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Welcome to the Inventors Resource part of the Website.
Here at F3 we are very passionate about Invention and the benefits it can provide to individuals, industry, Australia and humanity as a whole. We are lucky enough to have been involved with many Inventive projects that have helped everyday Australians become independently wealthy and also some that have changed entire industries for the better, one in particular created a world wide change in packaging practices and saves billions of liters of waste every year by extending the shelf life of liquid perishables.
People don't realize how important but also how rare Invention is in our society. Everyone assumes that world changing ideas are invented in large corporations when it is far more likely that an individual, either within a corporation or outside of it, has had the insight and eureka moment that has sparked change. Apple is a massive corporation but where would it be without Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, no x-rays without Marie Curry, no white out without Bette Nesmith Graham and of course no Strucket without Kelly Lavery (she is featured in the header at the top of this page).
Our hope is to guide these special individuals and offer options that they can peruse in order to help them to realize their Inventions (or ideas) so they may make a change in their lives or the lives of others. Please make use of the resources and knowledge provided here. It is hard to come by so please share it freely so others don't need to learn their lessons by mistake. This information comes from a lifetime of Inventing and Innovating and 25 years of taking ideas through to market as a Professional Industrial Designer. We hope they help you to change your world and we are only a phone call away if you need our help.
Links to Podcast:
Why Invention Benefits Australia and Society
Invention vs Industrial Design
The Fascinating World of Invention
Before we even make a start on the design process it is important to take a moment to project forward and see what you actually want to achieve from taking on a entrepreneurial venture like product development. Our society is good at promoting big business strategies and powerful people at the top of the heap but the price of these things can also be very high. It can be incredibly stressful and all consuming meaning you may sacrifice other important goals like having a family or having time for your existing family. If you sole aim in life is to be a jet setting, high flying ruler of many then go for it, I'll be behind you all the way but if you take on a project and you end up hating that lifestyle then the project may not feel like much of a success to you five years in.
There are many options and exit strategies to consider when going into a new venture like this and I will go through some of the more common options and their pro's and con's so you can generate a mental map of what path you may want to take.
1. Develop some Intellectual Property and sell it off to the highest bidder
Sounds awesome doesn't it. I've had a brilliant idea and I've approached an Attorney to get a patent and now the world will come beating down my door and start a bidding war for my idea. I'll retire richer than my wildest dreams and never have to work again. I'm not saying this has never happened but if it has I've never heard of it. Think of this from a buyers perspective, they would be buying an idea that is unproven, untested, has no evidence of market need, has a patent that hasn't been examined so may be rejected and the buyer still has to do all of the development, pay for all of the production costs, do all of the marketing and take all of the risk. It is hard to imagine any company willing to take those sorts of risks so it's best to put this idea out of your head and put a more solid plan in place. In my experience if you are going to undertake a venture like this there are no shortcuts and you've just got to do everything right or not do it at all.
2. Develop a Product and Sell it to a third party
This is a far more likely opportunity because by developing an actual product you have something tangible to trade and it is far easier to patent a functional product than an idea. By working through all of the technical obstacles and developing a product that actually works and solves the problem at hand you reduce the risk of the third party dramatically. Also, by having an actual working product or prototype, it is obvious to an Attorney what you've developed and they can do relevant searches to make sure you have free title on the product and that it is novel and inventive so can be patented. Be aware though that although this is less risk for the buyer it still has some major barriers due to the fact that the market hasn't been proven, the patent may still not have been examined (this takes quite a lot of time) and there are still the manufacturing, production, marketing and distribution costs and logistics to bear. Along with all of these costs you are then holding your hand out for a large sum of money to buy the product off you. This sort of deal does occur but you can see it is still a risky proposition for a company to expose themselves to.
3. Develop a Product and License it to a third party
Now we are getting somewhere, this path if done properly can provide a very successful result for both the developer and the buyer. The party developing the product avoids all of the substantial costs in manufacturing, marketing and distributing the product and the buyer (or licensee in this case) is sharing the risk with the seller rather than having to pay a large sum upfront. Depending on the project the cost of development can still be relatively high (you're talking the cost of putting in a new pool on average) and you are designing and protecting the product as if you are a large multi-national (because this is now your client, not an individual as it would be if you are manufacturing and selling a product). You will not only have to develop the product with all of the bells and whistles so the third party sees it's full potential but you will also need to be very thorough with your patent protection because this will form a large part of your negotiation. A licensing agreements works by the Inventor (Licensor) agreeing to allow a third party (Licensee) to take your technology or intellectual Property and develop it to exploit for their own gain. They then agree to pay you a royalty for each product they sell. This can be based on a larger percentage of the manufacturing price or a lower percentage of the wholesale (or if they are a retailer, the retail price). It is generally the former because there is no currency conversions to calculate. This percentage is very product dependent but can range from 1% to 20%. Now 1% sounds insignificant but if you are selling to a multi national that sells hundreds of thousands of units it quickly adds up and you can't forget that you haven't had to risk or outlay all of the manufacturing, production, distribution, sales and marketing costs - and their network would dwarf any sales you could hope to make as a start up.
