It’s a scary but fascinating statistic: Only one out of every several product concepts becomes a commercial winner but account for more than 30% of company sales in the United States. The upshot being that NEW products and services are the key to prosperity for businesses. But, is there a way to lubricate and accelerate this process for budding inventors who wish to change the world?
Based on extensive research, we can firmly say “you bet”. We have synthesized several key approaches that everyone from patent attorneys to business think tanks believe can give innovators a head start.
Rise Above Copycats
To fuel a successful launch and beat the odds described above, it seems the world’s best have used a laser-like focus to find big, intimidating problems and attack them with big, bold solutions. Specifically, it means moving away from a copycat approach and really transforming an industry. According to the Investor Business Daily, a product that has unique benefits for users has 5x times the success rate and 4x the probability of the ones that don’t. Of course, coming up with this transformative idea or invention will also invite the attention of copycats – an unnerving problem that will require patent protection. This strategy, while necessary, can be complex and intimidating, especially if these IP burglars are based in foreign countries. One specific example involves a celebrated Australian inventor who perfected a new way to collect honey from bee hives, an innovation that took over a decade to develop. His pioneering efforts were then impacted by a Chinese company who began an ambitious social media marketing campaign claiming to be the “world’s first truly bee-friendly tappable hive. This shadowy Asian entity used Facebook ad retargeting to reach the inventor’s audience creating an alarming branding and IP situation for the Aussie startup. “It feels like someone has stolen something from your house and you’ve got to deal with it even though you really just want to get on with doing a job you’re extremely passionate about,” said the inventor. His patent covers cells that split and honey that drains through the comb something which the Chinese company claimed they were bringing to market first. Most patent attorneys would conclude that this is probably a major patent infringement. Hence, solving big, bold problems also requires a special focus on protecting Intellectual Property, especially considering the global arena that entrepreneurs now play in. “Any inventor that develops a new product that has taken off around the world has to expect opportunistic people to try and take market share. Of course, there are always people out there prepared to undertake this kind of illegal activity for financial gain,” said the inventor.
Know Thy Market
It’s been said that “Assumption is the mother of all evil,” and this is especially true for innovators who wish to succeed in the United States. Not understanding your market or really, really knowing your customer will lead to assumptions that set you up for failure. Industry experts agree that many assumptions entrepreneurs make about their future customer wants, needs and values, are often wrong. Also, be careful about sinking your life savings into product development without making sure a similar idea does not already exist in the marketplace. Don’t develop your idea in a vacuum; a patent attorney can quickly determine if your idea is novel and will not infringe on a rival’s patent.
Use Detail to Bust Down Doors
It seems that the ideas that really go on to change the world were shaped in fanatical detail prior to actual design and development. This is often known as making the ‘frontend less fuzzy’ a phrase very well known to software developers in particular. The key is to avoid loose definitions and closely align the product detail to the target market (and its specific benefits to the end user or customer). Consider for a moment Leo Baekeland, the man who invented plastic, the world’s first synthetic material. He would keep meticulous notes on each experiment and would try things again and again even though everyone said what he was trying to do was impossible. “He was extremely stubborn and where others saw a wall, he leaned against it and discovered the door. His genius was to realize that he could interrupt the chain reaction,” said one his fellow research chemists. While on the topic of Baekeland and his contributions to reshaping the industrial sector, also consider it’s impact on the dental & medical arena, including orthodontics which gives us a playbook insight into how 21st century companies are using patents and market positioning to contain competitors and gain further market share. Read this article on my sister Medical Device Patents Blog: How Plastics and Intellectual Property Protection Have Reshaped the Orthodontic Medical Device Sector
Beware the Conventional Wisdom
Many savvy business leaders and inventors have leaned heavily on the traditional model/diagram above to conceive, build, test and ship an idea to new markets. Since its introduction over 100 years ago in the broader manufacturing arena, it seems to offer a safe, palatable path to financial and commercial success. But is this actually true? According to author Steve Blank, credited with launching the Lean Startup movement, it fails to ask one central question which will determine success or failure for your idea: “Where Are the Customers?” This shortcoming will inevitably lead the best-funded and best-managed startup to disaster. “The greatest risk—and hence the greatest cause of failure—in startups is not in the development of the new product but in the development of customers and markets. Startups don’t fail because they lack a product; they fail because they lack customers and a proven financial model,” said Blank.