How do I get a prototype of an invention made and conduct market research?
February 22, 2008 3:46 PM   Subscribe

How do I get a prototype of an invention made and conduct market research?

I have an idea for a new type of sewing machine of sorts. I have drawn up schematics of how it would work mechanically, but I have no idea where to start on actually building it. How would I find someone to help with this part? Would they be called an engineer, or is that the person who designs machines?

I also need to find out if this machine would actually be worth anything. I have thought about taking an ad in a related magazine and offering compensation for completing a survey (such as supplies for sewing) but I am not sure if that is appropriate? I did some research online and as far as I can tell, nothing like this already exists, not for sale online anyway.

Obviously I don't want to just give this idea to one of those companies you see on 2:00 am infomercials where they steal it and never give you a dime. If I can't find someone to help me build it, how would I find a reputable company to sell the idea to?
posted by jesirose to Grab Bag (10 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
If you're going to need the whole thing built from scratch and diagrammed for a patent application, you're going to need at least an engineer and a fabricator, possibly a machinist as well. You might as well do a patent search on this idea, since sewing machines have been around a long time and you'll want to be sure nothing like this is patented already, preventing you from getting even to square one.
posted by rhizome at 3:59 PM on February 22, 2008

Response by poster: Salvator, if I knew how to build machines I WOULD do it myself...but I can't, so that is why I am looking for another person to help.

I have searched the US patent site and found a few that are similar, but for a different purpose. It's not really for sewing but obviously I don't want to give away too much. I can't find any existing patents that I think are close enough.

If I submit a patent and it is already patented, I'd assume they'd let me know somehow.
posted by jesirose at 4:38 PM on February 22, 2008

jesirose, my limited understanding of patent law is that they wouldn't let you know somehow. you could file the patent, build the prototype, get a factory to manufacture them, and get them in stores... only to have a previous patent holder take you to court. The court could file an injunction and stop you from selling them until it was figured out in court or until you settled with the patent hholder. This is why, I suppose, eventually a patent lawyer would have to officially research the idea and file it.
posted by sharkfu at 4:52 PM on February 22, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks sharkfu
posted by jesirose at 5:07 PM on February 22, 2008

IAApatent lawyer but not yours, and this is general information, not legal advice, since I know nothing about your situation.

The two points above involve misconceptions that I see every week in dealing with individual inventors:

I have searched the US patent site and found a few that are similar, but for a different purpose.

If you find a full description of your sewing machine in a prior patent, even if it's described as a "Toenail Cleaner" or a "Really Fancy Doorstop," it still will anticipate your invention and you will not get a patent, even though it's "for a different purpose," since it existed before you made your invention.

you could file the patent, build the prototype, get a factory to manufacture them, and get them in stores... only to have a previous patent holder take you to court. The court could file an injunction and stop you from selling them

This quotation seems to mix two concepts which should be kept separate, (1) your ability to get a patent; and (2) whether or not you infringe another's patent. It also seems (3) to treat a patent as being some kind of license to go into business, which it's not.

If you'd like to consider a professional relationship, please contact me by MeFi mail. There will be fees involved. This offer void if prohibited by MeFi rules.
posted by JimN2TAW at 5:36 PM on February 22, 2008

I always start with my patent attorney and go from there. They do an amazing job of telling you "No" or "Go". As for the build of the thing... once you start with the patent attorney many are going to be able to point you in directions you can take. It will involve everyone from design engineers to machine shops to get your prototype built. After that you will find yourself in various conventions where you can either set up booth space to show off your idea or find some one to represent your idea and get it in front of possibly interested parties. This is a lot of work but don't get discourage, you will learn something few really know about regardless if you fail or succeed.
posted by bkeene12 at 8:38 PM on February 22, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks guys!
posted by jesirose at 8:52 PM on February 22, 2008


You are face to face with what is called a Barrier to entry to a market.

You've got an idea, but there is a wide gap between idea and success, generally.

I have done a bunch of product development, some successful and some not. The successful ones without exception, weren't patented. They WERE well marketed.

JimN2TAW's observations on the common lay misconceptions of patents have partners in the lay conception of translating ideas to commercial success. One is that the idea is all important. It's not, in my experience. Understanding the market place is. Financing is. Project organization and execution are.

Invention is an odd bird. It's great to have a novel idea, but the devil is in the details and many really great ideas languish because someone can't make a buck from them.

I don't mean to dismiss your idea. I made a living for a while as an 'inventor for hire' commercializing stuff for clients who came to me with ideas and a need for someone to build the gizmo. Folks willing to do this are not common.

Briefly, I followed a three phase model... concept demo, functional prototype, pre-production. I usually quoted concept demos that were very crude, but validated the basic elements of the idea. If that worked, we'd move on. If not, then little money and time were lost.

The next phase was more expensive, but lower risk. A functional prototype fleshed out the concept and produced something that did all the tricks. It took a lot longer, usually, but still was not ready for production. Only when most (if not all) of the features were implemented would we move on to pre-production.

In that phase, all the screw threads, packaging decisions, documentation, final software, etc. would come to be. Very tedious and very expensive. All the major tooling was here.

After a few years of doing this, I would not work for anyone who had not been through the process before, because most of it is burning up money. The old joke of how you best make a million bux is to start with two million and work downward certainly applies to product development.

For a complex mechanically intensive machine you will need a good mechanical engineer, a good machine shop, a good product manager, an innovator/hot shot, persistence, good funding, and the developed judgment to know when things are going well and when they are not. This is before you see if you can sell it.

My advice is to start small in your chosen market place, figure out how to reliably make a buck, and invent things to meet the needs of your established customers, using the profits you make from your on-going business. The alternative of suddenly appearing on scene with a rocket-powered, self-aware, high mileage, atomic sewing machine and making it a success is POSSIBLE, but less likely.

Good luck with it all, and it's great you have an idea.
posted by FauxScot at 9:00 PM on February 22, 2008 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks FauxScot :) Sometimes I think my existing machine is self-aware with how often it takes over :)
posted by jesirose at 11:39 PM on February 22, 2008

An alternative approach was recently described in Tim Ferris's blog:

Part One

Part Two
posted by winston at 10:37 AM on February 23, 2008 [2 favorites]

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