.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

This Invention: A Family Content Network

A journal, information and resources for establishing a Family Content Network, as I am doing - essentially a framework for managing all your Family's online assets and inventions for maximum exposure and revenue. This blog began as an inventor's journal, and retains the overall parent inventor's context and mindset.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

(19) Entirely Random

...was the first comment/post to this blog. Received a comment from a Park Ranger in Richmond "davidingals6924" that he read the blog, and referenced his own "juicyfruiter.blogspot.com". Funny it's from Richmond, very near where I live. Also coincidental is the Park Ranger part; just yesterday I was discussing with my wife when we would exercise our new GPS receiver and go "Geocaching" (a treasure hunting game for the whole family, at geocaching.com!), and whether Park Rangers ever got involved. I actually think my invention might be an interesting future 'treasure' in itself, in a cache we eventually place. It certainly would be useful for many families who participate in this activity.

I suppose this randomness will continue, until the blog starts centering around the actual invention and the specific keywords, therefore becoming a set of categories of particular interest to particular people. Right now, it's little more than a fragile, surreptitious plotline in journal format with many incomplete story threads branching off; perhaps only interesting to those just like me, i.e. novice "Dad" inventors pursuing the first invention. For those people, however, it's certainly yet another real-life example of the process and its successes/failures. Maybe I'll start posting some pictures.

This month's "freshpatents" list came out, and is getting very scary. It's entirely amazing how much inventing is occuring (or at least being published by the USPTO) in my related fields (including the term 'wheels'), and each time this list comes out, I'm really anxious that I might find my invention listed. So far, so good - but it just goes to show how active the inventor community is.

I started examining the options ahead of me for online selling, including Ebay stores. It's utterly mindboggling how many stores exist in the forum, and how many people are making money by this simple medium, simple markups, and good customer service. Will have to draw up a pros/cons list of the various retailing approaches, starting with my own website. Perhaps I'm getting ahead of myself, but I still think the invention will sell.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

(18) New Year's Push

I am now ready for a New Year's push, i.e. into rapid prototyping, focus group testing, and getting a finished product manufactured. The official 'first year' of this business is complete, and I'd call it moderately successful, if a bit slow. Everything I read points to, while taking basic steps to protect oneself, being first on the market and establishing a customer and marketing base. Even though I'm sure a large plastics company in the industry I'm working with could probably design around and quickly 're'-produce my product very quickly, it would take at least 6 months. I'm assuming they'd do their own marketing studies, reverse-engineer my product, do some re-engineering of their own, establish their own marketing campaign, integrate the product into some existing or maybe a new line, etc. In the meantime, I'm building (hopefully) a loyal base of customers and probably enough business to make me happy.

Though it's so far taken me a year and a half, and will likely be another year until I'm full on marketing, manufacturing and selling a completely safety-tested product, I feel the progress made would be difficult to truly duplicate unless the product's a sure winner (which it will be, of course!). On the other hand, once duplicated, they'd (the infringers!) probably have little chance of me coming back with a patent infringement suit, as I'm not ready to spend a lot of money on it. On the other, other hand, since the patent isn't yet issued or published, they don't really know how robust the claims are, or when it was initially filed, so therefore are taking a big risk of future suit without adopting a 'wait and see' approach. Well, I hope they all 'wait and see' through my first couple of million dollars of revenue, and then simply approach with a phat license deal, which I'll probably reject in favor of some kind of partnership or co-investing.

Regarding the claims, I've sent another diagram of an additional embodiment to the lawyers, to see how they can 'extend' the original application to include. This new embodiment is really one of the first embodiements I thought of, but was altogether more complex, less utilitarian, and ultimately less useful. It is, however, easier to manage and assemble, the primary drawback being that this embodiment isn't flexible with respect to associated part sizing; it's a completely customized production. This means I'd have to manufacture completely customized parts for various sizes of the target market, and can't really reuse the parts. More expense, but maybe a definite market segment to address. I'm very motivated to get the originally filed embodiment produced and tested, as it can be reconfigured and reoriented in many different ways, with many different applications, and therefore many more avenues of product, safety and market testing.

