It’s time to re-write the script. The statistics don’t look great, 97% of patents fail to become commercialized & millions are lost every year on poor IP investments. It might not be for a lack of ingenuity or innovation, but a lack of proper guidance.
We launched Cypris, & met with hundreds of independent inventors struggling to monetize their IP & we learned a lot. The bottom line — inventors are investing in patents way too early, in technologies with little market demand. The question shouldn’t be ‘is it patentable?’, but rather, ‘should it be patented?’.
If you want to find success in commercialization there’s one word to live by, methodical. The ‘lean startup’ did it for the startup world, so here’s a new playbook for inventors, for steps you should take before spending your life savings on a patent.
1. Market Research
This is fundamental. You need to understand the market you’re about to dedicate years of hard work into. This is where you also can’t cheat yourself because it requires weeks of thorough research, interviews, data analysis & deep insight. This first phase of market research is also important for shaping the next 8 steps. If done correctly, you can expedite years of hard work & find success, if done poorly you’re going to make up the time and money down the road.
The first step in thorough market research is understanding the competitive landscape. You need to be honest with yourself & identify who your current competitors are & who the emerging competitors might be.
If your product is novel, which most inventors will say it is, then you should ask yourself these questions which might help you get to the bottom of who your competitor is:
‘Who is my customer & what’s their current problem?’ Followed-up by ‘What tools are they using today to solve, or at least partially solve, the problem?’
The second question will help you get to the bottom of what your competitive landscape will look like. It’s essential, to be honest with yourself here because down the road you’ll run into questions like ‘how are you different than xxx’ or ‘how are you better than xx’ — especially if you’re going to need to raise money.
Once you have an idea of competitors in the space, build an excel sheet with the following fields.
(a) Company Name (b) Product Description (c ) Product Price — important (d) CEO/Founder
Spend a lot of time on this excel sheet because you’re going to go back to it on steps 2, 3 & 9.
The second step, after you have your list of competitors, is to identify trends and trigger words within the market. If your innovation is in the drones space, you want to know where investments in the drones space are flowing. You want to know what new technologies within the space are emerging as a hot commodity & you want to know which company’s on your competitor’s list are leaders and laggards within that trend.
Two good reasons to spend time on studying market trends is,
(1) It will change the way you think about your innovation.
(2) You’ll pick up trigger words that drive interest within the field, which is good for eventual business development, fundraising & just generally getting people’s attention. For example, A.I. is a trigger word within the startup/VC world because it’s an emerging technology. If a startup is working with AI & they use it in their outreach, they’d be more likely to get answers.
So how do you figure out market trends?
You can use public data sources (Cypris, Crunchbase, USPTO, Amazon & more), you can read niche journals within your innovation’s field, you can & should read popular books from believable authors in your innovations field, etc. — out of all of these, reading books in your field can be the best because it will also allow you to speak the ‘language of the market’.
A patent search is a fundamental part of market research. There is no public database that will reveal more about active technologies within a market, than the patent dataset. It is crucial that you do a freedom to operate/market landscape search to know exactly, what technologies are patented in the field & who is doing the patenting.
2. Business Plan
Some will say the business plan is dead, & that pitch decks are more prevalent for sharing externally, however, a business plan is just (if not more) valuable internally than externally. A proper business plan will be your guide when the waters get muddy.
There are a lot of good templates online for what to include in a business plan, so instead of listing the fields you should include (executive summary, financials, marketing etc.) I’ll share how you should approach the process.
You want to take your findings from step 1 (market research) & use it in each level of the plan. You need to ask yourself these questions & build your plan of action based on the answers.
a) Executive summary: What is the problem the consumer is facing that the current market players aren’t solving, and how will I solve that problem?
b) Marketing: What channels are the current players in the market using & how will I beat them?
c) Model: How much are consumers currently spending & how can I position my solution to fit harmoniously with what they can pay?
You get the idea.. you want to use market intelligence information to shape your plan of action.
For the full business plan, here is a good template you can use:
The MVP is such a valuable concept within the startup world, it’s amazing how it didn’t translate yet to the world of inventors.
MVP stands for, minimum viable product & it basically is the minium product you need to create that can accurately test your hypothesis before sinking millions in an untested idea.
The two fundamentals of the MVP are cheap & fast. You want to get the product into at least a few user’s hands as quickly & as cheaply as possible so you can start to learn.
MVP’s require a certain form of thought. You need to take a step back from what your full product will be and ask yourself what is the most important feature of my product that solves the primary problem at hand →then only build that part.
These are the points you want to validate through an MVP:
A) Does the customer problem actually exist?
B) Does the simplest version of my product solve that problem?
C) Do I know how & where to reach my end customer? & How much does it cost me?
Also, you should charge for your MVP.
The whole purpose of an MVP is to de-risk as much as possible by testing & learning before sinking your life savings & years of work into a business.
Also, there’s no better way to learn about your market, than to get in and start selling. The best validation is when people start to pay for your product — the purpose of the MVP is to get to the product that people will pay for.
Some rules for MVPS;
a) This is not the time to invest hundreds of thousands in marketing & payroll. — an MVP is for getting your boots on the ground & speaking with your customer personally. Don’t worry if it seems like a waste of time or if it sounds unscalable at first — you need to do it to get a personal understanding of your customer & market.
b) Don’t be afraid to test different price points, sales angles, versions of the MVP etc. This is the time to experiment with it all.
