The Benefits of a Provisional Patent Application for Your Hardware Startup

patent IPA provisional patent application early-on can be very beneficial for a hardware startup if your business goal is to either license your invention or proceed with a patent filing. Before we delve into the benefits of filing a provisional application let’s first define what a “Provisional Patent Application” is—According to the USPTO it is, “A provisional application provides the means to establish an early effective filing date in a later filed nonprovisional patent application filed under 35 U.S.C. §111(a). It also allows the term ‘Patent Pending’ to be applied in connection with the description of the invention.”

It is important to note that a “provisional application for patent has a pendency lasting 12 months from the date the provisional application is filed. The 12-month pendency period cannot be extended. Therefore, an applicant who files a provisional application must file a corresponding nonprovisional application for patent (nonprovisional application) during the 12-month pendency period of the provisional application in order to benefit from the earlier filing of the provisional application.” Once you file a provisional application the countdown clock starts ticking and your next move must be decided within the 12 month period.

As with any patent application, your application needs to be as complete as possible to be truly beneficial—this means that you must describe and document all variations, alternatives and permutations to your invention in detail. The best way of obtaining this critical information is by turning your idea into a functional prototype. A prototype will allow you to hold the invention in your hands, and make any necessary modifications to your final design. 3D CAD renderings and simulations will also help define the limits of your invention.

Below we discuss the two main benefits of a provisional patent application for your hardware startup:

Your Invention is Legally Protected

In the early-stage of product development inventors understand the importance of confidentiality and protecting their idea. While a confidentiality agreement will suffice when talking about your idea with engineering firms and licensing firms, investors can be slightly weary of signing one—and this can make things very difficult if you are seeking outside funding.

“Investors get proposals from many people and if they sign a confidentiality agreement with you, and another who has a similar idea, that could lead to liability on their part where there was no liability present absent them signing an agreement. (IP Watchdog)” Thus, if you want to show someone your invention without any legal protection, the pros and cons must be heavily weighed. If you have a provisional patent application pending though, you have defined your invention and it has a legal filing date, which makes discussing the invention with outside parties much less risky.

The “Patent Pending” Terms Can Be Used

“Patent Pending” is a term that is not only legally beneficial, but it gives your invention and your startup credibility. You are creating “perceived ownership” while defining the details of your idea. An idea that has been turned into a tangible invention (i.e. with a functional prototype) is more valuable when discussing potential licensing agreements and funding with outside investors.

The earlier you file a provisional patent application, the quicker you limit your exposure and prevent others from cutting off your rights (i.e. by filing for a similar invention before you do). The “Patent Pending” term shows that you have established priority for the idea/invention.

Developing a product should be viewed as a marathon and not a sprint. Taking your time early in the product development process to protect your invention will be immensely beneficial for your hardware startup later on.

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5 Major Challenges of Manufacturing Your Product Abroad

The manufacturing phase of product development is one of the stages that causes hardware startups the most stress. By the time you reach the manufacturing phase, you have a solid design in place, funding efforts are either underway or nearing completion and you now find yourself with the (daunting) task of securing a manufacturing partner. Keep in mind that manufacturing, either locally or abroad, comes with obstacles—however, these obstacles don’t have to be a crushing deal breaker for your startup.

If you have decided to manufacture your product abroad, there are a few additional obstacles that need be accounted for. Below we discuss five challenges your hardware startup will face while manufacturing your product abroad.

Cultural Differences

It’s no secret that business is done differently all over the world. In one country a handshake can seal the deal, while in another a deal may quickly vanish if you find yourself late to a meeting. Before you start connecting with manufacturers, learn the culture. Research cultural etiquette and, if possible, talk to others that have done business in the country before. A little research ahead of time, can save you major heartache later on.

manufacturingQuality Assurance

When you are not in the same country as your manufacturer it is very easy to lose product quality. Things usually start off well, yet as days turn into weeks and weeks turn into years, quality can fade without your awareness. To protect yourself and the integrity of your product, be sure to include quality clauses in your contract and continuously examine and test your product.

