1. Check the search engines (Google, Bing, Yahoo) to determine if your idea has been commercialised and is ‘out there’. Not finding a similar product does not necessarily mean that it doesn’t exist out there – it could just mean that you haven’t come up with the right keywords.
3. If your idea does appear to be unique, determine if there are claims that could form the basis for a patent. Look at patents in similar fields of research and in the industry to see the sorts of claims made and to get a feel for the format a patent application would take. Which patent agents or attorneys drafted the patents you consider strong? You may want to hire the same agent or attorney that have knowledge in this scientific or industrial sector. As they are in the field, they may come up with ideas on how to commercialise technology in your particular field.
Note – by protecting your intellectual property (IP) you may be able to stop others from copying your idea and have the right to defend your idea, but it will not mean that you have the freedom to operate (your patent may infringe existing patents and if so, you will need to come to an arrangement with the original patent owner).
4. If the search engines do not produce results, it could be because it is not such a good idea afterall and there isn’t a demand for it or alternatively, it’s a great idea, but with current technology the costs to implement it would prohibit sales at a price the end-user would be willing to pay. The last thing you want to do is to invest time and funds into developing a product and then find out that there isn’t any demand for it. Or simply, no one thought of it earlier!
5. Who is the end-user? Is the end-user the same person that decides to purchase the product? If not, what is the decision-making process in the industry that you are addressing? How will you reach the end-user? How will you reach the decision-maker? Who do you need to lobby? Is the timing right? Are you ahead of the market? Is current legislation in favour of your idea or would laws need to be in place before your product becomes a viable proposition? How sensitive is your idea to legislation?
6. OK – you’ve asked an answered the questions above and come up with some of your own, and now you have decided to apply for a patent. One minute! Do you realize that as soon as you apply for a patent, the clock starts ticking? Filing a patent is not that expensive until you need to file the patent in various countries 18-24 months down the line. Translation costs alone can be prohibitively expensive. Make sure you have a strategic plan for where the patent needs to be filed (in which countries) and that you have the funds to do so, well before the date you actually need to. Raising funds when you are desperate, in order to protect patents, could prove very costly to your equity holding. Investors will often ‘smell’ desperation and force a better deal for themselves.
7. Building prototypes and testing the idea is imperative. If it’s an idea in the food, biotechnology or chemical industry, for example, going from table-top to scaling up by factors of 10- or 100-fold can produce surprising and sometimes unwanted phenomena. If in the field of software, for example, debugging before release can save embarrassment and your company’s reputation from being damaged.
8. However tempting, do not over engineer the product – time to market is precious. Less is more so do not engineer the product to death with features that most end-users won’t use. Those ‘nice-to-have’ features could be implemented in later versions. You need sales! Get moving! Talk to end-users – get their feedback and produce a product that the market is interested in.
9. Routes to market – is this a one-off product or a platform from which you could develop a series of products for one or more industries? Answering this simple question could mean the difference between licensing your product to an existing player in the market versus setting up a company and commercializing the idea yourself.
10. Lastly, it’s always a good idea to sell in your local market before exporting. If things go wrong, it’s better contained nationally than internationally – especially if you are exporting huge machines and need to fly out engineers to fix them – hotels, food and flights can soon add up.