How to protect your and your child’s product design ideas

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OK! After reading my recent posts where I laid out the idea that you and your family can use your children’s creativity to prototype product designs, you now need to know how you can protect your ideas so that you can potentially gain royalties for your children’s college funds. Here are five key ways.

Doing some homework

  1. Pick the right manufacturing company. My last post discussed industries that practice the concept of Open Innovation, where firms are willing to share profits with you provided you can help them design a better product. Are there companies that will try to steal from you? Of course! But that doesn’t mean you can’t find reputable ones either. Tap into a social media network, such as LinkedIn, that can shed light on how the company does business. At the least, find out if they’ve been sued. As there are thousands, if not tens of thousands, of companies for each industry, there is no reason to tie yourself to any one of them unless you can trust them. Remember, it should be a win-win scenario for both sides.
  2. Understand how manufacturing works. The more you know how manufacturers in a particular industry produce and make money, the easier it will be to talk with them. Although you are not officially part of their R&D team, thinking and speaking as they do, especially in their own jargon, will give you a great advantage over other product designers who didn’t take the trouble to learn this. Remember that all manufacturers need to know how much your idea is going to cost them. If your idea doesn’t improve their bottom line, they have less of a reason to sign you up no matter how good your relationship is. Knowledge really is power and here, and knowing how manufacturing works will allow you to understand how your idea fits into the company’s overall strategy, thereby offering you a solid ground to stand on and hence a real form of protection.

  1. Create a paper trail. From the day you and your child come up with your product idea, take written notes on all improvements or modifications, all meetings with all relevant parties, and store them in a safe place. If a dispute or even a misunderstanding arrives, especially related to idea ownership, your written notes can provide an additional layer of protection. Consider it your “creativity diary” which you can write with your children, which I’m sure they will enjoy creating.
  2. Share your idea on a need-to-know basis. Until you apply for a provisional patent (see below), your idea is up for grabs. However, unless your idea is absolutely ground breaking in every field imaginable, I think most people are unlikely to take your specific idea to market given how this is not a sprint but a marathon. Nonetheless, you can protect yourself by just sharing your idea with those who can help you take it to the next stage.

  1. Apply for a Provisional Patent. This is a big topic that can fill a book because it also extends to full patents, not just a provisional one. For now, just be aware that anyone can file a Provisional Patent on-line in the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) for a very cost effective USD65 to protect yourself for 12 months. This means if your product is made and sold, it can have “Patent Pending” stamped on it. This also means you could be getting a royalty fee for you and your child’s design work. I’ll discuss more on this topic in the future but you can start with this USPTO link targeted to families!

 

What is Open Innovation and how does it work?

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If our children can prototype a product idea or innovation to manufacturing companies, how would these corporate Open Innovation programs work? As I mentioned in my earlier blogs, we can work with our children to license an idea to a company who would pay us a royalty to help with the children’s college fund. But critical to this process is to understand what Open Innovation is and how it works.

Defining Open Innovation

First, you should know that the person who popularized the term was Dr. Henry Chesbrough, who currently teaches at the Haas Business School, UC Berkeley, in his 2003 book, “Open Innovation: The New Imperative for Creating and Profiting from Technology.” In a more recent Forbes magazine article, he provided a (rather academic) definition: Open innovation is “the use of purposive inflows and outflows of knowledge to accelerate internal innovation, and expand the markets for external use of innovation, respectively.”

The catalyst

 

Personally, I prefer Wikipedia’s explanation: The central idea behind open innovation is that, in a world of widely distributed knowledge, companies cannot afford to rely entirely on their own research, but should instead buy or license processes or inventions (i.e. patents) from other companies.

