Posts Tagged "Intellectual Property"

Tips To Help You Launch Your Hardware Startup Faster

Building a startup from the ground up is hard work—it takes total commitment, sheer determination and a great deal of research. To help you on the last aspect, we have gathered a few of our most popular blog posts related to starting, managing and running a hardware startup for your reference.

I Have A Product Idea—Now What?

For first time entrepreneurs, the product development journey may seem challenging and fraught with obstacles. With so much information available it can be confusing as to what needs to be done first and who you can turn to. In this post we discuss the first five steps of product development to help you dig in and get to work.

How to Avoid Common Hardware Startup Failure Traps

Yes, hardware startups fail and no, that doesn’t mean that yours will. By making yourself aware of the common reasons hardware startups fail, you are preparing yourself, your team and your startup to avoid these roadblocks. The adage may say that “hardware is hard”, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible—we would even dare say that launching a hardware product has never been easier than it is today.

Hardware Startup: Seeing Opportunities That Others Have Missed

Newcomers to an industry have fresh ideas, new perspectives and innovative ideas. These newcomers are not weighed down by industry norms and the mentality of “it’s always been done this way”. These fresh faces often see opportunities that industry veterans miss.

FAQ: The Basics of Product Development

One thing we have learned over the years is that, no matter the industry, first-time entrepreneurs have some of the same questions and concerns when they first get started. In this post we discuss three frequently asked questions related to product development.

FAQ: The Basics of Intellectual Property and Manufacturing

First-time entrepreneurs, and even seasoned entrepreneurs, have questions when it comes to protecting their intellectual property (IP) and moving forward with manufacturing. No two products are alike; therefore, a custom-tailored strategy is necessary when it comes to navigating these two areas of product development.

Early Product Design Challenges Facing Hardware Startups

It doesn’t matter what industry you are going into or if you are a first-time entrepreneur or serial entrepreneur, you are bound to encounter one or more of these challenges along the way. By understanding what lays ahead as you start your product development journey, you will be better equipped to successfully navigate it.

Three Things Successful Hardware Startup Founders Understand

Hardware startups have many moving parts and are exponentially harder to launch than a typical software startup. Between product prototyping, testing, material selection, manufacturing and quality control (just to name a few), many days it seems like there just isn’t enough time to get it all figured out. There is a lot of time and energy that goes into launching a product before it hits store shelves.

These articles will help you get started and answer many of your preliminary questions as you begin your startup journey. You can also find additional information related to starting a business over on our blog. As always, if you have a specific question and want to chat with an expert, we are happy to help! Send us an e-mail at info@3d-innovations.com, we look forward to talking with you.

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Intellectual Property Strategies for Hardware Startups

intellectual propertyIntellectual property (IP) protection is an important consideration for any startup, and possibly even more so for hardware startups. Technology and globalization have made it even easier for companies to copy a product or steal an idea altogether.

Patents are a way to not only protect an idea, but to also minimize competition and act as a defense mechanism against infringement claims from others. Having a strong intellectual property strategy or having the patent process started, is a great way to attract or solidify partnerships and funding.

Below are four considerations for your startup’s intellectual property strategy.

File Early-On

Patent rules are strict and adhere to a tight timeline, so it is best to file for patent protection early-on in the development cycle. A provisional patent application is a good “first step” for hardware startups. A provisional application provides the means to establish an early effective filing date in a later filed nonprovisional patent application. 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 (United States Patent and Trademark Office -USPTO).” Once you file a provisional application the countdown clock starts ticking and your next move must be decided within the 12-month period.

In this early period, it is also best to keep quiet about your invention. You want to avoid publicizing your invention. This does not mean that you cannot meet with potential partners or product development firms, but instead that you don’t want to share your idea online or start a crowdfunding campaign just yet.

File as the Invention Evolves

Many times the invention that you first envisioned, completely transforms during the product development process. This means that your initial patent or patent application may not cover new features that have been added on. This will leave your final product under-protected or not protected at all.

If the product is evolving quickly, consider filing a provisional patent application or a series of provisional patent applications within a year before filing a utility patent application.

Consider a Design Patent

While utility patents make up 90% of patents issued, design patents have been steadily on the rise because inventors are realizing that the exterior design and overall aesthetics of the invention can easily be replicated as well. Protecting both the design and functionality of an invention is necessary for long-term success.

According to the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), “design patents may be granted to anyone who invents a new, original, and ornamental design for an article of manufacture”. In short, this means that design patents cover exactly what is shown in the drawings, nothing more.

Like a utility patent, a design patent also lets you use the phrases patent pending and patent issued on all business-related material. Once you have been granted a design patent, you are then able to secure rights for the next fourteen years. Another important thing to keep in mind is that design patents are relatively cheap to file and maintain, as compared to a utility patent.