One element I'd highlighted in that Modern Marvels contest entry (now officially deleted!), was the humanitarian value of the invention. This is an area that I've started researching a bit; my invention will really help both the affluent and not, as well as being probably useful in the handicapped market. I see multiple lines of product, including (A) high-end, expensive model for the 'suburbanites' (those who frequent bike stores), (B) low-end, cheap model for those really in need (those who live in small, urban apartments with limited income), (C) hobbyist model for those who just want the main parts and may want to use for their own, creative purposes, and (D) specialized model for handicapped applications. There's incredible handicapped and third-world humanitarian value in what's essentially a very simple invention - I've got lots of work to do in positioning my product for promotion towards those ends. Perhaps a program of donations to needy causes. Did some research on organizations that help the underserved in other countries; there's one in particular that may be the right avenue - "Bikes for the World".

Each model 'package' might have its own marketing campaign, packaging/labels, test conditions, package/parts options, and pricing structure. Note that the underlying invention is basically unchanged across the different packages. What's different is the invention's inclusion of various parts and accessories, creating the 'package' in some form of pre-assembled collection. I believe it's very important in the marketing campaign to come up with a number of options and accessories associated with the invention, so as to extend the customer base and flexibility of the product to adjust to different market segments. Not too many, however, as too many accessories and options may actually confuse the buyer and dilute the product focus. Most of the accessory options I've come up with aren't "inventions" themselves per se, but certainly do contribute in total to the underlying invention's success.

For these variations in packages, I've created a spreadsheet trying to examine the collective costs and potential prices for all the pieces. This is to help anticipate what the future 'first run' might look like; i.e. the orders to the manufacturer and suppliers for the initial inventory of products to package and sell, with the associated costs and likely markups. Lots of guessing right now, but I'm zeroing in on the 'orders of magnitude' associated with my product's cost structures, including future investments I will have to make. My investment 'kitty' is about a third depleted (with the initial designer costs at about $5K and patent filing costs at about $9K); the next major investment is in a rapid prototype/model run to create the actual products to test (I'm expected a cost somewhere around $3K). The initial 'real' manufacturing run, using actual aluminum molds for the plastic parts, will be a huge cost - don't know exactly how I'm going to finance that, yet, or what the cost/benefit options are of on- vs. off-shore manufacturing. If my initial testing and focus group marketing does well, however, I'll probably look to some kind of 'personal' loan, i.e. home equity. Everything I've read about successful start-ups and small businesses point to investing in oneself; every dollar wisely invested by yourself yields huge returns in your own business, as compared to counting on investments by others.

A quick note about my guidance; I'm working off of what I read - articles and online discussion about how inventors create and market, how first-time buisness owners operate, how people like me start businesses. It's all out there, and moderated by some common sense and a very methodical, emotionless, ego-less and careful approach, the whole thing does eventually come together. All business, no stress, keep it quiet and personal, don't stop, search the Internet every day, continue with 'real' life, it's still a true 'do-it-yourself' hobby for now.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

(17) Staying Underground

I'm reconsidering the InventNow! contest - for many reasons. Posing the question "is it really a good idea to enter invention contests" to a forum, I got several good answers - 2 in particular really stuck. Other answers from existing forums seemed to say the same thing. These contests are ultimately only marketing/promotion opportunities for the contest owners, and typically do not really support or contribute to an independent inventor/manufacturer's business case, if the business case is focused on making money (vs. achieving notoriety, fame or personal satisfaction).

From the UIAUSA forum - "such premature exposure will discourage investment by others as it will be easily copied....a good invention is an asset not to waste as an unprotected property".

From inved.org - "it is simply a matter of whether or not the contest helps you meet your goals".

It appears to me there are few Pros (though they are individually very tempting), and many Cons.