Large Quantities

Most of the time you will need to order large quantities to receive a price break and make it worth while for your business. Quantities of this size can cause a bit of a cash crunch for a hardware startup just gaining its footing. With larger quantities also comes longer wait times. You may find yourself waiting months for your product to make it to the United States.

Choosing the Right Manufacturer

Whether you are manufacturing abroad or at home, this is always a challenge. Ideally you want a manufacturing partner that has experience manufacturing similar products to yours who is easy to communicate with. Vet prospective manufactures and select a factory that has the best reputation. If you are not able to inspect the manufacturer and factory on your own, consider outsourcing an audit. Before the contract is signed, do your due diligence so you can be confident that your product is in the right hands.

Logistical Costs

If you are manufacturing your product in another country there will be the additional costs associated with logistics. These fees can vary widely and become shockingly high if not researched properly. Before finalizing your decision of manufacturing abroad, take this cost into consideration to be sure that it isn’t a deal breaker for you.

Manufacturing abroad comes with certain trade-offs. Do your research and reach out for experienced expert advice before you delve into this phase of product development.

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Improving Medical Devices Through 3D Printing

medical 3d printing

Photo credit: 3D Printing Industry

As news of the latest advancement in experimental 3D printing of tissue and organ regeneration gains attention, it would be easy to believe that 3D printing in the medical field only happens in the lab. However, new equipment and devices are being 3D printed now and in real world settings.

After years of feasibility studies, 3D printing for medical equipment and prostheses is becoming reality.

Reports have continually shown that 3D printed devices are both practical and less expensive than traditional options. For example, a University of South Florida study[i] related to prosthesis molds found that “Owing to the similarity of the 3D printed materials and the traditional materials, the 3D printed molds are easily integrated into current processing procedures.” And a UK study[ii] observed that 3D printed sensors added onto a prosthesis could help medical professionals increase comfort levels for the prosthesis wearer. In addition to better comfort, these sensors improved overall patient care.

Alan Louie, research director for IDC’s Health Insights Life Sciences Practice, which helps investors with business decisions, has this to say about 3D printing technology: “There is a lot of investment in 3D printing at the moment because there are some very clear ways that the technology can be used to improve existing processes.”[iii]

Louie sees 3D printers as a way to revolutionize medicine. “There are areas where you can determine that using a 3D-printed replacement for the current methodology can actually save money, improve healing, reduce pain, and improve overall patient care—all positive driving factors that are helping the industry move forward.”

3D Printing Improves More Than Just the Device

An example of how 3D printing medical tools reduces costs is with this bone drill that required an update to better suit the needs of both the patient and surgeon. The existing drill needed a redesign that would consistently keep its temperature low in order to avoid having to pause the procedure to let the tool cool down. The only solution available prior to the 3D printed upgrade was to pause drilling. However, with the assistance of 3D printing technology, a new drill was made using a biocompatible material “designed with their own integrated cooling ducts”. This new drill could be used for longer periods of time during a surgery. “The tests of the 3D printed bone drill determined that its use had reduced the temperature produced by drilling up to 70%”. This upgraded device has shortened the time required for surgery, saving both time and money.

The design process for medical devices and tools begins with patients, doctors, nurses, and other medical staff. They are at the forefront of the industry and keenly aware of the challenges, limitations and frustrations with existing devices. From their daily observations, efficient product re-designs and new medical device designs can, and will, transform the entire medical support field. These innovative ideas create an opportunity to improve care and support, while reducing costs.

3D printing is quickly reshaping the medical device landscape and creating more efficient tools for the medical community. Rapid prototyping brings to life product ideas that support patient care while keeping innovation at the forefront of design.


