If you have watched Dragon’s Den and thought ‘I’ve got a great idea’, read on to learn the ups and downs of developing a product, get practical advice on the process of bringing a product to market and hear from people who have succeeded.
Thousands of people have great ideas for products that will improve people’s lives, but very few of them see their invention become a reality. Britain is very much a nation of inventors, nonetheless, with men and women meeting up in Inventors Clubs on a regular basis. So, if you have a great idea for a product, what is the first thing you should do? Kane Kramer is the Chairman and co-founder of the British Inventors Society and an inventor himself. He advises, “If you have an idea don’t just go and tell everyone about it. Keep it secret. Once you have disclosed it publically you can no longer patent it. Cally Robson is an Innovation Consultant and Founder of She’s Ingenious!, an online library and network for women developing and commercialising innovative products and inventions. She advises, “Find out how to protect your idea by patent, design registration or developing and registering a trademark. The government’s intellectual property website has useful summaries . Don’t jump in to register protection – to avoid expensive mistakes, learn about what else is needed first.”
If you want to patent an idea, the next thing you need to do is to ensure that your idea is truly new and unique. There are two ways to do this, either via a patent agent or by doing your own search of the espacenet patent database. Kramer explains, “You can go to a patent agent who will always give a free consultation. You might want to see two to three patent agents and choose one with relevant expertise. If you have an optical invention look for an agent who has worked with lenses before, for example, and it will make it a smoother ride. The patent agent will give you their take on the idea, and can do a patent search. This is all confidential and won’t affect your ability to apply for a patent.”
If you want to keep your development costs down, a less expensive way to search for similar ideas that have already been patented is to go to the British Library patent searching section. Kramer continues, “You can do this yourself free of charge, but the terminology may not be familiar, so you may want a search specialist to help you for a fee. You will be charged by the time they spend on your search, and you can set a budget for how long you would like the search specialist to work for. These searches are not absolute but will give you an indication. You might find in the first five minutes they find ten similar ideas, which will save you pursuing the idea any further.”
Whichever way you choose to search, this step is vital before you start developing a product prototype or registering a patent. Kane Kramer says, “If you don’t go through the due diligence process first you are simply following a dream. You can invest serious money, many thousands of pounds on patent applications or prototypes of something which has already been done. A search by the British Library or a patent agent, plus general advice from the agent will put you in a good position to decide if there is a next step to take. Often people have five or six ideas and this can enable you to narrow down to the one or two ideas that might have legs!”