Both are faces of the same coin, derived through necessity. We all design and invent, it is natures way of progress, but what I wish to lay before you are the difficulties, snags and problems in designing and inventing for profit. My own experience. So you can evaluate the advice, in short I quote my own experience. I have been a designer in Heavy Engineering in most branches from tunnels, airfields, water, sewerage works, docks and harbours, shops and flats. After retirement I was a design consultant to people wishing to promote their own designs and inventions, including patenting and protection, culminating in a joint British Design Award.
The friends and relatives of the client are the bane of the design consultant. Generally, neither they or the client have any promotional experience and often a limited technical knowledge, but after seeing the invention, they are all so mutually proud, so sure it will make a fortune, they have imbued the client with such a positive attitude he is not prepared to listen to advice and, believe it or not, he is convinced the consultant will steal his design. This was so prevalent I made a statement I was prepared to put in writing – it stated that his material would be treated with the utmost confidence, not only would I not copy it, if as a result of our discussions I could see improvements, additional uses, or should the design be unworkable but another version saleable, all would be his in total and I would have no claim on it. Even this on occasion was hard to convince.
Protection Patents, Copyright, Protected Designs, and Trademarks, all come under the auspices of the UK Patents Office and are referred to as Intellectual Properties. Things have moved on since my day, 14 years ago, so I will only generalise. If you have an interest in protection, start searching on the internet. I was involved with a design which seemed to have tremendous potential, worldwide, but was received in some quarters with scepticism. Patenting would have to be worldwide, especially with so many countries now well versed in manufacture, and patenting alone was going to cost tens of thousands of pounds. One aspect of protection is that the details of the design and/or the manufacturing process must remain secret until a preliminary patent is obtained, any breach could invalidate the ultimate patent. Hence the design must be protected before seeking a manufacturer.
Manufacture – Costing. Designs from the humble milking stool to the Rolls Royce require to start with a prototype stage to iron out design, drafting and manufacturing problems. Often these can be done in other materials more cheaply and more conveniently, but they are essential as it is rare to consider all aspects without modification.. Once this is done a manufacturing consultant – ranging from a friend to whatever – is needed to decide on the best economical process and hence the anticipated cost. Only at that point should the product be promoted.
Promotion and Prospects To make the point I will quote the above instance. We had a prototype, photographs, a reasonable stab at the manufacturing process, and the cost of the moulds necessary to produce the product in plastic. To this was added printing and packaging – all assessments to be hardened up when a manufacturer was found. The first manufacturer was very enthusiastic, but he was part of a conglomerate and the product would need next stage approval. This stage was a duplicate of the previous one. The decisions came back in a few days. Then the product was sent to the top of the heap in the US and we heard nothing for at least a month. Our Marketing Consultant believed from experience that the people in the US were assessing it in the hope of breaking the patent, hence the delay. Ultimately the client found a manufacturer, the product was put on the market but never achieved the sales to even clear all the overheads. There are books in libraries on marketing and details of the various methods used to gauge the potential, like simple mass questioning, with a pen and clipboard, and product evaluation seminars, where selected cross sections of the intended market are brought together in groups to examine and discuss the product before analysts – and there are still other methods. One other hurdle is the state of the general economy which is mercurial.
The percentage of designs from the general public, which reached the stage of being considered for manufacture was about 5% The successful ones were less than 2%. It’s a tough, costly road and there is only room for hard-headed common sense. Check before spending time and money, someone else, with your skills and reasoning may have had the same idea, it happened to me. Check patents, on the Internet or, possibly, through a government Quango.