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!