the test. You did some research and it seems pretty unique. You have also decided your idea is something you are willing to invest in both with your time and a little money. Now what?

As I referred to in the blog post ‘So You Have a Great Idea‘ moving that great idea through to commercialization is a process and it can take years. For example the Smart Board that is now in many school classrooms and company board rooms was an idea that was first born in 1986. It was 1991 before the first interactive whiteboard was created and as I understand it a few years after that before the company was actually successful. Check out their story here.

For innovators that want to commercialize their idea the Canadian Innovation Centre suggests that kind of venture success depends on 8 big hurdles or factors and critical gaps in one or more of these factors significantly reduce the likelihood of success. Three of these factors are in the marketing realm, the rest concern the innovation itself, the customer, finances and whether the entrepreneur has the right stuff. Go here for the complete list.

Before you spend any money or any more time the next step should be to analyze the technical strength of your idea. To have commercial value your idea (and the resulting product or service) should solve a real problem. Not only that, it needs to somehow solve the problem better, cheaper, faster than current solutions. Keep in mind that current solutions have market share already backed by advertising budgets and even customer loyalty. Your solution even if it is better, cheaper, and faster needs to provide customers with a compelling reason for them to change otherwise it will be easier for them not to. It is also good to remember benefits are more important than features. People would buy a picture hanging tool with a level to hang pictures straight not because the tool comes in a nice storage case.

The technical analysis also involves determining whether or not your idea is physically possible. If your idea involves a process by which lead turns into gold perhaps a different approach will be necessary.  Interesting to note that a few patents have been abandoned because the inventor was unable to get a prototype to work. In other words the invention/innovation wasn’t technically feasible in the first place.

Remember this is all stuff you do before you have spent any real money. Before you have invested so much of yourself you can’t let go no matter what the consequences. Not understanding how important preliminary research is could only cost you mega dollars in the end.

If you get to this point and you want some help or advice please send me an email at janet@bluecollarconsulting.ca and I would be happy to help.

The Impact of Technology

impactA few months ago I entered into a venture that I had done previously almost 20 years ago. What I found quite interesting was while many things remained the same, the impact that technology had with regards to many of the business processes was astounding. Some of the things that were quite successful back then were at best marginal when repeated today.

There is a lesson there. In this digital age I think we need to reevaluate regularly not only our processes and procedures but perhaps our ideas as well. Are there some activities we are currently undertaking that are better delivered in a different format or by someone else? Do the clients that are contacting the CRI today have the same needs as those who contacted us a few years ago? Or with the amount of information on the internet are innovators finding the information they need through Google or a similar search engine?

Today we can search patent databases ourselves without ever having to contact a patent lawyer. We can also search for our idea on the internet – before we invest time and money only to find out it has already been invented and commercialized.

Unfortunately for many of us our idea is attached to a dream that someday it will make us rich or perhaps even famous. When we begin to act on that dream by searching for it on the internet we risk destroying it when we discover that someone else has already taken our idea to the next step .  For those of you who are courageous enough to do that only to find your dreams shattered perhaps instead it could be viewed as a suggestion to reevaluate that idea. If that idea needs to be discarded it is only so another can take its place.

 

Are you ready? Commercializing Your Idea

dolliesFor most of us when we come up with a great idea for an innovation or invention the objective is to eventually make money from it. But before we invest any money of our own (or someone else’s) it is wise to invest a bit of time to first analyze the invention along the entire commercialization process. To have commercial value the product must solve a real problem. Not only that, it needs to somehow solve the problem better, cheaper, faster than current solutions. Keep in mind that current solutions have market share already backed by advertising budgets and even customer loyalty. Your solution even if it is better, cheaper, and faster needs to provide customers with a compelling reason for them to change otherwise it will be easier for them not to.

Once you are confident it passes that test then you need to determine if your idea is physically possible. Interesting to note that a few patents have been abandoned because the inventor was unable to get a prototype to work. They might have had a great idea that solved a real problem but the invention/innovation wasn’t technically feasible in the first place.

Next step, providing the idea solves a real problem and it’s doable, is to figure out exactly who will buy it. Not just who would use it, although that needs to be considered too. Next question: are there enough of these customers to justify going ahead with the idea? This is the Market Feasibility.

Financial viability refers to whether there is sufficient potential to earn a profit from the innovation or invention to warrant an investment. First what are all those customers willing to pay for your solution? The patent lawyer we refer people to tells a great story about an invention that the inventor managed to get Canadian Tire to purchase and resell. While customers loved the idea it turned out that they would gladly have paid $100 for it but the $300 price tag was just too much so no one bought it. A combination of what will the invention cost, what will people pay for it, and is there enough of a market to justify all the investment required to set things up is Financial Viability.