 

Pluses and minuses

Of course, there are advantages as well as disadvantages for companies that engage in Open Innovation. Here is a partial list, also from the Wiki article:

Advantages

  • Reduced cost of conducting research and development
  • Potential for improvement in development productivity
  • Incorporation of customers early in the development process

Disadvantages

  • Possibility of revealing information not intended for sharing
  • Potential for the hosting organization to lose their competitive advantage as a consequence of revealing intellectual property
  • Increased complexity of controlling innovation and regulating how contributors affect a project

 

A key corporate trend

 

How it works

So how does Open Innovation work? While there are different methods, such as those sponsored by governments or competition based, the one we are most interested in is the “Collaborative product design and development” model. Here, a company still controls and maintains the production of the final product, but it is sharing the sales revenue with external co-designers (that’s you!) because you have found a way to make the product more usable and thereby more acceptable in the market. By using an outside co-designer, but maintaining production control, companies can get their new products to the market faster than just relying on their internal R&D departments. You will need to find ways to protect your own ideas, which I will discuss in the next blog.

 

Who’s practicing Open Innovation?

We want to look for inventor friendly companies or companies that are in industries that are constantly looking for new ideas to stay ahead. Here is a list of “15 Examples of Open Innovation between Big Companies & Startups.” And here is a very long list of “Inventor Friendly Companies.”

Looking at these two lists, which include even massive companies like GE, it should be very clear that Open Innovation is a key trend for many industries. This is because corporations understand that that we are living in information and technological boom times and they need to be part of that or risk falling behind.

For us parents with kids, with the cost of prototyping MUCH lower than just 5-10 years go, thanks to 3D printing technology, I think our children’s creativity need not be restricted to homework assignments, when they can be applied in the real world! The children provide the creative spark and we provide the discipline to make a very natural alliance that will hopefully and eventually help the children in their future education pursuits. What do you think?!

Key steps to working with your children to prototype products, earn money for college!

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Following my earlier blog, where I listed “Five ways to find quality time with your children” where the central focus was time management, we now turn to prototyping products, yes to help your children build their college fund! If you think this idea is far fetched, please have a look at my reasoning in my other blog here. My main point is we can create a triple win scenario where 1) children can apply their creativity in the real world through new product design or improvement, thereby attracting the attention of any college, 2) companies can tap into a new source of creativity, and 3) parents have an alternative funding source for their children’s college fund.

Here are the key steps:

  1. Read One Simple Idea. Stephen Key’s book is based on his 35-year’s experience as a product designer who struck over 20 licensing deals with manufacturers in different industries to earn substantial amounts in royalties. He also has a YouTube channel where he  explains his 10-step plan in further detail. While the process does take time, I think it’s quite achievable for anyone who puts his or her mind to it. Even Key admits, he has neither engineering nor any specialized background to improving products. But he does have a passion for creating new things to make everyone’s lives just a little better. Big helpful hint: you don’t need a full patent to get a licensing deal; just a preliminary patent via the US Patent Office will suffice. (Please note, I currently have no connection with Stephen Key beyond reading his book and watching his YouTube channel.)

  1. Find an industry that interests you and your children that practices Open Innovation. As product cycles become shorter and shorter, companies just don’t have the resources to creating new products on a regular basis. Some industries, like kitchen appliances and pet products, are willing to share their profits with outside designers. These Open Innovation companies even have a link on their website that explains where outside designers can submit their ideas.
  2. Learn about the buyers and sellers in the market. Once you find the industry that interests you and your children, try to learn about it as much as possible. This is one of Key’s most important steps. It’s the only way to speak to the manufacturers at their level and keep you in the licensing game.

Start of a licensing deal?

  1. Prototype with 3D printing. Key says in his book that even a 2D drawing is enough to result in a licensing deal. But he nevertheless supports using 3D printing in his YouTube channel. I think creating your own 3D printed prototype is a good way to establish and protect yourself, as it will add to your documentation that the idea is your own.
  2. Have fun! Key says licensing is a numbers game; you might not get a deal until you’ve submitted many designs to many companies. But I think this is part of the fun! How many famous inventors, entrepreneurs and leaders have not seen failure in their life before they began to succeed? We all want to know what DOESN’T work as early as possible because it will help us get to the things that DO work sooner. This in itself is a great life lesson for our children.