References:

[i] Jairo Chimento, M. Jason Highsmith, Nathan Crane, (2011) “3D printed tooling for thermoforming of medical devices”, Rapid Prototyping Journal, Vol. 17 Issue: 5, pp.387-392

[ii] Development and validation of a 3D-printed interfacial stress sensor for prosthetic applications. Laszczak, P. et al. Medical Engineering and Physics, Volume 37, Issue 1, 132 – 137.

[iii] https://healthtechmagazine.net/article/2017/08/healthcare-cusp-3d-medical-printing-revolution (both quotes)


About the Guest Author:

Becky Wilson writes about the applications of additive manufacturing and 3D printing, highlighting the heart in the tech. Known as Writing by Becky, she lives in Nova Scotia with her family, including two cat overlords, along with various tech gadgets – maybe adding a 3D food printer someday. You can connect with Becky on Twitter (@WritingByBecky).

Why the ‘One-Size-Fits-All Approach’ Doesn’t Work for Product Development

September 6, 2017

A one-size-fits-all approach can be utilized for a lot of things however, product development is not one of them. Throughout development, the stages of the “Product Development Cycle” will remain relatively unchanged (Concept, Design, Prototype, Test/Validate, Manufacture and Commercialize), but the approach and time spent in each stage will fluctuate based on the individual needs of your product.

Product development stage

When it comes to the development of a product, there is a great deal of time, energy and effort that goes into both the specialty design and product launch. Just like the fact that each product is unique, product development needs to be unique and customized in order to be successful.

Below we discuss three examples of why the “one-size-fits-all approach” just doesn’t work.

Highly Specialized Products

Chances are that if you are working on a highly specialized product, a one-size-fits-all approach would be detrimental to its outcome. Medical equipment, custom manufacturing tools and prosthetics are examples of products that need specialized attention and where precision and accuracy are of the upmost importance. When it comes to the development of these products, your product design will need to be extremely detail oriented and there is no room for error.

Customized Products

With the help of 3D printing technology, one-of-a-kind products are now feasible and quickly gaining in popularity. In a world full of customers, individuals want to stand out and have their unique style recognized. Customers are shying away from the “big box retailer” approach to purchasing products and instead opting for products that suit their specific needs. Hardware products that are highly customized range from in-ear headphones, replacement car parts to orthopedics. With the onset of mass customization, the phrase “one size fits none” is becoming more of a reality for hardware startups and manufacturers alike.

Licensing & Intellectual Property

When it comes to licensing and intellectual property, a highly customized product development plan needs to be in place. Often times the product development cycle will also be slightly altered if you are aiming for a licensing agreement or focused on obtaining a patent.

With a license agreement, you will not focus as much on the commercialization stage of product development, since this will be taken care of by the licensee. Instead, your energy will be on developing a product that meets the needs of customers while simultaneously appealing to potential licensees.

If obtaining a patent is your goal, you are going to need to focus more energy early in the development cycle on items such as: patent research and line drawings. Depending on the type of patent you are trying to get, the process can take months or even years, so from the start you will need to communicate to your team what your goals are after obtaining your patent.

Developing a product is a very personal journey for many entrepreneurs—nurturing an idea and seeing that idea take form and eventually a place on store shelves is no easy undertaking. With the right product development approach and team by your side, reaching your end goal can be both feasible and enjoyable.

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Hardware: Communicating Your ‘Unique Selling Point’ (USP)

Your hardware product doesn’t have to be the first of its kind to the market to be successful, but it must have a unique selling point (USP). A crowded market doesn’t mean that you can’t find success, it just means that you have to really hone in on what makes your product and startup truly unique.

Before the internet grew and globalization exploded, being first-to-market was a lot less challenging. To some extent the global economy has created a situation in which product duplication happens at record speed. Focusing on your hardware product’s USP will allow your startup to differentiate itself and standout in a crowded field as well as in the minds of consumers.

A USP Doesn’t Have to be Tangible

Many people have the idea that a USP must be tangible and visible to consumers—this is not always the case. For example, unparalleled customer service is a USP that cannot be seen, yet it’s an excellent way to drive customers to your business.

