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Design - in terms of both function and appearance - is a key factor in the success of commercial products. You therefore need to think about the design of your invention from day one, because its potential may not be recognised if all other people can see is an impractical or unappealing design.
An experienced product designer can help you deal with manufacturers or component suppliers, either at prototype or full production stage. Manufacturers need detailed specifications before they can make anything, and if queries or problems arise they need to talk to someone who is technically knowledgeable.
The cost of professional design may be offset if your designer can find ways of improving product quality or reducing manufacturing costs through good design.
However, if your designer contributes ideas which significantly improve your invention, the designer may be legally entitled to a share of the IP. You should therefore first discuss how any new IP in the idea will be shared, in order to prevent disputes arising later. Your agreement should be based on advice from a patent attorney and documented before work starts.
If you need to involve a manufacturer in prototyping your idea, ask several companies for prices as manufacturing costs can vary widely. Small companies tend to be cheaper and more prepared to accept very small orders. Larger companies tend to be cheaper only at high volume, but for that reason it may be useful to know how cheaply your product could be manufactured in larger quantities.
Ask for prices based on the detailed drawings that you or your designer have produced but make sure that those drawings represent exactly what you want. A late request for even a minor modification may increase costs considerably.
If you cannot make a prototype without financial help, you must focus on proof of concept. This means presenting enough evidence to persuade an investor or innovation support organisation to pay for at least a prototype.
In producing proof of concept, your aim should be to make it difficult for anyone to say, ‘You have not told us this' or ‘Where is your evidence for that?' You must produce detailed and credible data - including mathematical proof where relevant - to support every technical claim you make for your idea. You must also make a strong case that your idea has excellent commercial prospects.
It may help greatly if you can produce independent expert evaluations of your idea alongside your proof of concept. For example, it may be possible to obtain expert opinion at relatively low cost from a university that specialises in your technology area.
Armed with proof of concept, it may be possible to approach one of the growing number of companies which specialise in product development and prototyping. They may be prepared to develop your invention in return for a stake in your IP.
This solution may be worth considering if it is clear that your idea cannot be developed or even prototyped without substantial funding and specialist expertise. However, companies willing to share the product development risk are likely to consider only ideas with outstanding profit and growth potential in high-value markets. They may have little interest in ‘ordinary' consumer products. For that reason, they typically reject most of the ideas offered to them for development.Such companies should not be confused with invention promoters (Part 3 ). None the less, they should be selected with care. You could start by seeking impartial advice from government approved technology support agencies. And before entering into any agreement to share your IP, you will certainly need detailed advice from your own patent attorney.