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If you want to successfully take a new product to market, you'll have to prove it works first. Additionally, you'll have to prove it works every single time the same way even if the user and some circumstances differ. This idea is perhaps best illustrated by Ray Kroc, the founder of McDonald's. His idea was to create a multitude of stores all over the country that could product the same exact food items. If you eat a cheeseburger in Wisconsin at 5 pm in December it should taste the same as one you had in California at noon in July. If you have a great idea, you need to ensure it is actually functional and useful and reliable once you get it off paper and into a working model.
This process is called prototype development. Without an invention prototype you can't get a patent or make a dime. Investors will take a keen interest in your prototype. If you aren't successful in this stage of inventing, the idea will be dead in the water, no matter how good it is. To be successful in prototyping, concentrate in these areas:
*Focus on the most risky elements first. Don't put them off hoping they will fall in place. If you do, you may waste a lot of time and money on an usable product.
*Focus initially on the internal design not the appearance. You may create the best-looking product, with slick outer covers and panels but it's the design and workability you need to patent.
*Consider computer tools and virtual prototype software. Some computers can do initial design experiments for you without the cost of manufacturing multiple widgets. A virtual prototype can sometimes be used to gain investment money to fund more detailed prototyping that's needed. Computer tools, as a rule, will be cheaper than other types of prototype options. You can learn more about virtual prototyping at InventHelp.com.
If you're an inventor, you probably love to tinker with things. If you have enough time, you can likely find a way to perfect or improve just about anything. You love this stage of inventing, the time when you get to be creative and use your mind to its fullest potential. But, some inventors make the mistake of missing a new product's market potential by spending too much time on prototype phases.
Consider the example of computer software. Did you know companies like Microsoft have released products that aren't yet totally perfected? Product testing is extremely time consuming and costly. So, if the product works well enough for an initial launch, companies may actually utilize its first users as testers.' In the case of software, adjustments can be made via the Internet automatically. Also, users may be happy with the software as it us even if it contains some minor flaws. There's nothing more frustrating than buying a product that doesn't work but it also isn't wise to become obsessed with an invention, thereby missing the market window. These days, market windows can be shorter than ever so keep that in mind as you go through prototype phases.
If you want to find a manufacturer to produce your product or a company to license it, these firms won't make the decision after seeing an idea. No matter how much you believe in the product, it's likely you'll have to spend some money on it before you can market it or license someone else to market it for you. Remember how frustrated you were the last time you opened a product package, tried it out and determined it didn't work? Prototyping is the main process used for inventors to figure out if their idea not only works but can be produced on a mass scale and still work each and every time someone buys it. It often takes a series of prototypes to get your product to its initial successful stages and another series of prototypes to make sure it can be manufactured quickly and inexpensively.
Inventors have been known to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on prototyping; that's why many pursue finding investor help for the costs. But, investors don't want to pay money for something they don't know will work so getting your idea to work is likely going to be your responsibility initially. You wouldn't buy a car if you couldn't get in it and drive it, right? Well, licensees and sellers don't want to see a prototype that does not look and work exactly as you have imagined it. You must be sure that your prototype works well and is durable because executives will use it hard, and over and over again.
To get your invention to the next step, you need a confident pitch, a well supported plan and a great prototype that can hold up to someone's tough eye and testing. So, setting up a series of tests on your own first is a great idea. For example, if you invented a toy, give it to some kids and see how it holds up. If you invented a way to improve a machine, ask a local manufacturer to give it a good test. Always be sure that people exposed to your idea sign confidentiality agreements. Also, investigate with a patent attorney all you need to do to protect your idea if you are going to expose it to the public or you might forfeit your exclusive rights to it. Two places you might find help with invention prototypes are local universities or a local inventor's association.
Finding a company to complete a series of prototypes for your new invention might be tricky. With the advent of the Internet, more and more such companies are listing themselves online so that may be a good start. When you consider hiring a company online, you should use all the same precautions as you use when you hire a local company or service. Consider calling the Better Business Bureau in the firm's locale to ensure it does not have complaints registered against it. You might try searching under keywords such as: prototyping, prototype an invention, invention prototypes or obtaining a product prototype.
