Often, the ideas for many inventions die in the prototype stage. Some inventors spend thousands of dollars in legal fees for patent approval only to learn later that the idea wasn’t sustainable or the product will cost more to manufacture then people are willing to spend on it. When Eric Jackson, 41, first started creating a prototype for his invention, Lock Laces, an innovative elastic lacing system to keep shoestrings laced, he started using household materials and parts before he took the idea to an attorney to have it patented.
While the patent was pending he started looking for distribution and fulfillment companies to put the product together, but the prices he found were too expensive. A friend mentioned to him that their relative had worked at Opportunity Builders, Inc., a nonprofit that offers employment opportunities for adults with developmental disabilities. Not only was Jackson amazed at the efficiency of OBI, but the fee they charged to assemble Lock Laces was nominal compared to what regular companies charged, so he took them up on their services. Later he also realized OBI and Lock Laces shared fans; in addition to its popularity with athletes, the laces are admired by parents of kids with disabilities. In fact, Lock Laces donated 3,000 laces to the Special Olympics this summer.
Now, 11 years later Lock Laces are sold on Ebay, Amazon, and in 450 retailers across the country, and OBI handles the product assembly, packaging and distribution for all of it. In addition, Jackson recently signed a deal for placement of his product in 600 Foot Locker stores, which OBI will provide the assembly for. Here are Jackson’s five tips for building a suitable prototype for minimal costs.
Create a tangible prototype. Your initial patent starts with an idea, says Jackson. You need to be able to convey the idea into something visual, whether it is initially a design or sketch that is drawn on a piece of paper or something done using animation or computer graphics. Sometimes things sound great on paper and they look good as a design, but when you actually put it together at some point you realize that this isn’t going to work,” says Jackson. Since you will base your patent on the materials you plan to use, it is still important to take that graphic and create a tangible prototype. That way, you won’t need to worry about your patent being rejected for not working correctly because your patent will be based on your prototype.
Try to make the prototype yourself first. If there is a way that you can make it yourself you will have a better idea of what goes into making the product, says Jackson. That will help give you a better sense of whether the invention is actually feasible, and what type of manufacturer to use. To get a manufacturer to make a prototype can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, so see if there is any way to make the prototype using household items or things you find in a hardware store, says Jackson. “Once I did that I knew I could call one company for one part of the product and another company for a different part of the product to create a working prototype that I could maybe take to market.”