- fame and fortune, it feels good! (only if I win, of course)
- free PR/advance marketing, to future customers
- possible help from interested investors, manufacturers, "interested parties"

- publicity might be negative or misinterpreted, prematurely killing the concept and market
- gives competitors head start on catching up, before I've sold a thing
- my trademark is registered, yet, so could be copied and used without much defense from me
- gives competitors information on creating their own patents, designing around what mine might be
- publicity may drive unwanted contacts and responses, for my 'stakeholders' and my family/friends, even my children
- the contest may set timetables and expense requirements that I'm not yet prepared to meet or address
- I may be forced to take shortcuts to fulfill the contest expectations and resultant publicity, and therefore not fulfill all my carefully thought out steps
- all the "Pros" above can and will likely be fulfilled eventually, on my own terms, should the product be successful.
- I'm not ready to legally defend infringement, nor has my patent issued, so I'm not really ready for worldwide public exposure and the dangers it brings
- the publicity is for me as an individual, vs. me as the representative of a company - i.e. I can't 'hide' behind an LLC facade, and therefore avoid some unwanted entreaties
- I'm actually not interested in worldwide individual fame, just worldwide marketing exposure of the product - just not right now
- I haven't yet received a signed waiver from my day job disawowing any interest they may have in the patent

So, I'm not entering - maybe next year, if I'm selling by then.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

(16) 3-D Printing!

Who knew this existed - a 3D printer! My designer suggested we first do this, as an inexpensive method to generate a first-run prototype. This prototype could function, but wouldn't be the truly testable prototype (in accommodating various real-world stresses and safety hurdles). It would certainly demonstrate the mechanical actions, interactions and potential sizing and visibility issues with respect to the interrelated products and accessories. Precision CAD/CAM in Maryland is probably who we'll contact, as the designer appears to have a contact.

I would have liked, in my InventNow! entry, to have said I have a prototype - but my initial model (built by hacking up a flowerpot for the curved plastic) doesn't seem to fit the intent. I probably won't call the 3-D print a prototype either, just a model for additional design tweaking. The eventual prototype run, which should generate a truly testable model, will be done by a different company, probably "Applied Rapid Technologies Corporation" (www.artcorp.com) - this is the initial company I found on ThomasNet under 'rapid prototyping in Virginia', and who gave me the individual designer contacts.

A note on my designer, Jose' M. Bouza II of Northe Pointe Associates, Inc., in Virginia (http://www.north-pointe.net/) - excellent reference, and very easy to work with - he's proceeding exactly at the pace I need, a little bit each week, sometimes a little more, very part-time. This 'hobby' is part-time for both of us. When we first started, I was a little concerned that his specialty, "electro-mechanical design", was a little out of line from my area, which was purely "mechanical design". So far it's turned out well; designing with plastics is an art unto itself, though mechanical interaction and physics is a specialty area I might eventually need help in.

The point is, simply get a good reference from a reputable company; speak with them and describe your need, more likely than not they'll know a good person, who will likely be able to do a lot more than actually advertised on their website. And approach it professionally, with appropriate NDAs up front.

Google doesn't yet know what my invention is, other than 2 entries under 'newly listed domain names' and the actual site name (which is empty right now). I can't wait to watch the "Google Tide" carry the trademark word I've created for my invention, across the Internet - once it's posted in an area that Google indexes, with well-known links, many more results should start "blossoming" (like summer algae blooms in the Potomac River, which I've sailed through many times), and I'll get some idea as to the direction information flows of this sort. Might help my PR campaign.

I did sign up for a service called "www.freshpatents.com", which sends you each month a listing of new inventions published matching keywords you choose. My keywords include "wheels" - who knew there was so much ongoing activity in the field of wheels! This is a very interesting service. A recent article in the Washington Post actually highlighted ("Even at 5500 Years Old, Every Year It's Something New", 11/25/2005) a USPTO examiner in charge of the "wheels" subject - truly an interesting and timeless job. Hopefully he gets to my application in under 3 years, the current backlog.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

(15) Keep on Track

Had a conversation with my designer today; it appears he headed down a singularly inventive path himself with respect to a very tricky part of the assembly. When I talked it through with him, the approach was in fact quite elegant, yet didn't correspond to all the contextual variables and foresight I had developed over the past year, thinking about this invention day and night, in the car, in the bathroom. His approach ended up (1) having to be operated by hand, whereas my conclusions had it being operated by foot, and (2) had it designed to custom match another component of the assembly, whereas my conclusions had more universal direction, to match many like components (and not be so custom). We spoke through it, and he was re-directed, back on track. The eventual design should be efficient from a customization perspective, i.e., if changes are necessary, major modifications are kept to a minimum. Also, the end design needs to cater specifically to the target audience, and be as helpful, non-intrusive, and user-friendly as possible.