If you hire an out-of-town company to work on your prototype, you'll have to consider the ramifications of being far away, possible travel costs and extra shipping expenses. However, once you complete your invention prototype research, you might determine this move is still best for your invention. You can also consider looking in the yellow pages for a company that might produce a prototype for you. If you are at a loss for finding such a company, consider calling local manufacturers or engineering firms to find a referral. It's possible that an engineer can help you develop your early prototypes if the needed materials can be obtained easily by you. Then, later you can hire a manufacturer to develop the more advanced and complete models. Whatever you decide to do for your invention prototype, ensure that all parties exposed to the working model of your invention sign confidentiality agreements. You might want to consult a lawyer to make sure these agreements are properly written and used.
If you've been working hard on a new invention, it's likely you are fairly invested in it. It might be hard to see the big picture initially. Sometime inventors rush right into the prototyping and patenting processes, spending a fair amount of time and money, only to discover they wasted it. But these days the more you wait the more chance there is that someone else will sneak in on your invention territory.
So when do you spend the money on an invention prototype and when should you hold off? Do you do marketability studies first before you spend money on a series of prototypes? It depends on the type of product you have. If you have a fairly expensive, high-tech product, which may cost as much as $200,000 to perfect and patent, you may want to study the market first. But, maybe your product can be prototyped with inexpensive, off-the-shelf materials, so the opposite may be true. However, if the success of your product will depend on consumer-driven factors like packaging, you may need to conduct focus groups before you prototype.
In the end, you want to invest as little as possible determining if your product is viable in the market place, especially because there will always be commercialization factors beyond your control.
Did you know the the website InventHelp.com can give you lots of ideas about a new way to prototype an invention called virtual prototyping? These days we use computers for just about anything. They can save time and money on many projects including the prototype phases of a new invention. You should be careful about any company you find online that offers help to inventors. Some online invention marketing companies try to promise you a successful invention launch, including prototypes and other services, but they don't have the proper experience and contacts to do so. Prototyping can be time consuming and expensive so one way to save both time and money is to consider a virtual prototype. The advantages are many including:
*Working out initial design flaws before you have to invest in prototypes produced by manufacturers.
*Offering potential investors a high-end, three dimensional, quality image to see in a presentation.
*Having a way to quickly reproduce that presentation to hand out at trade shows and other meetings.
*Gaining access to professional expertise at a reasonable cost.
Eventually, investors and companies that might sell or license your idea will want to see a working model but--while you are investigating prototype companies--consider whether your product can be prototyped this way and whether it's your best first step.
If your an inventor, you likely have a creative personality. You can visualize things faster than anyone else. You see things others miss. Most inventors in history were initially laughed at. Consider the Wright Brothers or Leonardo da Vinci. He had ideas for futuristic things long before someone found a way to product them. But, when you enter the prototype phase of your invention, you have to be willing to be part of a give and take professional relationship.
For instance, an engineer might say, this would work perfectly if you make a certain change. You might say, I simply can't make that change. But do you have a truly great reason for not considering it? If you are hiring a company to help you with an invention prototype, its employees might also have ideas you haven't considered. After all, if your product can't be produced on a mass scale, it doesn't matter how good or inventive an idea it is. Of course, you can't make changes that would invalidate any claims you made in your patent filing, or infringe on another so it might be good to involve your patent attorney at this stage, too.
To make the prototype phase work as quickly and efficiently as possible, try to focus on the engineer or manufacturing manager as partners rather than employees of yours, and remember you might react too fast because the invention is your baby. This isn't to say, you should accept any and all suggestions, but just focusing on a team approach will make this phase of inventing much more enjoyable, more successful and maybe even help improve on your original idea.
If you have invented a relatively simply product, you might be able to save thousands of dollars often spent by inventors on prototypes. When a new product is high-tech or an improvement to a working machine--such as a car--prototyping needs to be done in a series of stages. The first is the engineering stage. This is a rough prototyping stage. It's not unusual to see wires hanging out on the prototype. But, that's OK, this is the prototyping phase that proves the product works. These models may even be hand-crafted and take a lot of time to produce. Of course, in the long run, that won't be viable but it might initially be necessary. At this stage, inventors don't spend time or money on aesthetics of the product.
Next is the production prototype stage. Now the focus is on producing each part or subsystem of the invention. This stage should begin to utilize all the assembly tools and methods that will likely be used when the product is produced on a mass scale. Some parts of the product's exterior are incorporated such as panels and paint. Any flaws that develop are continually addressed before the next stage can be launched. Then, the finishing phase of prototyping incorporates final manufacturing methods as well nearly all aspects of the product.
If the product cannot be produced on a mass scale at the price selected, more work has to be done. Then, in the last phase, items like packaging are addressed as well as concentrated testing of many manufacturing batches.
|Jennifer Mathes, Ph.D.|