Patagonia is a company that has carved out its niche in a crowded industry thanks to its USP of being a sustainable and environmentally responsible company. Customers do not mind paying a premium for their products because the company shares values that closely align with their own. Building a loyal customer base starts with communicating your USP well from the beginning.

customer target marketDefine a Precise Target Market

Know your audience—this is a crucial aspect of a USP. Who are you marketing your hardware product to…Women, men, students, techies, parents, people in their 30s? With a clear understand of your target market, you will be better able to define a USP that matters to them.

It is important to note that while your target market will be narrow, this doesn’t necessarily limit who will buy your product. A product aimed at techies might also be well suited for students. A product aimed at a younger age demographic might also work for older individuals who want to feel young. The important thing is that your USP is clear and consistent.

Maintain a Consistent Message

Your USP should be a consistent voice in all of your marketing and communications. It is fundamental to your startup’s identity. It doesn’t stop there though, your product should also reflect this message. For example, if your company is big on sustainability, your product should be manufactured with materials and in a manner that is closely aligned with this USP. The USP should be engrained into every fiber of your startup. Developing a consistent message, distinctive voice and brand personality is all part of becoming recognizable and unique.

A clear USP will help you differentiate your hardware product and startup, regardless of the industry you are breaking into.

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3D Innovations Blog: Guest Writers Welcome

Product Design, Prototyping, Manufacturing

Our 3D Innovations team is always on the lookout for individuals with exceptional writing skills and an interest in hardware startups, 3D printing and/or product design. If this sounds like you, we would love to have you as a guest contributor for our blog!

How to Get Started

Send us an e-mail, info@3d-innovations.com, with the following information:

  • Your Name
  • Your Contact Information (and social media accounts, so we can connect with you)
  • Sample Blog Topic Ideas
  • Short Writing Sample (does not have to be on your blog topic ideas)
  • Estimated Blog Submission Date

After we receive your e-mail, we will be in touch to narrow down a blog post topic with you, discuss the length of your piece and schedule a posting date. If you have a blog topic idea that does not fit in the hardware startups, 3D printing or product design categories, but in a similar category, we would be open to discussing this with you to get clarification and check that it would be a good fit for our audience.

About 3D Innovations

We are a Product Development company located in Honolulu, Hawaii. 3D Innovations provides Product Development services assisting companies with all stages of development. Our suite of services includes product design/engineering, prototyping, 3D Printing, additive manufacturing, supply chain management, packaging design, and production manufacturing sourcing. Using our experience in Design For Manufacturing processes, we are able to develop custom solutions for clients that accelerate their commercialization activities.

We support various Commercial and Government industries that include Industrial, Military, Construction, Medical, Manufacturing, Automotive, R&D, Inventors, and many more. We provide 3D Printing and Rapid Prototyping services to quickly validate designs and make improvements for production manufacturing. Experience the benefits of 3D Design and see how 3D Innovations can develop innovative solutions to engineer, design, and manufacture your product.

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Hardware: Building a Startup around a New Concept or Technology

Building a hardware product, business and brand around any concept is a challenge—however, when you are building all of this around an unknown concept or new product category, you now face the challenges of a true trailblazer. Two popular recent trailblazers that come to mind are the Amazon Echo and Bitcoin. Both products were able to successfully answer the “why is this necessary?” question, educate consumers and carve out a market niche for themselves.

When you build a product that breaks the mold, or is completely new for an industry, you must successfully balance product development while simultaneously educating consumers. Below are a few ideas on how to develop a hardware product around an unknown concept.

hardware productDefine Your Goals and Game Plan

All companies want to sell their product or service and turn a healthy profit. If you are too focused on selling to ABC or XYZ you will be tempted to tailor your product to suit these demographics instead of your vision. Before you even start to map your marketing and sales strategy, make sure that your vision, mission and goals are laid out.

