Designer Stefan Knox, who has taken hundreds of products to market, advises on when to patent your idea and the steps to ensure you generate the greatest returns.
You've had a great idea for a new product. You've chatted it over with friends and family and they love your idea too. So you decide to protect it with a patent. STOP! You are falling into the first trap of new product design!
Sadly this is a problem I see too often. The idea which is being protected is not the strongest or the best it could be and, most importantly, it is not the one with the most commercial potential that could bring the greatest return.
The first thing any inventor needs to ensure is that their product idea is designed to be a marketable product, as you can make anything - but only marketable products will sell!
The best form of product protection is having the best commercial product in the first place.
Start by thinking about your new product idea. Why would your user want the product in the first place? Is there a gap in the market and can you exploit it?
If your product does not have a unique selling point, a 'USP;, then it is a fashion item and can only really compete with existing products on style or user experience.
You need to try and make your product become a 'need' item. Think of this as turning a 'would like' into a 'must have'. This will span from great design.
The product should make the user want to use it. Just looking at it should make them love it and want to reach out and use it. When they use it, it must delight them. There must be something hidden in the design that only reveals itself when used. This will drive word of mouth promotion, which is the best promotion there is. The product, or service, is what starts a brand, not the other way round.
Find the best channels
Not everyone will want your product, so you must strongly appeal to a specific market. You must step into the shoes of your target customer to decide how best to deliver your product. Research, research, research! Where do they shop? How would they hear about your product? Once you establish which channels your product must be sold through you can think about your costs.
The right price
The world is driven by businesses making profits and profits must exist within your own venture, otherwise it is just a hobby project done for love.
Once you have defined your product's USP, you must establish a realistic retail price for your product. Don't be greedy, but don't be too conservative either. There are several hurdles to jump over to get a product into your customer’s hands and each hurdle takes it out of you in the form of a cost For example, this may include retail margin, shipping and operations.
Work backwards to find the cost price you need to make your product viable.
Reaching your customers
It is no good having a great USP and the right price if your target market cannot access the product. To do this, they must first learn about it and then know where they need to go to get hold of it. Design from the outset will help you achieve this, as your design will provide the platform for branding and promotion, which in turn will dictate the retail outlets your target market would visit to find your product or service.
Now is the time to protect!
So the secret is to get your idea to market first, making sure it's the best product, at the best price and available through the best channels. This should be the first from of product protection.
Once you have answered these questions you will know if you truly have a unique and commercially viable product. If you do, then now is the time to protect the idea - at the end of this process, not at the beginning!
If your product is in the market and you have answered these questions correctly, then how can a competitor knock you out? They can only share some of your market and in doing so will help to grow it, which will help you in return. Your second form of protection therefore is in the intellectual property rights your product can obtain. Combined together, in that order and you will find it an easier, more enjoyable and far more profitable route to market.