More to come on this topic!

Are children really more creative than their parents? Sure! But now what?

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If you search the first question on-line, you will see hundreds of sites concluding with a resounding, “Yes!” There will also be countless sites telling you how to encourage creativity in your children. (Here, one answer seems to be less schooling!) My questions then become: Why aren’t we taking more advantage of this creativity? Why aren’t there more child inventors? If a key characteristic in certain creative industries, like product design and IT, is to maintain a child-like imagination, then why can’t we just ask actual children?

Chester Greenwood (Age 15) – Earmuffs

Before you hit back with child labor laws, etc., here’s a story showing “10 Great Inventions Dreamt Up by Children.” Here’s another story with the title, “Crazy Kids’ Inventions Turned Into Real Products” with the video version here.

Cassidy Goldstein (Age 12) – Crayon Holders

WHY children are more creative

Out of all the research explaining WHY children are more creative than adults, the one I found the most compelling was by Alison Gopnik, psychology professor at Berkeley in this TED talk. She refers to the work of evolutionary biologists. Humans have an exceptionally long childhood to resolve the “intrinsic tension” between the need to finding the simplest, quickest solutions (adults) versus the need to explore to find alternative solutions (kids). (Any parent trying to get socks on their children will know what Gopnik means.) In short, evolution has designed humans to give them a chance to explore as children before maturing into efficient, problem solving machines as adults.

The next step

But getting back to my earlier questions, why aren’t we working more with children in the creative industries? (Wikipedia notes these nine but there are more.) In my view, one answer is likely the cost of innovation. R&D budgets can be a real drag on profitability for companies. They fund research staff as well the proto-typing. But I think you know what I will say next: 3D printing technology is lowering proto-typing costs. Now, anyone, including children, can also explore new design ideas.

Parents! It’s time to bond with our kids to see where their creativity can take us in the creative industries! Your child might be on a list of inventors in the near future.

More to come in upcoming blogs.

 

 

3D printing + licensing deal = ticket into a top university?

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OK this topic about licensing will likely result in quite a few blogs, so I’ll start with a series of questions to set the stage.

  1. Are children really more creative than their parents?
  2. Can we parents work with them to invent a new product using 3D printing to prototype?
  3. Would a manufacturer really accept our idea and how do we protect it?
  4. Can my child really earn his own college fund?
  5. Would a licensing deal help if and when our child applies to university?

Out of this list, I think most of you will agree that the final question is the easiest to answer. Of course a university admissions board would welcome a child who played a leading role in a product idea that has been successfully sold to a manufacturer. They might even offer the child a scholarship based on ingenuity and leadership. Universities are centers of cutting edge research and advance thinking. If your child can demonstrate creativity that’s also proven commercially viable, universities would certainly embrace him or her with open arms. It’s a natural fit.

The other questions, however, will need more time to answer. I’ll explore the world of licensing in the coming blogs and report back to you. (What I’ve seen so far seems promising!)

Before I end this blog, let me say this: 3D printing can play a big role in this process because you can design as many prototypes as you want using freely available 3D modeling software. (We just added the very powerful Fusion 360 into our Starter Kit.) If you want your design 3D printed but don’t have a printer, just search on line for the nearest 3D printing service bureau. You can send them the file and they can send you your prototype in a few days or even sooner. This is the WHOLE POINT of 3D printing; the power of creating new products is now in the hands of the people, not necessarily controlled by big corporations. More to come!

How to design your own 3D printable fidget spinner

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Sure you can download a fidget spinner design from Thingaverse, but what’s the fun of that?! It’s quite easy to design your own using, for example, an entry-level 3D modeling software like Tinkercad. Here’s how I created a very simple but very personalized spinner.

We’re going to make this fidget spinner.

