Inventors Insider: 5 Tips for Creating a Prototype

Resources and information for inventors and those aspiring to get a business idea to market

Build a prototype for your invention before you try to get a patent.

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.”

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  • http://lakayreddick@aol.com Nesper Reddick

    This article is so true, especially when it said ” Don’t disclose your idea to manufacturers.” I did, I told them  about my concept, I sent them my prototype, they told me they were sending it to China and they would get back to me, I never heard from them, I went to the store a few months later and I saw that they made the concept for themselves, they just  changed  the material. Then a few months later I saw the whole concept but it was done by a company that I didn’t contact and they did the complete line. I was hurt, I mortgaged my home several times to start my business, the positive aspect is that I still own the rights to my Trademarks.

    • http://TBA henrydavidthornton

      US patent 5,771,518, method in Factory and , method to assemble on-site to build Prefab bridges in days, has not gotten to mfg protype as OK Dep of Trans has not License the technology to replace 1379 bridges , specifically 15 bridges in downtown Tulsa, that were re-decked rather than replaced by Prefab bridges and systems READ MOORE>>> http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/economicrecovery/workzones.htm instructions sent by Sec of Trans for OBAMA adminstration 4 March 2009 to Ok and 49 state has not influenced Democrat Gov Brad Henry, but Ok moved a Prefab firm from Canada to TULSA with Ductal experience in IOWA Ductal building approved in Arlington, VA by AASHTO ( state employees ) and FHWA ( Fed employees). RBBT,LLC holds USpatent, 5,771,518 and I manager and am sole-member, of RBBT,LLC, a Black Vet ( Bronze Star )Vietnam 1967 -1968 S4 and HQBrty Commander . RBBT,LLC formed 2002, may get LICENSING AGREEMENT from Republican Gov M Fallin and LICENSE and REFIT an existing Precertified Factory to build prototype and ( share profits ) on 1379 other Okla bridges ( est 8 to 10 Billion dollars in OKLA, , 1.2 Trillion dollars 145.000 bridges USA ). GOAL 50 states, 50 Factories Licensing Agreements. GOAL : RBBT.LLC can place Factory opns ( seek provisional patent ) and assembly of US patent 5,771,518Prefab bridges on U tube .com Web site and make Nov 2011 issue of Black Enterprise

    • kathy nixon

      You are so right I have had two major inventions stolen from me from Tyco International parent company to ADT Security Co., now I have an invention/idea that I got a patent on and it is going to literally change the automotive manufacturing industry and is capable of making billions of dollars I just need the right person/company to invest with me it is called “The Show & Sell Dome” I can be contacted at kathy.nixon56@yahoo.com or (313)467-8778 if anyone is interested in investigating more information in my venture.

  • http://gboogie.net missmiss7

    What a great article. Ill use it as i guide as i develop my own products!

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  • http://I kathy nixon

    Once again if you can’t get a full patent then at least try to get a provisional patent before telling potential companies or people about your invention/ideas cover yourself. I have four othjer invention/ideas that are sure money makers with patents if anyone is interested in hearing about them and possibly doing a joint/venture or purchasing a sure thing patent contact me at kathy.nixon56@yahoo.com or (313) 467-8778 anytime.