4. Develop and Manufacture a product to sell directly to the market
This business structure offers the most control and is very appealing to many people for this reason. You are not reliant upon striking a deal with a third party to make your project turn a profit but on the flip side you bear all the costs and liability of the product and also have to develop a strategy for sales and supply. You are also charge of all of the Patent and Trademarking costs and everything in between like websites, brochures, barcodes etc, etc, etc. My most successful clients have taken this route as have I and each and every one of us has the battle wounds to prove it. It is a very challenging but ultimately very satisfying path but a good dose of mental fortitude is required. In choosing this path you will be very hands on (at least in the early stages) as start ups generally need a lot of input on launch. As the business grows you will be able to employ staff to help you but you should plan to be very busy in the first few years.
5. Develop and Manufacture a product to sell through a distribution network
This plan is very similar to plan 4 but in this case you aren't required to build the sales pipeline but instead rely on an established distributor to sell your goods for you. This has huge advantages because a distributor already has sales pipelines, credibility and reps on the road fulfilling their own products and can simply add your product to their range. It gives you instant access to all of their selling and fulfillment capabilities and you only need to supply the one entity. Of course you still have all of the manufacturing, liability, patenting and supply issues to take care of but these can become quite automatic after a period of time. In these situations you generally sell your product to the distributor at a wholesale price and they put their markup on top before on selling it to a retailer.
Links to Podcasts:
How to price your Business
Got a Million Dollar Idea? ...should you just go on a holiday?
Patents (with special guest Regan Gourley
Staging and Launch Strategies
Entrepreneurs. What it takes
Working with a trusted advisor
Setting your business up tp sell
Product Commercialization (Part 1)
Product Commercialization (Part 2)
Non Disclosure Agreements (NDA's)
Before you start it is important to know how to stop your ideas from being exploited by others. I can tell you from experience that this does happen and it is a very bitter pill to swallow. Not many people understand the amount of time and energy that may have gone into coming up with what appears from the outside to be a fairly simple idea. There are millions of ways to solve most problems but to whittle them down to one viable solution can take many years of experimentation and thought. However once that solution is made tangible through drawings or prototypes then you will need to put some sort of protection in place to stop others from taking that idea and running with it.
One way to protect your ideas in the early stages is by getting people you speak to about your ideas to sign a Non Disclosure Agreement (sometimes called a Confidentiality Agreement or IP Contract). This agreement defines the general nature of your project (a full disclosure means they know what your product is before signing the document) and the purpose of the disclosure, a time period the agreement holds for and the ramifications of breaching it. You can learn more about them here on the IP Australia Site About NDA's
At F3 Industrial Design we have developed our own Non Disclosure Agreements (NDA's) and use certain ones to suit certain jobs and circumstances. We have however found a great resource on the IP Australia Site that allows you to generate your own NDA NDA Generator.
Patents, Trademarks etc
This topic is very broad and has legal ramification if I give you the wrong advice here. Let me just say that Copyright, Design Registrations, Innovation Patents, Patents, Trademarks and Trade Secrets can all be very crucial to the outcome and sustainability of your projects. On the other hand, not managing the costs of these processes and applications can cripple a company financially and you can risk losing all of your protection if you can't afford to pay for a patent fee when it is due. Striking a balance between your needs and budget is a very important aspect of your overall project and needs a well thought through strategy. To start you off here is a link to all things Patent Related Understanding Intellectual Property. We also have a number of very knowledgeable, approachable and reputable Patent Attorneys we can direct you to if needed. Because of our focus on Patentable Products, F3 is also very experienced in developing Intellectual Property strategies and do so regularly for our inhouse and client projects, so if you need further help we can assist you in this area.
One gold nugget we can provide is to consider deeply when you decide to start the patent process. Start too early and you may be paying patent bills when you should be paying manufacturing bills, start too late and you may risk the novelty of your product by taking it into the public domain without cover.
