A Mum's guide to inventing
August 2009 | written by Lynda Harding for mumsrock
I guess I never set out to be an inventor; it just came about through a whole series of events inspired by my fabulous children. Though the thought of taking an idea and developing it into a final product, I must confess, did seem quite scary when I first set out on my journey. But hey, if I can do it, then anyone with a great idea, determination and a positive mindset can! To help you on your way, I have come up with a 6 step ‘Mum-inventor’ guide:
1 Have a great idea
As they say, ‘necessity is the mother of invention’; so just what was my ‘what if’ moment? Well, being mum to five young children, I felt quietly confident that I wasn’t in for any surprises with number six. …. BUT oh how wrong can you be?!!! After Bradley was born, he plain refused to sleep for any longer than around 2 hours at a time, he cried constantly and it was a nightly struggle to settle him…a struggle that went on until he was two and a half years old!
I tried everything to soothe him off to sleep, but discovered that the most reliable way was to lean over the cot sides and create a ‘rocking cot’ motion by moving the mattress up and down. Having scoured shops and the internet for any product that would replicate this movement, (and relieve my backache!) I realised that there was nothing suitable out there.
By this stage, I was determined to invent a product that would not only help soothe particularly fractious babies, but also promote the formation of a healthy sleep pattern, so both babies and parents could benefit from a good night’s rest.
And so began my easidream journey.
To help you on your journey, there’s a fantastically helpful site that’s just been launched: www.shesingenious.org which is jam packed full of useful stuff for female inventors and it really is well worth a visit.
2 Do your ground work
Before you go any further, it is incredibly important that you research your idea. There’s absolutely no point in investing huge sums of money developing your product, only to find further down the line, that someone else is already doing it.
http://gb.espacenet.com is a great resource for searching patent applications already filed, so you can check out whether your idea is totally new. I must stress at this stage, it’s vitally important that you DO NOT reveal any of the intellectual property relating to your invention BEFORE you have filed for your patent. If you do, your subsequent patent application may become void, so you won’t be able to protect it and anyone else will be able to copy your idea. If you must discuss your invention before you file for your patent, then get the other party to sign a Non Disclosure Agreement (NDA), which will protect you. These are easily available to download via the internet.
I researched ‘sleep deprivation linked to babies’ as deeply as possible, canvassing valuable input from sleep experts, university departments and medical professionals like midwives, child psychologists and paediatricians. I also consulted with the baby care industry and product design teams and, of course, surveyed many parents with young babies. My background in early year’s education and science was really valuable, but the overriding factor, which served me throughout, was that I was a mum who had experienced the problem first hand!
3 Protect your idea
This really isn’t as complicated as it’s made out to be. But applying for a patent is THE most important thing you can do to protect your invention, as it means that no one can bring out a product with the same novel features as yours and you will gain exclusivity.
To achieve patent protection, you have to prove to the patent office that your idea is totally new and that it includes an inventive step… something that is not an obvious modification of what is already known. It can take up to 4 ½ years to be granted, as there’s a whole load of stages that the application goes through and it can be very costly if you go for worldwide coverage, like me.
Even so, I think this cost is worth it if you believe that your product will become a global success! To be honest, I think it is THE one area where it’s essential that you use someone qualified (patent attorney) to file your application on your behalf, because if you do not word it properly or miss something out, then somebody else can step in with an invention very similar to yours and basically copy you!
Patent protection is of course the most obvious protection for your invention, but if you need to market your idea quickly to gain competitive advantage or patent protection is not applicable, then there are other forms of intellectual property (IP): registered design, registered trade marks, unregistered design rights, copyright, secrecy. For really great guidance on IP, NDA’s and also where to locate patent attorneys in your area, visit www.patent.gov.uk
4 Test it out
There’s no point in going to all the expense of applying for a patent, only to find that the product you’ve invented actually doesn’t work! It’s essential that you make a prototype of your invention; this can be a very basic model at first. A prototype is great, as it can be tried out in a wide range of circumstances to see if the principles behind your idea work. It can then be progressed into a working model, which can be further tested and modified, so that the optimum design for your final product can be achieved.
For me, we had around 15 prototypes which gradually gave way to the final pre-production design and this was actually trialled on babies in my target age group.
When you get to the later stages, if not before, it is essential that you employ the services of a good design company who will be able to produce final stage prototypes and Computer Aided Design (CAD) drawings etc. They will also be able to advise on product safety standards testing and legal requirements.
5 Get yourself some funding
I guess this really needs to run in parallel with your research and development (R&D) plan, and the best place to seek advice, in my opinion, is Business Link www.businesslink.co.uk . They can put you in touch with the innovations team in your area, who in turn, can advise you on all sorts of R&D grants, government funding, business angels etc.
At this stage it will be a priority to formulate a simple business plan and again Business Link can help you, as they have classes and mentoring groups for those of you who have not produced a business plan before.
Another great resource is the internet where lots of free downloadable business templates can be found. Although it may seem a bit complicated at first, it really is quite straight forward once you get the hang of it; it’s all a case of managing what money’s coming into and out of the business so you don’t run out!
As the old business proverb states: Failing to plan is planning to fail! Do not underestimate the amount of money you may need and always budget for at least 25% more, as you never know when unexpected costs may occur.
Of course, it’s always great to have a secret stash of cash that you may have been saving that you can dip into or the next best thing… calling upon family and friends, to see if they want to invest. The banks are always worth a try for a loan, HSBC have been great with me, lending on an Enterprise Finance Guarantee scheme, even during this grim economic climate!
If you really are determined and you have a great product with a business plan to back it up, then I’m sure you will find a way.
Of course, you could always go the whole hog and apply for Dragons’ Den! Speaking of which, I have been lucky enough to have Rachel Elnaugh, one of the original Dragons from the Den, mentoring me and her advice has been invaluable. She offers online business coaching at an extremely reasonable cost and also offers free one hour ‘one to one’ business coaching sessions. A visit to www.rachelelnaugh.com is definitely worthwhile.
6 Getting it to market
This is where your business head comes in! It is vital that you thoroughly research your target market so as to ensure you pitch your product accurately. This will help to guarantee the best chance of success against competitors. Branding, pricing, marketing, packaging and advertising, amongst other things, have to be analysed. The internet is a great tool for this combined with, perhaps, carrying out some local market research amongst potential customers in your area… perhaps your local baby and toddler groups if it’s a baby product. Business Link again are a fantastic resource for help with this and of course, marketing is key to your business plan. Again if you can demonstrate a real need for your product in the market place, then the more likely it is that you will gain orders and generate sales.
If the prospect of getting your product to market yourself all sounds a little too much, then you may want to consider licensing your idea to another company. Here you are paid an agreed fee under the licensing deal and you do not have to bear any of the cost of bringing the product to market whatsoever i.e.) no manufacturing costs, branding, advertising, marketing etc.
Another option, of course, would be to sell your idea, but again it would be beneficial to have at least produced a ‘proven’ prototype, together with a patent application pending; as the more credibility you give your invention, the more likely it will be to gain interest from potential investors and also for you to sell it at a higher price. Again Business Link will be able to advise on this.
Even though at times, I have wondered whether or not I am slightly wacky pursuing my ‘baby invention’ idea, I have never once given up on my dream of it becoming a reality and now that I can see the ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ I am incredibly excited!
And hey, guess what? I’m already prototyping my second invention and testing it out. I think I definitely have got the bug!
My advice to any mum with an idea for a ‘must have’ product….. go for it girl!
For more information on Lynda's new invention the Easidream sleep system for babies, go to Easidream.co.uk
August 2009 | written by Lynda Harding for mumsrock