All this work needs to be done upfront – before you invest money or even any significant time. What you discover here may strongly suggest you get another idea or it may indicate you need to delve deeper into each area and actually invest some time and money pursuing your idea.

Looking to Get a Patent?

patentRecently I met a very focused inventor looking to get a patent on his idea. After our conversation I thought perhaps there are a few more potential inventors that could benefit from what we discussed. Let’s start by looking at things through the eyes of the Patent office. Basically the Patent Office will only award a patent for a ‘solution to a problem’. Therefore the first thing I strongly recommend is you determine what the problem is and why your idea is a solution. This is more than just a test for a patent, it is basic sales 101. The objective for most people is to make money from their ideas in whatever form that takes. If your great idea doesn’t solve a real problem chances are it doesn’t have the kind of value you are hoping for. (For a detailed explanation on what exactly a patent is check out the Canadian Intellectual Property Office explanation here.)

Patents can be very costly and are not the only way to protect intellectual property. It’s very important to do the research first.  Basically the Patent Office will apply three tests to your application to determine whether or not you will receive a patent. First is the solution to the problem new? There must be no other patents that suggest the same solution to the same problem. This is where the research is important. You can start by searching for Canadian patents on the Canadian Intellectual Property Website. I would also suggest searching on the United States Patent and Trademark Office website as well as Google Patents.

Next the Patent Office will determine if the solution is useful. This means the problem must be clearly identified in the patent application as well as how your solution solves that problem. Finally the solution must not be obvious. This is a little trickier to explain and adds a level of complexity to the process. (I suspect this is the reason over 90% of patent applications use a registered patent agent.) If teachings from 2 or more patents can be combined to arrive at your solution then it would be obvious. That being said inventions do not occur in a vacuum and there is always some background of previous patents (referred to as prior art). Most patents are granted for incremental improvements.

As always things are never as simple as they seem and often expert advice is needed. GPRC’s Centre for Research & Innovation has partnered with the firm of Thompson Woodruff Intellectual Property Law to assist inventors in our region. I encourage you to check out their web site as it contains some great information.

 

So You Have a Great Idea

swirl
So you have a great idea and you are looking to do something with it. Even before you consider if you need to protect your idea it is a worthwhile exercise to do some research to see if someone else has already done some work in this area. Today the best way to do this is by using the internet and a search engine like Google. To illustrate this let’s say you have an idea for a picture hanging tool. When I typed in ‘picture hanging tool’ in Google I got over 5 million results and on the first page I had tools from Home Depot, Canadian Tire, Home Hardware, Walmart as well as a few companies like AS Hanging Display Co and The Grommet. At this point I might consider going back to the drawing board and coming up with a new idea or refining the search by adding some of the characteristics of my idea. Using the picture hanging tool again perhaps my idea includes a leveling system. When I searched ‘picture hanging tool with leveling system’ in Google I was down to 1.5 million results, less than a third of what I had before, but still that would be more than enough for me to consider looking for a new idea.

It helps to understand what your motivation is behind moving your idea to the next step. For most of us the objective is to make money from our ideas in whatever form that takes. Making money from your idea can happen in a couple of ways. Many of us are under the illusion that we can just have an idea and sell that idea to someone for a large sum of money. Let’s explore this a little further.

Let’s say that you have an idea that is so innovative someone maybe interested in buying it. The first thing to consider here is: how do you protect that idea? While patents aren’t the only way to do this, it is what a patent is designed for. Be aware though patents typically cost over $5000 and this can be just a starting point. Moving a great idea through to commercialization is a process that can take years. In his blog Layers of the Mind Bruce Rutley states, ‘One of the key points of marketing new ideas is that research has shown that it takes about 1000 ideas for every one product that is successful in the marketplace.’ Companies know this from experience. I very much agree with Patent lawyer Doug Thompson’s analogy that asking a company or investor to buy a patent without a working prototype followed by commercial activity is like asking them to buy a lottery ticket. And I guess that is ok if you only want $10 for your idea.

One of the other things that always surprises me is that some innovators/inventors really feel that someone else should invest in their idea when they themselves are unwilling to. Once again the research shows that we are far more convinced of the value of our ideas and the things we invest our time in than others are. (If you want a great demonstration of this check out the Ted Talk by Dan Ariely) So if you don’t believe in your idea enough to invest a significant amount of time and/or money you can bet no one else will be interested in doing that either.

The long and short of it is if you want your idea to make money for you be prepared to invest not only a large amount of your time but ultimately some of your money too.