Another is to remember the two aspects that constitute a patentable solution. It has to have an inventive step and it has to be novel. Before you start spending money on your project do a long and thorough search for anything that may be competing in the same space. If there is someone doing the same thing in the same way then decide if your product is still viable. The other thing to remember when you look at the aspects of a patent is that if you put your product out into the public domain prior to obtaining patent protection then it is no longer deemed novel and you can destroy any chance of being granted a patent. You don't necessarily need a patent to develop a product, in fact you might be surprised to know that the massive multinational Coca-Cola doesn't have a patent to cover their recipe and simply keeps it a trade secret.
Links to Podcasts:
Patents (with special guest Regan Gourley)
Planning, Philosophy & Patent Strategy
Market, Product and IP Research
Before you start designing your product it is wise to do a thorough search on-line and in shops that may stock products like the one you are looking at developing. If there are none available then ask yourself why that is. Has no one been as imaginative as you or are you seeing a problem that no one else considers worth spending money on fixing. Are there commercial, physical or technical barriers that are stopping others from solving the problems your product solves. Also consider the fact that if there aren't any competing products you may need to allocate a large marketing budget to educate people on why they need this new to world offering. On the other hand, if there are a lot of competing products then you will need to make sure you have a good competitive advantage to go up against them and turn a profit.
If there are no competing products then it is advisable to research the market to find out if there is a legitimate need (or market pull) for your product. In the same way, if there are many competing products you should find out if they are satisfying the market need or if they are lacking in some way that you could rectify in your own offering. Something to note here is that you need to be careful when doing this market research. People can't be relied upon to imagine what a new product can do for them and so sometimes you need to rely on your gut instinct or existing knowledge of the market to make a decision on a product launch. If Steve Job's had have told people he was going to produce a mobile phone that had a flat glass screen with no buttons on it they would have opted for one with the buttons because that's what they were used to.
It is also advisable to do a patent search to make sure you have a novel idea and also that you aren't going to breach someone else's patent. The patent office is full of patents that aren't commercially viable and hence have never made it to the shelves but these applications still constitute Prior Art (information on inventions that has already been publicly disclosed) and if they are similar to your own ideas, they may preclude you from obtaining the novelty required to secure Patent Protection. More importantly if you produce a product that does breach someone else's patent then you may be sued by them for damages.
IP Australia has some search options here IP Searches but be warned there are a few tricks to these searches that mean you can easily miss relevant applications that may come back to haunt you once you get to the examination phase (where the patent office searches for Prior Art to make sure your ideas are truly novel). There are professional services in this area and we can put you in touch with these suppliers if you find the searches too difficult. Here is another good page of information re Patents and Patent Attorneys that's worth looking at IP Knowledge and Attorneys. And we can put you in touch with professionals who can do searches for you at a reasonable cost and a lot quicker than the public options.
Once you feel that there is an opportunity for your product idea then it is time to start turning the idea into a solution. It is important to realize that the idea is only the very beginning of the journey and also that the idea isn't patentable, only the solution is capable of being patented (as long as it is novel and has an inventive step). So now it's time to turn your idea into a solution. In my experience there are normally many, many ways to solve the same problem. The trick is to solve the problem at hand in a way that ensures the success of your product. What I do is start with a list of requirements that your product needs to solve. These may include aspects that allow the product to solve the problem functionally (i.e. a cup needs to hold fluids) but should also include things like meeting safety standards so you don't burn the users hand if the contents of the cup are hot, have an ergonomic handle so that it is comfortable for the user to hold. This list of requirements should cover all aspects right down to the surface finish so the cup can be easily cleaned etc.
Once the list of requirements has been outlined then the design process can begin and the solutions you come up with can be measured against the list of requirements. Solutions that include ALL of the requirements are obviously the best but you still need to balance out requirements and give them a weight. For instance if a safety requirement isn't being met it will have a far greater weighting than the surface finish or colour and so the product may not be viable even though safety is the only aspect it doesn't account for.
At F3 we use a combination of brainstorming (Mental evaluation of ideas either as a group or individual) to work through possible alternatives to solve the problem at hand and then we may also test these ideas by sketching them down to see how they look on paper or by making a physical jigs to test the ideas. Once ideas start to form into solutions it is good to sketch them in a format that allows you to communicate the solutions to others so you can get some feedback from other interested parties. In a consulting role it is important to create drawings detailed enough that the client can clearly understand the proposed solution. We may also come up with a number of different solutions that solve the problem in different ways and then sit down and critique all of the solutions picking the best parts of each and then refining the process more until we have one final concept that everyone agrees is suitable to go forward with.