You can learn more about MVP’s here
Now it’s time to get your product into the hands of customers through a beta test. This is a key step as it can provide you with a proof of concept and imperative feedback on the product. These beta testers will be valuable in giving you deeper insight into what customers want (or don’t want) while using your product or service.
First, you need to find the right beta testers. Many entrepreneurs make the mistake of reaching out to friends and family in this stage. Instead, your beta testers should be your “ideal” customers and reflect your target market audience accurately.
You can reach out to your network (i.e. LinkedIn, email contact list, alumni network, etc.) to find beta testers. You can also get creative by joining Facebook groups, creating threads in Reddit, etc. Where will you be able to get in touch with your target market? Go there.
In order to entice these folks to join the beta test, you can provide them with your product or service at a discounted price or for free. Of course, this would be contingent upon their feedback and assessments of the product. You want to make sure that users provide feedback on what needs improvement, but also what they really loved. It is also important to maintain a relationship with these testers as you’ll refer back to them in future steps.
Beta testing will be a crucial step in the overall inventor process. If you skip or underperform on this step, your product may fail upon launch.
Now that you have your beta test results, it’s time to incorporate user feedback into your product. You’ve likely received a variety of opinions and takeaways from test participants’ experiences using the product. Let’s dig into the data.
Try to find a common thread or theme amongst these reports. Was there a feeling evoked in the beta tester that you didn’t necessarily intend? Is there a design element that needs tweaking? Spend some time figuring out what comes up the most in testers’ feedback. From there, you can go back to the drawing board and come up with solutions to these product mishaps or flaws.
The main question you should aim to answer is, “How can I redesign my product to create an excellent and better user experience?”
6. Pitch Deck
Now, you’ve done market research, you have a business plan, you tested your MVP & have a good idea of your price point, day 1 customer & marketing channels — it’s now time to build your pitch deck.
In the startup world, pitch decks are typically used to raise money, however, that’s not the only use. For inventors, you’ll be constantly giving elevator pitches of your product to retailers, potential licensees, customers & more — having a clean & concise deck that describes your product, market, mission & traction can go a long way.
You can use it as the external version of your business plan, & use it a window into your innovation & product roadmap.
Take some time on it & share it with others within your field for feedback.
Here’s a good pitch deck template: https://slidebean.com/pitch-deck-template
You can create a free Canva account to build your own: https://www.canva.com/
I’d also recommend using docsend to share it so you can always make edits & track who’s looking at it: https://docsend.com
Once you’ve gone through the sometimes arduous process of redesigning your product & building your formal pitch deck, it’s time to re-introduce the product to your customer.
You should go back to your group of beta testers with the revamped product. See what they think the second time around. Are their previous concerns addressed in new product design? Are they generally happier with the new user experience? Is there new feedback?
Repeat this process with a new group of customers who are also reflective of your target market. What is the general consensus of the two groups? Assuming you took users’ feedback into account in the redesigning process, you should be yielding more positive results than in your primary beta testing.
The Bottom Line: Determine if customers are resonating with your re-designed product.
8. Market Confirmed
At this point, have users recognized your product’s value proposition? Have they told others about their positive experiences with the product? Does your business continue to replicate that positive experience for new users?
If you’re answering yes, then you may have confirmed your product’s market fit! You will also know if you have reached product market fit; word of mouth sales will continue to drive customers to your business and you’ll be selling more products than you can keep up with!
If you’re still struggling to develop your market fit, answer these questions with your team
A) Are you effectively reaching your target customer?
B) Are you focused within one vertical?
C) Is your value proposition clear?
9. Intellectual Property
Congrats! It’s finally time to file for intellectual property based on your finalized product. Now that you know what your final product is & can confirm that there is a market for it, you can confidently invest in IP that has commercial value!
Filing can be complex and overwhelming, so we recommend doing some deeper research into the process & getting free consultations with attorneys. UpCounsel is a great resource to get consultations.
When first considering your IP filing options, you should answer the following questions:
- Should this product be patented?
Based on the prior nine steps, you should have a great sense of how “novel” your product is. At this stage, is it worth it to file for IP? If you’re at the seed level, you will have an idea of what your proprietary technology is and how you want to proceed with filing. There is a lot of value you can gain from filing your patent at the startup stage, especially in terms of proving your credibility when seeking future investments.
2. Which type of Intellectual Property protection is needed?
You most likely need a patent (that’s why you’re here!) but before submitting a patent application, make sure you have the other necessary forms of IP protection as well, like trademarks, service marks, and copyrights.
3. Have I conducted a patent search?
A patent search can help you determine if your invention can be patented or if it already exists. Through this process, you will also be able to visualize the market and strategize your own patent application.
4. Do I know which type of patent I need?
There are three different types of patents; utility, design, and plant. Utility patents are granted to inventions that are new or improved products or processes — they are often referred to as “a patent for invention” and need to have some form of novelty. Design patents, on the other hand, grant protection for the visual qualities of an item. It’s important to note that you can apply for both utility and design patents for the same product, since they protect different areas of IP. Finally, a plant patent could be granted to anyone who invents a new variety of a plant — just like it sounds!
A final note; Be Methodical. All grand visions can be broken down into a series of steps. Conquer one at a time and never look back.
Cypris is a patent marketplace & IP intelligence search engine. Our mission is to see more innovations brought to life, by democratizing IP data & by creating an environment for sharing resources. On Cypris, innovators can get an insights report, to find companies, investors & patents matched with their technology. They can also leverage our categories page & open marketplace to find recent innovations & listing in their field.
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