Every inventor is faced with the same dilemma. Do I need a prototype to successfully market my idea? And if I do, what type of prototype do I need? Let me try to help you reach a conclusion by posing a series of questions that you can ask yourself.
Is it your goal to sell a license or sell directly to your consumers?
After you have established that there is a viable market for your invention, your next step should be to decide how you are going to make money off of your idea. This is a very critical step, which most inventors forget about. Many times an inventor's excitement for pursing their idea gets in the way of figuring out the best way to make money off of it. After all, the true goal of most inventors is to create a profit stream from their idea. There are different avenues you can take to achieve profitability from your idea. I'll discuss them briefly here:
Licensing: Licensing involves taking your idea, protecting it legally (i.e. patenting), and selling the rights to use your idea to someone else. In order to license an idea you must be able to prove that you own that idea - this is primarily done through patenting or other legal documentation, depending on the type of invention.
Direct Marketing to Consumers: This is probably the most difficult course to follow, although it may be your only recourse if your invention is so novel or unique that there is no existing marketplace to license to. Marketing to consumers involves getting intellectual property rights (patenting), engineering design of your product, establishing a manufacturing base, creating a corporation to protect yourself, insurances, marketing costs, and most likely full-time attention from you. Let there be no mistake - selling your product directly to consumers is a big challenge!
So, do I need a prototype?
If you plan to market directly to consumers, you will most definitely need a prototype. Manufacturing a prototype will enable you to test and improve your idea, and will also enable you to take the prototype to manufacturers to get pricing for volume production. Keep in mind; most manufacturers require fabrication drawings and details in order to accurately price your product, so you may need to get a draftsman or engineer involved at this stage.
Say you're looking to license your idea instead. You may need a prototype. If your idea is easy to understand without any props and is discernable directly from your patent, you do not need a prototype of your invention to sell a license. However, in most cases, a fully functioning prototype will make your job of selling a license much easier to a potential licensee. Essentially, the more information you can provide the better the chances you have of reaching a sale.
Now, what kind of prototype do I need?
There are two basic types of prototypes: a works-like prototype, and a works-like looks-like prototype.
The works-like prototype functions exactly like the product you've envisioned, but may not visually look the same or use the final components that your finished product would use. For instance, you've invented a new type of wheel barrow with three wheels. A works-like prototype could consist of a traditional wheel barrow that you've bolted two wheels from another set of wheel barrows onto the bottom. It functions like your idea, but it looks modified, and uses parts borrowed from other manufacturers. This type of prototype is usually what is created by inventors first, and can be very effective in selling licenses.
The works-like looks-like prototype is for all intensive purposes an exact replica of the product you'll be mass producing. This may involve engineering of your product including printed circuit boards, and/or mechanical designs that can be immediately transferred to molding machines. You can create this type of prototype by very carefully selecting commercially available parts and using silicon molds for casting plastic pieces. This is the most difficult and costly type of prototype, however it will also greatly increase your chances of selling a license in that the licensee will have even less work to do to get your idea to market.
Next month I'll be talking about some techniques that you can use to create affordable prototypes of your idea. Be sure to check back, and if at any time you have any questions, feel free to Contact Us.
Joe Petrella Jr.