Links to Podcasts:
Concept is King
Video of Design Process
Examples of Initial Concepts
Example of a Final Concept
At this point it is important to freeze the design phase, lock in the Final Concept and move onto the Engineering Phase. As the process moves along it becomes more expensive and time consuming to make changes so this is why it is important to have finalized your design so no more major changes are required. If you think the Final Concept still needs work then take a step back now and get it perfect. It will save a lot of time and money doing it now rather than later.
Links to Podcasts:
Engineering: What Every Inventor Needs to Know
Computer Aided Design (CAD)
Computers are used to capture the design in a digital format that can then be used to create physical prototypes, parts directly or tooling for parts that are used to form the final part. This is called Computer Aided Design or CAD for short. CAD models of all the parts in your product are generated and put together (assembled) into a full computer assembly that can be used to analyze and test the parts as a whole. You can use these assemblies to make sure all of the parts fit together as they should and that there are no clashes between the parts, even if one part moves in relation to another. This is incredibly beneficial as it can cost a lot of time and money to re-make parts if you find they clash once they have been made.
These days we are incredibly lucky to have a process called rapid prototyping, which allows us to be able to reproduce the CAD models very accurately into a physical part. This is done through a process called rapid prototyping.
There are many types of prototyping options available but they can be broken into two major sub groups. Additive and Subtractive. The additive types of prototyping include all types of 3D Printing and the subtractive types include laser cutting, waterjet cutting, plasma cutting, milling and turning including manual and Computer Numeric Controlled (CNC). More information about all of these processes and the less commonly used, compressive prototyping can be found at this link TWI PAGE ON RAPID PROTOTYPING
Prototyping of any description allows you to produce a physical representation of your ideas. This doesn't need to be a sophisticated rapid prototype and may start as a simple clay model that gives you a general feel of your final product. Many of my most difficult to solve Inventions have started off as bought components that I've modified to prove the principle of an idea I was exploring. Once I've proved the principle I then go on to design the product around that technology and generate a CAD model (see above) to define the parts of the product in an assembled format. Once I've run my form and fit tests in CAD I will convert the CAD files to suit the prototyping process and either produce the parts inhouse or send it off to a prototyping bureau to be produced.
With many of my products I will make them slightly bigger in areas where there could be some need to experiment with clearances. This allows me to fine tune the parts in my office on manual mills and lathes. This way you can be completely confident that you can capture exact measurements when you go through to the manufacturing phase and the costs of tool modification is a lot higher.
At F3 we use subtractive prototyping (CNC Milled Parts) almost exclusively due to it's down the line benefits in Testing, Market Analysis and benefits in all kinds of Presentation formats, from physical meetings to brochures and video creation.
Additive and Subtractive Prototyping
The whole point of producing a prototype is to be able to test your design theories and prove that your product is market ready. It is very important to be highly critical of the prototype and never to fall in love with it until the market has accepted it and the testing has proven the product is fit for purpose. You should always be ready to modify your prototype even at this late stage in order to ensure you go to market with the perfect fit. The cost of manufacturing and releasing a product is way to high to take a gamble at this point. Generally here at F3 we have already done so much cross checking, market evaluation and preliminary testing that it is very rare that anything major changes at this point.
Once all of the testing has been completed and the product has been proven suitable to take to market then the manufacturing process can begin. So far all of the Engineering data that has been generated is in 3D format. This same data can be used to create the prototypes and also the tools for your parts. Tooling is the hardware used to create mass produced parts. There are many different types of manufacturing processes and generally when you are making products for the world market you will need to invent in tooling that can allow you to produce many parts at the least possible cost, remember your profit is usually always in your purchase, i.e. the cheaper you can make a product for the better your profit margin will be. Here is a link to an animation of one of the most common of all of the processes used in mass production. It's called Injection Molding and almost every consumer product you've ever used uses it in the manufacturing process. The part that you produce is the section of metal surrounding the part being made, you buy this part and hire the Injection Molding machine while you are running an order.
Although the 3D data we have generated is used directly to control the prototyping and tooling processes it doesn't contain the finer details of the part that will direct the tool maker on factors such as critical dimensions, surface finish, materials selected to make the part etc and hence a 2D Control Drawing is required so that the part can be made as required in a manner that can be repeated on every order for the life of the product. Control Drawings are also very useful in resolving faults that may occur in the manufacturing process. If you receive an order that has not been produced to your specification on the drawing you have a document to refer back to but if you don't have a control drawing to refer to then you could be left without any legal bargaining power.
