Entrepreneurs are always looking for an opportunity. If you’re like the typical entrepreneur, then you probably find yourself brainstorming business ideas during a 3am insomnia or pondering possible solutions to the numerous problems you come across in your day-to-day life. And if you’ve dreamed up an idea you truly believe in, then it’s time to take the next steps and develop your idea into a product.
1. Document your idea
Documenting everything is a crucial process in product development. Having a record of when you came up with the idea for your product, what it does, how it works, possible names, etc., is important if you decide to patent your invention in the future. You can document your idea in a regular journal or in an inventor’s notebook, just as long as you keep a comprehensive record of each steps in the development phase. Additionally, you must have each entry dated and signed by a witness (one free from any conflicts of interest). Though it may be tedious task, properly documenting the steps of your invention can improve the outcome of a patent in your favor.
2. Research your idea
The researching step has two purposes: to conduct a preliminary patent search for legal reasons, and to conduct market research for business reasons.
Firstly, visit the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s website to conduct a search of all previous public disclosures, also known as “prior art.” If your idea is listed in the database, then you cannot patent it and if your idea has already been patented, then you risk being the target of lawsuits filed by the patent holder should you decide to further develop your idea.
Next, research the market for your product. Is the idea viable? Is there a sizable market for your product and will you be able to capture enough market share to turn a profit? Also, consider the manufacturing and distribution costs as well as the current competition from direct and indirect competitors. Barriers to entry such as those might be too significant to overcome.
3. Make a prototype
Far too often, eager inventors seek out financing without a prototype to show off. Before going to angel investors or venture capitalists, you need to have a preliminary model if you want to improve your chances of funding approval. The same goes for filing your patent. Never file a patent prior to designing a prototype and testing it out. Often times, a tangible version of your initial design will reveal flaws and kinks that weren’t evident on paper. So be sure to work out the kinks via hardcopy prototype before going to investors or filing a patent.
4. Create a business plan
Another overlooked step in the product development phase is designing a business plan. However, a comprehensive business plan can help find investors, better strategize, and even determine the viability of your idea. Enloop, a free DIY business plan-designing tool will guide you through the steps of creating an investor-ready business plan.
5. Seek out funding
If your idea needs additional funding to get it off the ground, now is the time to reach out to potential benefactors. Having a prototype and business plan on hand are two great ways to improve your chances of winning over backers. Check out our post entitled on sources of funding for startups to see who is most likely to back your startup.
6. File a patent
Now that you have a kink-free prototype and a business plan in hand, it's finally time to file a patent. It’s important to have a capable patent professional look over your application before you file it. He or she will be able to identify gaps in your application that could make it easy for others to copy your idea without infringing on your patent. Inc.com offers advice on how to find a good patent lawyer here.
This step is the most fun and nerve-wracking at the same time. Launch day is the culmination of the weeks, months, even years of work you put in to get to this milestone. But if you created an effective business plan, studied the viability of your idea, earned financial backing, and crossed your t’s and dotted your i’s with the help of a skilled patent lawyer, your chances of success are vastly improved.