Car makers have, for a long time, shared their future concepts with the marketplace before they are ready to sell. In doing so, they benefit from finding out if there is likely to be good market demand or if a specific feature will be popular, but they also risk giving away too much information to competitors. For entrepreneurial businesses considering market testing their inventions, here are five tips to get you started.
Know what to reveal and what to conceal
Before market testing your invention, make sure you know exactly what you want to reveal and what not. For example, you will probably want to share the benefits of the invention’s functionality to gauge market reaction, without necessarily saying too much about how it works. The workings of the invention are commercially-sensitive and should be protected by a patent before you share the information with anyone. If you omit this stage, you could find that you are disclosing too much and this could render your invention unpatentable.
Get patent applications in first
Market testing your invention before it is market ready carries a risk, as a competitor could leap on your idea and get a rival product to market before you. Before doing any market research or other market testing you should make sure that the inventive technology is protected by a patent. You don’t have to wait for the patent to be granted however – just having a patent pending should give you protection back to the date of filing once it is granted.
Avoid surrendering control of your invention
You may be planning to share actual prototypes of your new product with a focus group or market consultants. In these cases, it is sensible to avoid surrendering ownership of the prototype, so you can share the advantages of its functionality without giving individuals the opportunity to examine the way it works. If prototypes are being distributed to individuals, you should ensure that they are returned to you afterwards. This will eliminate the risk that they are misplaced and end up in the hands of a competitor.
Use confidentiality agreements where needed
If you are intending to share your prototype with a closed group of people, you must use confidentiality agreements to protect your commercial interests. These should be drawn up in advance and signed by the individuals involved. In the body of these agreements, you should make it clear that any prototype is being shared for trial purposes only. This will give you a defence in the event that you find your patent application is later challenged due to alleged early disclosure.
Don’t give away the name of your invention
Big brand manufacturers have been known to go to extraordinary lengths to avoid competitors guessing the name of their soon-to-be-released new product. Some choose to register a long list of names as trade marks to prevent competitors from knowing which one they are going to choose. Smaller businesses probably don’t need to go this far and registering a large number of trade marks may not be cost-effective. Instead, you could just keep the name secret during the market testing process and release it only at the point of launch, or use an erroneous project ‘code name’ to throw people off the scent.
Dave Croston is a partner and patent attorney at Withers & Rogers LLP and leads the firm’s advanced engineering group.