Entrepreneurs who establish and record a clear plan for bringing their new products to market are much more likely to succeed than those who do not. This guide explores the 10 essential steps in the innovation process.
The first step in the innovation process is to pull together a number of potential ideas by observing and analysing the marketplace.
Inventing a product or service which meets an existing but unaddressed demand can create an excellent business opportunity. This will answer the following questions:
- What services or products are needed but don't exist?
- What consumer needs could be met by an invention?
- What processes familiar to me could I improve by inventing a new procedure, product or service?
- What ideas do I have that I could develop into inventions?
After you've generated a number of ideas, the next step is to decide which ideas show the most potential and concentrate on developing them further.
3. Protect your idea
Intellectual property (IP), very broadly, means the legal rights that result from intellectual activity in the industrial, scientific, literary and artistic fields. IP rights, whether in the form of patent, trade-marks, copyrights, industrial designs, integrated circuit topographies, or plant breeders' rights reward this intellectual activity.
The Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO) administers most of Canada's IP laws and regulations to ensure that they meet present and future client needs and best contribute to the Canadian economy. For more information, call 514 496-1797 or 1-866-997-1936. You can also consult the Intellectual property as a business tool.
To be eligible for patent protection, the invention must:
- be new (first in the world);
- be useful (functional and operative);
- show inventive ingenuity and not be obvious to someone skilled in that area.
The invention can be a product (e.g. a door lock), a composition (e.g. a chemical composition used in lubricants for door locks), an apparatus (e.g. a machine for making door locks), a process (e.g. a method for making door locks) or an improvement on any of these. Most patents are for improvements to existing patented inventions.
A patent gives its owner exclusive rights over a claimed invention. Applicants should file as soon as they can, in case someone else is working on the same thing.
Patent protection applies in the country that issues the patent. It is possible to apply for a foreign patent in Canada under the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT), or directly to the patent office of the foreign country concerned. For more information, consult Patents.
Before you file an application or invest in new R & D, search in the Canadian Patents Database to see if your invention already exists.
A trade-mark is a word, a symbol, a design (or a combination of these features) used to distinguish the wares or services of one person or organisation from those of others in the marketplace. Trade-marks come to represent not only actual wares and services, but the reputation of the business. As such, they are considered valuable intellectual property (IP). A registered trade-mark can be protected through legal proceedings from misuse and imitation.
Slogans, names of products, distinctive packages or unique product shapes are all examples of features that are eligible for registration as trade-marks. For more information, consult Trade-marks.
The Canadian Trade-marks Database is the official register of trade-marks in Canada and contains information about all pending, registered and inactive trade-marks.
Simply put, a copyright prohibits others from copying your work without your permission. Original literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work such as books, plays, songs, paintings, safety instructions, Web pages, how-to manuals and a prospectus are all copyrighted. Copyright also applies to three other kinds of subject-matter: performer's performances (actors, musicians, dancers and singers), communication signals (broadcasts) and sound recordings (records, cassettes and compact discs). For more information, consult Copyrights.
The Canadian Copyrights Database allows you to see all copyrights that have been registered or expunged in Canada since October 1, 1991. This includes traditional copyrights (original literary, artistic, dramatic and musical works) and copyright in other subject-matter (performer's performances, sound recordings and communication signals), as well as information on licences and assignments.
An industrial design is defined as the visual features of shape, configuration, pattern or ornament (or any combination of these features) applied to a finished article made by hand, tool or machine. Although the design must have features that appeal to the eye, it is not the responsibility of the Industrial Design Office to evaluate the aesthetic quality of those features. The Office's role is to assess originality and ensure that the application meets the requirements of the Industrial Design Act and Regulations.
Industrial designs are protected for their original shape, pattern, ornamentation or configuration applied to a finished manufactured article. The artwork of your game board may be subject to copyright protection. Industrial design protection might be available for the board itself. Industrial design protection, for example, might be available for the shape of a table or the ornamentation on the handle of a spoon. Like patents, industrial designs are obtained only by registration. For more information, consult Industrial Designs.
The Canadian Industrial Designs Database is a data base you may consult for all industrial designs that have been registered since June 15, 2002.
Integrated Circuit Topographies
An integrated circuit is a product that performs an electronic function in which the elements and interconnections are integrally formed on or in a piece of material (such as a computer chip). An integrated circuit product is a microchip. The protection is for the topography of an integrated circuit product which is a manufactured device made up of a series of layers of semi-conductors, metals, insulators and other materials. The three-dimensional configuration is a "topography". The original design of the topography is protected.
To qualify, a topography must be developed through the application of intellectual effort and not by the reproduction of all, or a substantial part, of another topography. Integrated circuit topographies are protected upon registration, but the Act does not protect topographies that are commonplace among topography designers or existing products. For more information, consult Integrated Circuit Topographies.
Once you've decided upon an idea that shows potential, the next step is to carry out market research, talk to prospective buyers, assess the competition and record your findings. For more information, consult Market Research - Guides.
If you are either inventing a new product or considering developing a new product to add to your existing product lines, there are a number of critical factors to consider in assessing how practical this is.
After researching market potential and assessing the competition, you must determine project financing and develop a business and marketing plan. Consult Business plan - Guides, Write a marketing plan and Financing.
At this stage, the primary objective is to develop a prototype and proof of concept, taking into account market expectations, and manufacture the first models and the first prototype, making use of the available expertise and the feedback of potential buyers. You must fine-tune your product, ensuring that the final result will be functional, high-performance, attractive, patentable, and superior to competitive products - all while keeping the manufacturing cost as low as possible.
Engineering development generally calls for the involvement of a team of industrial designers and engineers working with the inventor on the project. The industrial designer is a professional trained to develop products that can be manufactured on an industrial scale, taking into account human needs and characteristics, aesthetics, safety, market expectations, available manufacturing methods, use, and maintenance.
8. Test and alter
Once a prototype has been developed, decide if changes are necessary by testing prototypes and processes in-house or with a limited group of potential buyers.
You could sell your products on consignment. Selling goods on consignment is described as a situation whereby goods are shipped to a dealer who pays you, the consignor, only for the merchandise which sells. In the case of a newly designed and manufactured product for which there is no sales record, dealers might be more enthusiastic about promotion if their investment loss is minimised.
Once you have collected feedback from consumers and distributors and analysed consumer purchasing behaviour, you may have to adjust the prototype, making any changes deemed necessary following the testing.
Your patent application has been filed, you have a prototype for your invention or new product, and studies show that it is very promising. You now have the choice of either producing it yourself or issuing a patent license.
You must exercise stringent control over the use of materials and components and the efficiency of workers and equipment. You are now ready to deliver the merchandise to your distribution network.
You've invented something, it has received a positive evaluation and has a patent pending. Or maybe your company doesn't have the capital or expertise to manufacture and market its product to a global market. Inventors often find it is better to license their technology rather than try to manufacture and market it themselves. Similarly, licensing may be the only practical way for a company to maximise the potential for its existing products.
Licensing companies in other areas of Canada or in other countries expands your potential while minimising your risk by using companies that have the necessary manufacturing capability and marketing networks already in place.
Once the product or service is launched, it is important to continue to check sales figures and other financial indicators against the business plan and modify the business plan if needed.
It is only when you have completely recovered your investment through the sale of your product or invention that you have reached the break-even point. When your invention has earned much more than it cost to produce for a sufficiently long period, you can consider that your invention is a commercial success.