If you are building a completely new hardware product, it will feel easier to try to modify your vision so that your business can be easily categorized by the market. With your vision and business game plan laid out though you will find it much easier to stick to your original goals.

Focus on Educating—Not Selling

Trailblazing companies must first focus on educating consumers about their product before leads can be converted into sales. Educating consumers can come in many forms: blogging, video content and infographics are just a few ways for businesses to reach out and share their business concept without pushing for sales. An education-centric sales approach will allow customers to truly understand your vision and product.

A sales philosophy centered on educating consumers will continually transform and evolve as your target market comes to understand your product and as you find new approaches to reach other demographics.

Slow and Steady Growth

Developing true innovation takes time. Speeding through the product development process can end in disaster. Instead of focusing on speed, focus on quality. Your hardware product is navigating unchartered waters, and you want it to make a big splash when it is debuted—the best way to accomplish this is with a flawless design.

While slow is certainly challenging for many startups, it is the wiser approach. You want a product that can fulfill both your vision and the needs of consumers. If the hardware product isn’t understood by consumers and has too many design flaws, you will face frustrated and confused customers.

“True innovation is coming up with a product that the customer didn’t even know they needed.” — J. Paul Getty

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Three Areas Where 3D Printing Shines

3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, is one of the most buzzed about technologies of the past five years. The hype around the technology has certainly diminished since its fever pitch in 2014, in which Forbes published, “3-D Printing Is About To Change The World Forever”—and now the genuine potential of the technology is emerging. Certain industries have taken to the technology quicker than others and have been able to successfully implement it into their supply chain. Below we discuss three areas in which 3D printing technology really shines.

Customer Customization

3D printingIt’s no secret that customers are evolving and their preferences are changing. Where once customers were happy with the “Big Box” store approach, this mentality is starting to shift and customers are looking for more customizable products that meet their specific needs and preferences.

Customization is one of the major benefits of 3D printing. Companies are able to print one-of-a-kind products. One industry that has had great success implementing 3D printing for customization purposes is the designing of prosthetics. Companies and patients have found that they are able to create custom prosthetics at a fraction of the cost with the use of 3D modeling and 3D printing technology.

Designing New Structures

Like anything, traditional manufacturing has its limitations. Until recently certain designs could not be manufactured simply because they were deemed “not possible” or the expense was too exorbitant to be justifiable. However, 3D printing allows for greater design flexibility.

Biomimicry has grown in popularity among product designers and architects, however, these designs are usually manufacturing headaches. “The purpose of biomimicry is to learn from the way nature has optimized structures, designs and objects for maximum performance so that we can use them to create better solutions.” The curvature and delicate nature of the designs are very organic, which poses a challenge when it comes time for production. 3D printing has enabled designers to step out of the traditional way of designing and focus more on what makes the most sense for the product.

Specialty Manufacturing

High variability, low demand products cannot be effectively served by traditional manufacturing methods. If you are a collector of any type of vintage item, then you understand the issues that arise if something breaks or you need to restore a piece. “3-D printing readily solves the challenge of manufacturing rare replacement parts, while also overcoming the obstacle of distribution: a plant exists wherever a printer does.”

Certain components cannot simply be bought, and this is where 3D printing comes into play. With a 3D digital design and a 3D printer, a piece that once was impossible to find can now be produced and put into use in record time.

3D printing technology has found its place in the business landscape. With the continued developments of the technology, it is poised to continue to grow and become even more valuable to businesses.

 

References:

Lessons Engineers and Architects Should Learn from Nature and Topology Optimization

Four Areas Where 3-D Printing Could Flourish

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Four Must-Haves When Searching for a Product Development Firm

product developmentBuilding a hardware startup from the ground up is hard work—partnering with the right product development firm from the get-go is vital. Today it seems as though there are a plethora of product development firms out there, however not all are created equal. While you are doing your research and interviewing potential product development partners, here are four things to look for, and measure against.