Example of a Control Drawing
A lot of people think that the Research and Development is over once the manufacturing phase begins but this is rarely the case. You should always allow a few weeks extra on the lead times for tooling so that you can overcome any minor tweaks that may be required on the tools to perfect the parts for your product. If the lead time for your injection molding tools is 10 weeks then account for at least 13 weeks for tooling. At F3 we always leave material ON the tool in areas where there is a critical clearance required. There are so many variables that change between the prototyping process and the molding process that it is almost impossible to rely entirely upon the clearances you've used on the prototypes and expect them to work on the production parts. Plastics will shrink and move when they are injection molded and instead of trying to predict this behavior it is far safer to make the tools "tool safe." This means leaving a slight excess of material in areas where a tight fit or critical clearance is required. Once you receive the first off tool samples, (sometimes referred to as T1 samples) you can test the fit or clearance of the parts and use Vernier calipers or feeler gauges to work out how much material needs to be added to the part in order to achieve the action or fit you are after. You can then add shim material to test these theories and update your CAD once the correct clearances have been achieved. From there you update your drawings and save the parts again with red highlights on the surfaces that have been modified (send images of this with the 3D files) and also add red text on the modified dimensions of the new control drawings so the toolmaker knows exactly where the changes have been made. Also remember to put a revision number on your new files and drawings. We use letters for pre-production changes and numbers for post production changes as you will see in the revisions noted in the drawing above.
How you proceed here will have already been determined and in many cases it will negate the need for the manufacturing component. If the plan from the start was to license the product to a third party then the manufacturing aspects will be in the hands of the licensee and you will be sitting back and waiting to see the end results. If however you are developing the product to sell you will have been through the manufacturing process and should have some off tool samples you can use to go and start selling your product with. Don't be afraid to try and negotiate an deposit from your purchaser. many retailers will lend a helping hand to start ups if they like you and your offering and are quite often willing to take some of the financial burden off you for your first order. It certainly doesn't hurt to ask.
As this part of the process has already been determined it is simply a case of following the business plan and getting out there in front of the appropriate people. It may be a multi national who has a need for your product or in some cases you may see that your product could compliment one of their already existing lines. Use common sense and also try and look outside the box at opportunities your product may offer that a multi national may not have even seen yet. The more people you get in front of the better your chances of a license deal. The other thing to be aware of here is that you need to find a way to get to the people at the top of the food chain. We have tried many times to come in at the Research and Development level and although these people are more accessible it's very hard for them to go up the line and convince a CEO to make a change to meet R&D's needs. It is far better to plant the seed in the CEO's mind and have that person direct the R&D team to adopt your technology. We work in partnership with a commercialization expert who has the methods and credibility to speak directly to CEO's and sometimes it can be worth employing someone like this to do these hard yards for you.
The same principle applies to the other business strategies also, you need to be speaking to the decision makers and not wasting time on people who will need to go on and re-sell your pitch up the line. They will never have your passion or knowledge on the subject and their pitch will fall flat resulting in a no. Be brave and confident in your product and aim for as high up the food chain as possible when presenting. A word of warning, you will need to be innovative and very persistent to get to these people, there are many gate keepers you have to negotiate along the way. Sometimes just getting past reception is impossible. A saying I use is that "failure is no match for persistence" so just keep at it. If you are marketing you product to sell directly then aim your sales pitches at the decision makers, the person who will actually part with their money to buy your product. Make sure you spend some time really figuring out who that person is. Belinda Vesey-Brown from the Brio Group has some amazing tools to help you do this. She is a marketing guru and well worth a call if you don't have experience in this area, she will help you to define your market down to the clothes they wear, the food they eat and the car they drive so you know exactly who you are speaking to every time you create marketing material. Not only can Belinda help you know your customer but she will also help you create your brand so that whenever you speak to your market it is in a consistent voice coherent to your offering and the values of your brand.
Links to Podcasts:
Product Commercialization (Part 1)
Product Commercialization (Part 2)
I really hope that the content within this page helps as a general guide on your journey as an Inventor or Start Up / Entrepreneur. It is by no means comprehensive and there are so many more finer details we follow here at F3 in order to ensure amazing results for our clients and in-house projects. My hope is that the information will drive you in the right direction and stop you from wasting your resources following the wrong path. Remember also that every project is different so you may find that your project takes a slightly different path or starts and finishes at a different point in the process.
If you need assistance with your project we are always more than willing to take a look at your project and if we think it has potential we can quote you to run the job. With this you also get access to the amazing network I have built up around the business over the years. I only use services similar to my own with very talented individuals that really care about the outcome of the project. I can assure you that you will always have complete control over the direction of your project so you'll never lose control but we can take all of the stress and worry normally associated with project development off your hands and leave you to set up the business side of things and generate the networks required to launch a successful company.
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