Successful inventors share their secrets – Part III
In the fourth article in our series on the use of Intellectual Property (IP) by small and medium businesses (SMEs), we discuss some further thoughts shared with us by inventors who have gone through the process of conceiving an invention and developing the invention to a market-ready product.
Is there a market for the invention?
Perhaps an obvious consideration, but all too often inventors fail to consider whether there in fact is a market for a new invention. There may be a number of reasons for the oversight. Often, however, it simply is a case of being blinded by subjective considerations in evaluating the commercial prospects of an invention. The successful inventors whom we interviewed stressed that it is critical that one, at the very early stages of bringing an invention to market, ascertain the market prospects of the invention. For example, an invention which overcomes a long existing problem within a specific field of technology may have very good prospects of success. A novelty product, on the other hand, may be a nice thing to have, but will typically require substantial marketing expenditure to stimulate demand. In short, the importance of proper market research cannot be overemphasised.
Successful inventors also stressed that in bringing an invention to market one should not only consider the cost implications but also the time commitment. Deciding to bring an invention to market may be a life commitment.
How will the invention be commercialised?
SMEs have various options in exploiting an invention. For example, an SME may decide to manufacture and sell a patented product itself. However, often an SME may not be able to finance the capital outlay for tooling-up. In such cases it may be preferable to grant a license to a third party to exploit the invention. The third party may already have the manufacturing capabilities and existing distribution channels. By granting the third party a license to exploit a patented invention an SME may reap the rewards of bring the invention to market without substantial initial expense.
The model of commercialisation, for example self-manufacture, licensing etc., will depend upon a number of factors. It is crucial that an SME identify the most appropriate model in bringing the invention to market. If there is any uncertainty on the best model for commercialisation of a particular invention it is strongly advisable that independent advice be obtained.
Bringing a new invention to market can be filled with unexpected events. It is, therefore, important that an inventor remain alert to threats and opportunities. Successful inventors informed us that they had contingencies in place to moderate the impact of unexpected changes in, for example, market conditions.
Improvements and ownership of improvements
In order to maintain its competitive edge an SME should continue to innovate. Appropriate measures must be put in place to monitor innovation and to ensure that new inventions be identified and adequately protected by, for example new patent and/or design applications.
All too often SMEs get embroiled in disputes regarding the ownership of IP. It is, therefore, critical that SMEs have appropriate agreements in place with employees, contractors and other parties to ensure that improvements developed with the IP of an SME vest in the SME.
Article by André Meyer, Associate at Spruson & Ferguson