1. Under Basic Shapes, grab a solid Box and give it these dimensions.

W: 75

D: 30

H: 7

In its Inspector box on the right, give it a Radius of 3.

2. Under Basic Shapes, grab a Hole Cylinder and give it these dimensions.

W: 22.1 (Spinner bearings are 22mm in diameter, so we are making the hole slightly larger, although it might need to get as much as 0.5mm depending on the 3D printer used. The bearing should fit snuggly in the hole.)

D: 22.1

H: 10

In its Inspector box on the right, give it Sides of 64 to make it smooth.

3. Use the Align tool to center the Hole with the Box.

4. Duplicate the Hole and move it 25mm to the right. Duplicate the first Hole and move it 25mm to the left. Group the three holes with the box. It should look like this when you are done.

5. Grab the Text tool, use your name and give it these dimensions.

W: 65

D: 5

H: 3

6. Rotate your name and Align it with the spinner body. Remember to align it with the center of the spinner’s height.

7. Duplicate your name and repeat it on the other side. Group everything and you are done.

8. Remove the bearings from your store bought spinner and enjoy your own customized fidget spinner!

 

(Yes making a tri-fidget spinner is also possible with Tinkercad although, it will take many more steps. Start with this easy one for now. Enjoy!)

 

 

Five ways to find quality time with your children

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How is your work/life balance? Do you have difficulty finding quality time with your children? I’m far from being Elon Musk-busy, but I am involved in three separate start-up businesses, serve on three school committees, run weekly as well as weekend 3D printing workshops and have finally found time to begin learning a martial art. I work 10-11 hours a day, averaging about a dozen calls or meetings each week. So how to I find quality time for my daughter? Here are my own top five ways for your comparison.

  1. Use a calendar. I’m quite surprised when I meet people, especially some business owners, who don’t use calendars. Even if you don’t follow David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) methods exactly, calendars help because you’ve unloaded that appointment onto a storage system, which frees your mind up for other things like your son’s football game.

  1. Practice the Two-Minute Rule. Also from GTD is the Two-Minute Rule, which states that if you can perform a task in two minutes or less, then you should do it immediately. It’s not going to take you off course by much and you need to do it anyways. This rule made a big difference for me, as I was surprised how many tasks don’t need more than two minutes of my work time.

 

  1. Use One-on-One meetings at work. This one is huge! Thirty-minute, One-on-One meetings, where you discuss your keys issues at work, are effective because they put you on the same page with your partners, staff and associates. You work together to solve problems, which reinforces your relationship with them and boosts efficiency. When your work runs more efficiently, it’s just more time for your child.

 

  1. Explain when you can’t make it. Of course, sometimes you run across the proverbial monkey wrench at work and your family plans go out the window. One thing that I’ve found that works is to take a deep breath and explain as much as possible the reasons why you need to cancel your plans. It will teach the children how the “working world” works and because they generally enjoy learning new things, they will understand. This in itself is a type of bonding experience.

  1. Exercise and eat right. This is another big one because children are just more energetic than adults due to their faster metabolism. When adults exercise and eating right, we accelerate our metabolism, boosting our energy so we can keep up. In our house, dad and daughter just started learning Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu together so I certainly need to keep moving!

These are my top methods for creating quality time for my daughter. What’s yours?

Five reasons why learning 3D printing today will help children prepare for the future

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In my earlier blogs, I covered the advice of education leaders Salman Khan, Founder of the Khan Academy, and Dr. Neil Gershenfeld, founder of the Centre for Bits & Atoms (CBA) at MIT. They both encourage discovery and creativity. Dr. Gershenfeld specifically noted the expressiveness of 3D printing. Now I want to add my own five reasons why learning 3D printing today will help children get ready for their own technology infused future.