A design patent, coupled with a utility patent, offers a range of IP protection on both the inner workings and exterior design of your product.

Consider Other Brand Protections

Patent protection is only one part of your IP strategy. A registered trademark will help protect your brand as well. A trademark is a word, phrase, symbol or design that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one party from another—think along the lines of logo and tagline. A recognizable trademark can be extremely valuable for distinguishing your business from the competition.

Depending on the exact nature of your startup, a licensing agreement, copyright and/or trade secret protection could also be considered during your intellectual property planning and overall strategy. Speaking to a Patent Attorney early-on will let you discuss your options, weigh the benefits and build a custom strategy for your startup.

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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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3D Innovations is a Product Development Company – from the 3D Design to a fully functional 3D Prototype & Product.

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How to Prepare for Your First Patent Attorney Meeting

Most hardware startups find themselves thinking about intellectual property early-on and wondering if it is truly necessary for their invention. If you are planning to manufacture your product abroad, considering a crowdfunding campaign, wanting to speak with potential investors or find yourself constantly worrying about someone copying your invention, then meeting with a patent attorney is a great idea. In many cases, having a design or utility patent will be beneficial for your startup in the long-run.

Below are a few tips on how to prepare for your initial meeting with a patent attorney. Keep in mind that the first meeting can be free—being adequately prepared means that you will be able to glean as much knowledge as possible from this meeting.

Prepare a brief description of your invention.

The key to this description is to be concise. What does your invention do? What are the main functionalities of your invention? This written summary if often called an “invention disclosure statement”, however it doesn’t need to be formal and can be written in any form. Keep it to a page or less in length, and even a paragraph or two will be sufficient.

Write your description so that someone unfamiliar with the product can get an idea of what it does and the technology behind it. Patent attorneys deal with a variety of technology, but don’t always have an extensive technical background, so you want to be able to bring them up to speed quickly on your specific invention.

Bring drawings or a prototype.

Seeing your invention is a quick and efficient way of describing your product to the patent attorney. A prototype allows the patent attorney to assess the product and understand the exact intricacies behind your invention. Depending on the exact nature of your product, a functional prototype might be just what you need for the meeting. However, line drawings or sketches of your product will also work for your initial meeting. These drawings don’t have to be formal, but they should be thorough.

Conduct your own patent search.

This can sound slightly counter-intuitive since you are meeting with a patent attorney, however you should to conduct your own patent search beforehand. Search patent databases such as www.google.com/patents or www.uspto.gov using keywords from your “invention disclosure statement”.

Print the patent search results.

From your patent research, print and bring the patents that are most similar to your idea. You can either print out the patent references or compose a list of them, so that they can be easily retrieved. This will provide a research starting point for the attorney as they conduct a more formal patent search.

We also suggest organizing the above information into a single file folder and include a business card. This way the attorney will have all of your invention information and contact information in one place.

Adequate preparation for this meeting ensures that you will get the most out of your initial meeting and hopefully gain a better understanding as to whether this route makes the most sense for your invention and stage of business.

Have additional questions about patents, prototypes or line drawings? Please send us an e-mail, info@3d-innovations.com

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Product Design: Custom Electronic Sensor [Case Study]

3D INNOVATIONS CASE STUDY

The challenge: Develop and prototype a custom circuit sensor application.

3D Innovations was contacted to assist in the product design and development of a custom circuit board sensor device prototype. The exact application was to measure specific amounts of units through an on board sensor that would store and transmit the data to a cloud storage system.

custom circuit board design

Using the client’s requirements, the 3D Innovations team was able to produce a schematic design to develop the circuit layout and determine Bill of Materials (BOM) requirements and the associated cost. Gerber files were generated and used for the manufacturing process. While the option of 3D printing the circuits was available, the conventional method for fabrication and assembly was utilized.

Integrating best practices for PCB design, development cost was reduced by 230% and prototypes were built in several weeks, saving 3-4 weeks in lead time. UL and FCC certifications were conducted to ensure testing compliance and approval. A production ready design was then delivered for manufacturing.

Results: A product ready design was delivered for manufacturing, while development costs were reduced by 230%, saving 3-4 weeks in lead time.

“Working with 3D Innovations, our sensor device was able to come to life and allowed for a quicker market introduction.”

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3D Innovations is a Product Development Company – from the 3D Design to a fully functional 3D Prototype & Product.

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Product Design: FOG Safe [Case Study]

3D INNOVATIONS CASE STUDY

The challenge: Design and development of a prototype mold for final product testing and market integration.

The FOG Safe is an environmentally conscious product designed to keep fat, oil and grease from drains and ultimately our environment. By reducing fat, oil and grease waste material from our drains, we not only greatly reduce our carbon footprint, but protect our landfills, gardens, water sources, streams and oceans from harmful chemicals. With this waste reduction goal in mind, the FOG Safe was created.

