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Inventing Series Three: Bringing Your Idea to Life

Updated on March 4, 2016

Prototype Or Not To Prototype?

Well before an inventor even begins thinking of building his/her invention they have to design it first! When I came up with my first product idea I knew that I had to find someone with an engineering background to help me design and/or build it, so I contacted roughly 15 or so product design and development companies and a few independent engineers. I used Google to conduct most of my searches online, but occasionally I would ask for referrals if the company or engineer couldn't help me.

Whenever I contacted a product design development company or independent engineer, I always had them sign my Non-disclosure Agreement (NDA) before I would disclose any information or send them any materials relating to my invention. I cannot stress the importance of having a NDA established before submitting any materials or discussing your idea at length. NDAs do not protect the inventor's idea from being "stolen" or copied (only issued patents do that), but they do prevent those who signed the document from disclosing or distributing material relating to the inventor's idea without his/her consent or knowledge for a set term (typically two years). So, NDAs do provide some legal protection in terms of "keeping things under wraps" while the inventor is busy developing his/her idea. In essence, NDAs buy the inventor some time if he/she is in no hurry to file for a patent application or engage in the patenting process.

It is important to note that once an idea or product becomes public it is no longer patentable (so NDAs can be quite useful in this case as well).

The degree of development needed to take an idea and make it into a marketplace product varies from project to project, but all ideas generally fall into one of the following two development categories: pre-development and post development (some aspects of the process are interchangeable, meaning that they can be placed in either category) .

Pre-development process:

  • Existing patents and products research
  • Concept drawing, storyboards/research and development
  • CAD development (blueprints for manufacturing)
  • Virtual Prototyping/photo-realistic renderings
  • Physical prototyping (3D printing/rapid prototyping, CNC machining, urethane molding, metal or woodworking, laser cutting or engraving, etc)

Post development process:

  • Patent applications (design, utility, or plant)
  • Market research (surveys, trade shows, prototype demonstrations, prototype testing, etc)
  • Manufacturing (quotes, processes, purchase orders, fulfilling orders, distribution, etc)
  • Marketing, sales, investments, and business partnerships

I would strongly encourage any and all inventors to consider building a functional prototype. Generally, prototypes are placed in two distinctive categories: aesthetics and functionality. Prototypes in the "aesthetic category" look and/or feel like the finished product, but provide no function. However, prototypes in the "functionality category" work exactly like the final product, but fail to look and/or feel like the finished product (i.e. an ugly crude prototype that works).

Now, building a prototype can be quite a large expense depending on your finances and where you are in the developmental phase (is it the first, second, third, or last prototype before full scale production), so I suggest making your first prototype (or the first few prototypes) as inexpensively as possible because chances are you will have to make additional prototypes to refine your idea before it goes to the marketplace. Remember you are merely "proving the concept" with the initial prototype and "refining the concept" with subsequent prototypes. But the phrase "proof of concept" is quite loaded and means different things to different people and it also means different things at different times in the developmental process.

Huh? How can one phrase (proof of concept) change in meaning throughout the developmental process? Great question! Keep reading and you shall find out!

The power of prototyping

Who can build my prototype? Or manufacture my item?


Proof of Concept

What is proof of concept? Well in layman's terms it simply means that YOU (the innovator) have provided enough proof that your idea/invention can, not only be manufactured cost effectively, but also sold successfully. In essence, the phrase "Proof of concept" deals with the two components of product development: building and selling.


How much capital do you have to build large quantities and fulfill large orders? Can your idea be built with current machinery and/or technology? If so, what are the machines, labor, and materials needed? How much will it cost to build new machines (sometimes you need machines to build the machines to make your product)? How much will it cost to acquire and/or modify existing machines? How much will it cost to source out the materials or outsource labor? How much will it cost to package your product?


What about the transportation and distribution costs associated with your product (your product cannot stay in the factory/warehouse forever)? What about costs associated with user-ability/safety testing for compliance laws (each industry has regulatory standards of safety that all players must comply with)? What about the costs governing marketing and sales (paying your sales force)? How will you maintain your margins?

So, depending on where you are in the developmental phase (either building or selling) you will have to provide "proof of concept" either by building working prototypes/finished product, obtaining and fulfilling large purchase orders (shows market demand), complying with regulatory and safety standards, acquiring investment/capital, managing a sales/marketing force (proves business model), and the MOST IMPORTANT OF THEM ALL: BEING PROFITABLE!

REMEMBER: THE ULTIMATE PROOF OF CONCEPT IS PROFIT (which translates to sales)! Profit always separates the weak products from the strong products, but prototypes lay the foundation and play a vital role in product development.

I hope that you enjoyed this entry please stay tuned for my next post!

© 2015 stargazer90

Where have you built your prototype(s)?

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