Do you wish you could come up with the next fresh product idea that could be patented and sold? Does it seem like all the good product ideas are already out there? Do you feel that you are held back because you’re not an inventor or an engineer or you are simply not the creative type? If you have answered yes to any of these questions, you’re thinking about new product development in the wrong way!

It's the Application, not the Idea

Few traders know that a patent is the protection of the application of an idea, and not of the idea itself. Simply put, an idea cannot be patented. For example, you cannot patent the idea of tying cables, but you can patent a specific type of cable tie which works using an arrangement of parts or mechanism that you yourself have invented. You may even use patented parts within your design, provided you give credit to the patent holders where due.

First Identify a Problem, Then Find a Solution

This concept should open an entire new world if you were not aware of this differentiation. For example, you could visit a home decor shop and observe which are the hottest selling products. Observe what makes the product good and any problems associated with it, then purchase it to inspect it in more depth in the comfort of your home or workshop, and identify how you can improve it.

Or, think about products that you use in your everyday life that don't work quite right, objects where you may have to create a 'work-around'. It's quite possible that your work-around is a patentable design change. For example, think about rolling luggage, introduced into general use in the late 1980s. According to Wikipedia, Northwest airline pilot Bob Plath hated lugging his heavy overnight bag and flight bag through airports around the world. So, he tinkered around in his garage until he found a way to attach wheels to his pilot's bag. Wherever Bob Plath's took his wheeled luggage, everyone wanted one. The company, TravelPro, was established to fill the demand. TravelPro now holds 15 patents on rolling luggage mechanisms.

Look around and you will find that there's almost always a way to improve on something. For example, most parents find the umbrella stroller, a lightweight, folding baby stroller, to be a huge improvement over larger, difficult to transport strollers. However, because of the three wheel design of most umbrella strollers, they are a bit unstable when transferring a child in or out, especially when you hang bags on the stroller as well. A creative mom, Dana Lowey, invented a kickstand that attaches to most brands of umbrella strollers and keeps the stroller from tipping, This innovation may seem rather small but parents of young children would probably vote to give this woman a Nobel prize. And of course, since Dana's contribution to stroller effectiveness, there have been more and more versions and modifications to the kickstand assembly as well as versions of kickstands that are now already attached to umbrella strollers.

Once you have identified a successful improvement or invention, it is time to prototype it, test it with family and friends, evaluate its effectiveness, get it patented, and finally get it manufactured.

Types of patents

Of the three types of patents available, utility, design and plant, your new twist on an existing product will be considered either a utility patent or a design patent.

  • Utility patent - any new and useful process, machine, article of manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof;

  • Design patent - new, original, and ornamental design for an article of manufacture.

Once you have your thoughts on paper, you will file for a patent in your country. After you achieve patent pending status, you can move from paper to production, then think about how to improve on ... your improvement!

Bottom Line

Put your observation and problem solving skills to work to develop new products for your marketplace.