You start to develop your idea. You ask your friends their opinions on your brainstorm who encourage you to develop it further. You do some searching on the internet to see if anyone else has had your brilliant idea. You decide to press further and you build a prototype or spend some money to have a product embodying your brilliant idea produced.
In a moment of self-reflection you realize you have a problem. It takes money to make money and you don’t have the money to bring your new product to market. A one off prototype is one thing, but to produce at scale and bring the price down to reasonable levels is more than you can pull off with the cash you have to burn.
What about asking others for money? Turns out your friends and family are not as crazy about your idea as you thought- or don’t have the spare cash to invest. Others? You have heard of Kickstarter, and other similar crowdsourcing web sites, where users interested in having a product make it to market make a deposit on a future product- at a usually lower price than the product will cost to regular consumers down the road.
You post a Kickstarter proposal and wait to see if your proposal attracts enough funding to allow you to actually produce the product at a reasonable price. Great news -your product is now on Kickstarter and if you are lucky it has gone viral and has been plastered all over the internet. Problem-your product idea has made it across the globe to China and enterprising Chinese copycats have started to make a version of your product for next to nothing. Your product will be better than what the copycats are making but the market may be gone by the time you can make your own- whether due to the copycats satisfying the market or poisoning the well so that by the time you can produce your product, the poorly made versions have given your product a bad name.
What can you do now? The barbarians have stormed the gates. There is not much you can do to keep them out. Your defense now is better execution and marketing to differentiate from your low cost competitors.
But what if I thought ahead? Ahh, if we could go back in time, there is at least one step you missed. After your brainstorm, and your conversations with your friends to test out your idea, you need to protect your idea from the invading hordes. If your new product is a patentable advance, you can obtain a US patent and stop the invaders at US borders. One of a patent holder’s rights is to prevent others from importing a product into the US. If that isn’t enough, patents in foreign countries can stop products from even being produced.
Steps to take after that brilliant idea:
-A quick internet search to see if your idea is really brilliant and to scout the competition. Burying your head in the sand and pretending there aren’t any others out there is not a winning strategy.
-Confidentially run your idea by you closest friends and family. A nondisclosure agreement is preferred.
- Do a patent search, or better yet hire a professional patent search to do the heavy lifting for you. A good search early on will tell you whether proceeding further is a good move. It will also help to prepare a better patent application.
- Determine your reasonable commercialization strategy and whether your product is ready for prime time.
-Decide whether to file a provisional or non-provisional patent application. The first is less formal but leaves potential pitfalls. The latter provides more protection but is expensive so you don’t want to take the plunge until you have a good idea of what product you will be selling so you can be sure the claims cover the product.
-If either type of patent application is sold, a foreign patent application may be filed within a year which claims priority to the application filed in the US.
A long slog getting your patent application through the Patent Office likely ensues.
After your patent is granted, the copycats can be stopped at the border, and even maybe abroad. So be sure to think ahead and protect your brilliance, because time travel only works in this article, not in real life.