  1. Getting a head start as the tech will “mature” about the time our children enter the workforce. 3D printers are just beginning to make usable parts. HP’s long awaited Multi-Jet Fusion technology just hit the market this year. Its thermoplastic material, which you can see in this video, is strong enough to pick up a car. In 10-15 years time, 3D printers will be far more advanced, likely linked to AI software, but still in need of the human touch. This is where and when our children will take the controls.
  2. It will be used in many different industries. Automotive, medical, electronics, toys, even food are just a few examples. Let your child design something today from any of these industries and perhaps they can find something they love for a lifetime! If you don’t try it, you’ll never know.

3D Roundhouse’s Family 3D Printing Workshops

  1. 3D designs help children think out of the box. Children are naturals at creating pictures with crayons and paper. Imagine how much more creative they can be if that design is in 3D instead. On top of this, they can realize their designs on a 3D printer.
  2. It can promote teamwork. While I really enjoy reinforcing the bond I have with my daughter whenever we corroborate on a new design, I believe she is also learning about teamwork. I have my own strengths and weaknesses and she has her own. We try different ideas until we get to the desired result. (OK I admit most of the 3D prints end up in her favorite pink color, but I think it’s just a phase!)

Elizabeth’s pink bow

  1. It helps them define their own likes and dislikes. 3D printing is all about customization. As children grow, it’s sometimes difficult to know what’s favorable to them and what’s not. Using a computer to design an actual object, children can run as many trials and errors as they want, until they find their very own sweet spot. Self-definition is a key part of growing up. As Shakespeare said, “To thine own self be true!”

Love them or fear them, we parents need to keep an eye on them robots

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My six-year-old daughter will likely join the workforce in the next 15 years or so. Of course, it’s not a good thing to over-manage neither her life nor her career, but what’s a parent to do when we see recent headlines like these about robots?

Economist magazine: Will robots displace humans as motorised vehicles ousted horses?

BBC: Robots to affect up to 30% of UK jobs, says PwC.

 

Love them or fear them, robots are here to stay and their abilities are growing exponentially. We are already seeing early versions of self-driving cars, delivery drones on land and in the air, and, yes, robotic baby sitters.

The PwC report provided some details with these statistics.

– 30% of existing jobs in the UK were potentially at a high risk of automation, compared with 38% in the US, 35% in Germany and 21% in Japan.

– Jobs at high risk from automation:

Transportation and storage – 56%

Manufacturing – 46%

Wholesale and retail trade – 44%

Administrative and support services – 37%

Financial and insurance – 32%

Professional, scientific and technical – 26%

Construction – 24%

Arts and entertainment – 22%

Agriculture, forestry and fishing – 19%

Human health and social work – 17%

Education – 9%

Source: PwC

 

Both reports and articles stressed the importance of educating the workforce to ensure future workers can find jobs. But as a parent of a six-year-old, here are some simple actions that I’m doing, for and with my daughter in the coming years:

  1. Keep an eye on the latest developments. Wherever you source your news, spend at least a few hours a week looking through the science and technology section. If you have not been doing this, you will be very surprised what you come across!
  1. Attend STEAM events with your family. Family friendly STEAM fairs are now available in cities around the world with hundreds of thousands of attendees during these multi-day events. One of the biggest is the Maker Faire, but many schools run science fairs as well. Kids love the hands-on workshops. (In fact, we at 3D Roundhouse will have another booth at the Hong Kong Maker Faire this Saturday and Sunday April 8-9, 2017!)
  1. Take some STEAM workshops with your child. Whether it’s coding, robotics or 3D printing, there is no reason why parents can’t also learn along with their children. Over the past year, 3D Roundhouse has hosted dozens of workshops where parents and their children learn 3D modeling for 3D printing together. You can learn more about our workshops here.

Personally, I believe our children will find peaceful ways to coexist with robots. But as parents, we need to ensure our children can develop the wisdom to use this new technology in a proper and responsible way. The best way to do so is to understand what robots are and how they work. Working with your children to become more knowledgeable about the STEAM fields is a really great way to do so.