Experience

You are going to want an experienced firm. Whether you need them for a single stage in the product development cycle or for the entirety of it, you need a firm that has in-depth experience. This experience means that they will be able to foresee potential issues and help remedy them before they become major problems for your startup. Also, don’t be afraid to reach out to past clients of theirs to ask about their experience with the firm as well.

Industry Knowledge

Are you going into a niche industry? Search out a product development partner with experience in it. Not all firms can be an expert in every industry out there, we advise you to talk to your network and find a firm that has experience in your specific industry. This will not only assist you in the development of your product, but the additional knowledge brought to the table will help get you up to speed on the industry as a whole.

Professional Contacts

Find a product development firm with a large network and extensive “rolodex”. This network includes everything from Intellectual Property Attorneys to Public Relations Experts. Your startup is going to need assistance from a range of professionals as you work to get it off of the ground. Many first-time entrepreneurs quickly realize that they can’t do it all on their own, and need to bring other professionals on-board to keep things moving ahead.

Manufacturing Partnerships

Manufacturing a new hardware project can be a bumpy road. You are going to want, and need, a product development partner that has established relationships with manufacturers. Most product development firms have relationships with both local and international manufacturing companies, and can help you decide what direction will make the most sense for your business. Also, while the product development firm will have manufacturing partners, that doesn’t mean you are required to use them. If you have a manufacturer you feel will be a better fit, make sure your product development firm is willing to work outside their network.

Deciding on a product development firm to partner with is no small task. You are entrusting your idea and invention to another, and you want to be sure that it is going into the right hands. This crucial partnership during the early formative days, weeks, months of your hardware startup can make all the difference.

Have additional product development questions? Contact us at info@3d-innovations.com

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Top Four Manufacturing & Commercialization Articles

The manufacturing phase of product development poses unique hurdles, no matter if you are a first time hardware startup or you are a well-known corporation. Most recently and notably, Tesla Inc. CEO, Elon Musk, warned of the production challenges that still lie ahead for the Model 3. No company is immune to production challenges. Whether you have decided to manufacture locally or internationally, you are bound to face one or two hiccups before your product is ready to hit store shelves.

Before you dive into the manufacturing phase, we have compiled four of our top manufacturing and commercialization related articles for you. These articles touch on everything from “what to expect from a manufacturing partner” to “how to design for manufacturing from the start”.

Manufacturing Facts Hardware Entrepreneurs Need To Know

“Developing a product is exhilarating, however when the time comes to start the manufacturing phase of the product development process, many entrepreneurs aren’t exactly sure where to begin. Here are some pieces of advice that every hardware startup should know about the manufacturing process.”

The Complex Relationship of Innovation and Commercialization

“Often times inventors and entrepreneurs are viewed as people who lock themselves away to develop an idea, but the truth of the matter is, it takes help from a wide range of people to get an idea on the road to commercialization. Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help. If you need a certain skill set that you don’t possess, find someone who does—asking for help might just be the thing that sets your idea on the path to success.”

Why Does Design For Manufacturability Matter?

“When you are working towards commercialization of a product, the goal is to be efficient, minimize costs and get your product onto store shelves quickly—Design for Manufacturability (DFM) works to do just this. With DFM you work out any potential issues before manufacturing planning which saves both time and resources.”

What Your Future Manufacturing Partner Wants You To Know

“When the time comes to manufacture your hardware product, having the right partner on your team makes all the difference. Speed, accuracy, reliability and open communication are all characteristics to look for when picking a contract manufacturer (CM). Building a supply chain from scratch is challenging and many hardware startups falter during this early-stage, however with the right information your startup doesn’t have to be one of them.”

“If you don’t manufacture a quality product, all you’ve got at the end is a bunch of expensive mistakes.”-Eliyahu M. Goldratt

Have additional questions about the manufacturing process? Send them our way, at info@3d-innovations.com

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