FOG_Safe grease catchment_product design

Using our product design and 3D Printing process, prototype molds were created to produce a low volume quantity for final testing and marketing integration. The data obtained during this testing phase has allowed FOG Safe to receive several patents and other IP protections for the product. Utilizing 3D printed molds, as compared to traditional molding materials, saved our client more than $8,000 in tooling expenses and reduced the product development time from months to weeks.

Results: By creating less expensive tooling we were able to save our client over $8,000 in tooling expenses. The functional prototype has been effective in conducting testing and developing use cases. The overall product development cycle was reduced by months using 3D Printing technology over aluminum or steel molds during the prototyping phase.

With the assistance from 3D Innovations, a prototype part and tooling was able to be developed in a much shorter time period than traditional manufacturing and mold making methods. The assistance they provided helped to produce a design that was used for manufacturing, patent applications, and packaging design.”

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3D Innovations is a Product Development Company – from the 3D Design to a fully functional 3D Prototype & Product.

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Product Design: Making Dental Care Fun [Case Study]

3D INNOVATIONS CASE STUDY

The challenge: Develop a product that makes dental care fun for children.

When SmileyRides™ approached our 3D Innovations team, the startup had an overarching goal: Make dental care fun and interactive for children, while promoting life long healthy oral hygiene habits. With an idea and rough sketch in hand, we were able to take our client’s vision and turn it into a functional prototype for product testing, manufacturing and patenting.

smileyrides dental product designAfter assessing this project we knew that 3D Design and 3D Printing technology would be the most flexible method for producing this product. 3D Printing is significantly cheaper than traditional manufacturing methods and with this savings, we were able to product multiple prototype concepts for consumer testing. Having these prototypes to validate the design and hand out to their target market for testing proved to be invaluable.

With our digital design process, we were able quickly produce mock-ups and validate the design, which helped reduce the product development timeline by two months. The detailed design we provided was manufacture ready and provided a seamless transition into the production manufacturing stage. Utilizing 3D Printing technology resulted in a cost savings of over $10,000 in machining and mold expenses.

Results: A functional prototype was developed using digital design and 3D printing technology, which resulted in a cost savings of over $10,000.

“3D Innovations is nothing short of amazing. From my initial consultation of an idea I had in my head and a novice drawing, they were able to bring my idea to reality better than I could have ever hoped for. 3D Innovations was detailed in every aspect, produced everything in a prompt, professional manner, and was extremely knowledgeable about the processes and the products. Honestly, I don’t know how I would have been able to get my business to where it is today without them. 3D Innovations is invaluable to me. They answered all my questions no matter how small or how big. 3D Innovations produces top of the line quality and is a pleasure to work with.

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3D Innovations is a Product Development Company – from the 3D Design to a fully functional 3D Prototype & Product.

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Product Design: GoPro Mount Accessory [Case Study]

3D INNOVATIONS CASE STUDY

The challenge: Develop a hands-free GoPro mount accessory.

Our 3D Innovations team worked closely with a group of young entrepreneurs during Startup Weekend Honolulu 2015 in the product design and development of a hands-free GoPro mount accessory. With only 54 hours to develop and prototype the idea, time was of the essence.

go pro accessoryThe initial concept was to develop a clip that would attach a Go Pro camera to the front of your hat for hands free video action shots. Using our 3D Design process, we were able to take the initial idea and develop a functional design. Numerous factors needed to be accounted for throughout the product design phasesize, weight and materials. 3D Printing technology was utilized to accommodate the rapid product development cycle. Several versions of the prototype were produced in a short period of time, which allowed the team to test and conduct customer validation studies.

With the final design, this accessory can now replace over a dozen mounts for GoPros, iPhones, audio recorders and lights. The easy to use and compact hands-free mount design makes it easy to take along on your next adventure.

Using our 3D Design and 3D Printing process, we were able to save over $4,000 in prototyping costs while reducing the development time from weeks or months to just days. The utilization of 3D printing technology led to significant cost savings, which allowed the team to develop several versions that were validated through the customer discovery process and led to the final production-ready design.

Results: Designed and developed a functional prototype in 54 hours.

“Working with 3D Innovations allowed us to turn our concept into a prototype and help win the 2015 Startup Weekend Honolulu event. With the assistance from 3D Innovations, we have a concept that can be brought to life through crowdfunding sites such as Kickstarter. This will help us raise the necessary funds to mass produce this product.”

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3D Innovations is a Product Development Company – from the 3D Design to a fully functional 3D Prototype & Product.

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Hardware Startups: Can I Patent My Invention?

August 29, 2016
3D Innovations

IP_patentA patent for your invention is useful, in that it gives you exclusive rights to the idea/product (for twenty years), allows you to license the invention and provides a strong market position. However, to obtain a patent your invention must meet certain criteria. Here are a few important questions to ask yourself in determining whether your invention is patentable.

