Throughout my career, I have been involved with hundreds, if not thousands, of new products coming to market in almost every commodity possible. While each product was different and the road traveled getting it to market veered in different directions and through detours, the common thread centered around one notion: The process was not easy. I hit snags and unforeseen obstacles along the way, and you will too. Hitting the roadblocks gave me the opportunity to make the product better and really refine the idea.
Oftentimes entrepreneurs are so passionate about their idea and excited about the prospect of it being on their favorite retailer’s shelves that they do not take time for the due diligence needed to succeed. My intent is to educate would-be product developers on some important first steps related to product development.
First things first. Make sure your great product idea is not already on the market. The easiest way to do that is to Google keywords related to your concept. I tend to be cautious when it comes to sharing my idea with the general public. The last thing you want is to discuss it online where someone could potentially steal your idea.
Once your research has been completed, the next step I suggest is to hire a patent attorney who can carry out a general patent or design search. It is possible that your product idea has already been patented but has not yet gone to market. A patent attorney can help ensure that you are not reinventing the wheel, or unintentionally infringing on someone else’s patent. If your product idea has been patented, an attorney could help you determine if it would be possible to patent a variation of the initial product idea.
Patent research will determine if anyone else already has dibs on your invention. If they do not, you are greenlighted to proceed. The next step is ensuring the feasibility of producing the product. Bear in mind that there’s a significant leap between a person who comes up with a great invention and someone who can create (i.e., manufacture) the product. It’s a good idea to put together a non-disclosure agreement before sharing your product idea with people in your relevant industry, individuals you trust, such as SCORE mentors, manufacturers, or anyone else with specific insight on your product idea.
From there, an engineering consultant can help you design your product, provide 3-D renderings and mechanical drawings that a manufacturer could use in producing your concept. The consultant may be able to refer a manufacturer based on your product specifications.
The next step is researching the manufacturer(s). As a good rule of thumb, I suggest vetting three manufacturers and developing benchmarks based on that research as it relates to cost, feasibility, and other product recommendations. A reputable manufacturer should be willing to provide certifications, an address, website, and share information on products manufactured previously. A proper manufacturer should also be willing to sign your non-disclosure agreement.
In calculating the time each of these steps realistically takes to complete, your product idea could make its way to market within one year’s time. If you plan to file a patent for your invention, it could take a while longer for your product to get to market. It’s up to the inventor to decide if you would rather be first to market or to have the product protected.
I hope this product development overview will help as you contemplate pursuing your invention. To learn more about this topic, please join me for an Aug. 18 webinar that I will lead for SCORE Bucks County.
Robert Catalano is a product development subject matter expert for SCORE Bucks County. He has almost three decades of experience in product development and manufacturing, strategy and planning, and quality control and compliance.