The lesson here is to keep constant communication with the designer, so as to catch directional changes quickly, before they violate the planning and expectations (and cost parameters!) you've already established as the 'expert' in your own invention. Certainly the designer will come up with some innovative approaches and conclusions, that you haven't thought of, but always make sure your 'gut' is satisfied and all the thinking you've personally put into it is clear and present.

Still waiting on the 'waiver' from my day job company, that tells me they're not interested in my invention, so I can officially go somewhat public with the officially USPTO-filed idea in the invention contest - needs to happen next week, before the entry deadline.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

(14) Invention Contest and Sirius

The application for the History Channel/Modern Marvels InventNow! contest is almost finished; I do it in spurts. Must do it in Word, saving frequently, and then cut and paste into the online application developed (but not system tested!) by IBM. I lost my data typed online once (with a nasty Java error), and have learned the lesson. Also, the number of characters per line allowed in the draft edit pane, is one more than that allowed in the preview pane, so the lines wrap unexpectedly. Abhorrent system testing, I'd speculate.

The main delay is awaiting notice from my company that there's no conflict of interest; the intellectual property counsel called today and said there's actually some kind of waiver that can be executed, that documents the company's disinterest and disassociation from the intellectual property. With this, they can't claim that the invention is their property, having been submitted by an employee.

In the contest application, the last part asks how the prize money would be spent. Being that this invention is likely to start a business and perhaps an industry, there's so much to spend it on that it's hard to be concise. I'll try to focus on spending the prize money on true value add for the invention itself, in safety testing, marketing studies and the actual first production run logistics. Perhaps even start a set-aside fund for gifts/grants - the invention would be very helpful to handicapped persons and those with limited incomes. Anybody who uses personal conveyances, but especially those with little children (big hint!).

Met with the designer for lunch, and he showed me the CAD drawings on his laptop. It appears just about ready to submit to a rapid prototyper to construct. He had to, in fact, get electronic CAD files from another company for the wheels I'm using (hint!), to make sure they matched up exactly to the other parts in his drawings. They were a bit reluctant to share, but we've established a good relationship (after they shipped me some defect product!); it's a small company, and everybody's cool. The designer, having worked in this area for a while, has several ideas and contacts regarding rapid prototypers. More to come on that. Really want to get going, in order to be able to 'launch' testing and marketing at my community yard sale this spring.

As I've turned 40, it turns out that a time machine has come on the market to transport one back to the formative years of music appreciation. It's called a Satellite Radio (Sirius). Since installing it a week ago, I've listened (on my hour-long drive to work) to songs and artists that I haven't heard for 30 years, and all the 'good' stuff on the Album B sides. Clapton, Costello, Springsteen, Whitesnake, Blink-182, AC/DC, Pink Floyd, the Dead, Phish, Traffic, Lennon, etc. And best of all (the whole reason for buying it), Howard. I was introduced to Stern sometime around 1979 or so, and have listened or tried to since. Just some amazing collections of playlists, organized into an incredible assortment of categories covering the entire spectrum of my interests. I don't want to get out of the car.

Other research:

- If you want good, professional advice from a broad pool of experts, go to www.inved.org
- If you want decent, practical advice from a limited pool, mixed with junk, go to www.inventorshq.com
- If you want decent advice with a bit of community, but mixed with the rantings of a few self-serving, self-aggrandizing inventors of flotsam, go to http://groups.google.com/group/alt.inventors
- If you want to see interesting topics from those engaged in similar activities, go to www.daddytypes.com, or www.mominventors.com.