  1. Did you invent it? A patent can only be applied for by the actual inventor or co-inventor. If you were not the inventor, but contributed financially, you will not be able to patent the product on your own. If the inventor was employed by another person or company to develop the invention, the patent will still be issued under the inventor’s name. However, ownership of the patent will be with the employer.
  2. Is your invention useful? Under U.S. law the invention must be “useful” to be eligible for protection. To meet this requirement the product must provide some benefit and is capable of use. It is important to note that most inventions meet this criteria.
  3. Is your invention “non-obvious”? If your product is already common knowledge in its field, then it would not meet this requirement. This determination is made by deciding whether the invention sought to be patented would have been obvious “to a person having ordinary skill in the art to which the claimed invention pertains”. Determination of whether a particular change or improvement is “obvious” is one of the most difficult determinations in patent law.
  4. Does it fall under a patentable category? Patents are available for processes, machines, articles of manufacture, and improvements to any of those classes. If your idea is in regards to laws of nature, physical phenomena, abstract ideas or non-useful objects, it will not be eligible for a patent.
  5. Has your invention been disclosed to the public? If so, your invention will not be patentable. This requirement states that your idea must be “new” and not discussed publicly prior to the date of the filing. If you invention has been made available for public use or disclosed in a prior patent application it will not be eligible for a patent.

Have additional questions regarding the patent process? We highly recommend a visit to the USPTO website. We are also able to help answer any questions you may have, please e-mail them to info@3d-innovations.com

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3D Innovations is a Product Development Company – from the 3D Design to a fully functional 3D Prototype & Product.

Startup Connector is a Manufacturing Accelerator helping companies commercialize—turning ideas into products.

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Intellectual Property: Should You Consider A Licensing Business Model?

June 2, 2016
3D Innovations

ip-3d-printing-innovations-100In our Case Study blog post last week, Transitioning From Idea To Manufacturable Product, we discussed the ways in which we helped a client secure a licensing agreement. For many inventors a licensing agreement is often a great option since it lets them develop a product, but then puts the expenses associated with commercialization on a more experienced manufacturer.

What is a licensing agreement?

With a licensing agreement, an inventor (the licensor) develops an invention and then protects that invention through a patent, copyright, trademark, or trade secret, and thus creates intellectual property (IP). The inventor—the owner of the intellectual property—then licenses the invention to a second party (the licensee) whose responsibility is to commercialize the invention. As compensation for allowing another party to use its intellectual property, the licensor will receive a royalty.

Licensing agreements are becoming more common than in the past and are open to more inventors. This has also increased the number of inventors approaching manufacturers and, thus, increased competition.

What are the benefits of a licensing agreement?

Below is a list of some of the main benefits of licensing your invention/IP.

  • The licensor (inventor) does not have to finance the commercialization process.
  • The licensor avoids the need to create and operate a company.
  • The innovation will most likely get to market faster because a larger, more experienced company is handling the commercialization.
  • The innovation may reach more markets if the licensee is a large, well-funded enterprise.
  • The licensor retains ownership of the intellectual property.

How do I evaluate a potential licensee?

When evaluating a potential licensee, you should focus on its ability to effectively commercialize your invention/IP. Often times that means considering companies that have a proven track record of marketing and selling products based on inventions similar to yours. Depending on the invention, the best way to commercialize it could also be to license it to a startup, a manufacturer, or a bunch of companies in separate territories.

Suggestions for securing a licensing agreement:

  1. Assess the complexity of our product. Is there a way to get a working version developed without extensive costs? 3D printing/additive manufacturing is a frequently used method to get a functional prototype ready because of its speed and the reduced costs associated with the technology.
  2. Identify manufacturers. Find out which manufacturers currently sell product lines to large retailers where you can see that your product would be a good fit.
  3. Create a functional prototype. Create a functional prototype of your product and pitch retail buyers. The goal is to get a commitment before you actually launch. You can possibly even offer them a few months of launch exclusivity. The mock-up of your packaging is also critically important. Your product must look as retail ready as possible.
  4. Setup a meeting with an IP attorney. The attorney will be able to go over the legal aspects of the licensing agreement with you and help come up with a plan that best suits your needs.
  5. Approach the identified manufacturers. If you want to get the attention of a manufacturer, before you even talk about your product, pitch the prospect your new customer, growing sales or the commitment from a major buyer. You’ll get an appointment, and your product has a better chance of moving to the front of the line in the new product development funnel.

Have additional questions about licensing agreements? We would be happy to help answer them, please e-mail info@3d-innovations.com

Articles Referenced:

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3D Innovations is a Product Development Company – from the 3D Design to a fully functional 3D Prototype & Product.

Startup Connector is a Manufacturing Accelerator helping companies commercialize—turning ideas into products.

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