Inventors Insider: 5 Tips for Creating a Prototype - Black Enterprise
Black Enterprise Magazine September/October 2018 Issue

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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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Marcia Wade Talbert

Marcia is a multimedia content producer focusing on technology at Black Enterprise Magazine. In this capacity she writes and assigns stories to educate readers about social media; digital integration; gadgets, apps, and software for business and professional development; minority tech startups; and careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). In 2012, she received two Salute to Excellence Awards from the National Association of Black Journalists and was recognized by Blacks in Technology (BiT) as one of the Top 10 Black achievers in the tech arena for 2011 at SXSW in Austin, Texas. She has spoken about technology on panels for New York Social Media Week, at The 2012 Rainbow/PUSH Wall Street Summit, as well as at Black Enterprise’s Entrepreneurs Conference and Women of Power Summit. In 2011, chose her as one of 28 People of Color Impacting the Social Web, and through crowdsourcing she was listed as one of BlackWeb2.0's/HP's 50 Most Notable African American Tastemakers in Social Media and Technology for 2010. Since taking on the role of Tech editor in September 2010, she has conceived and produced five cover stories on Technology and/or STEM and countless articles, videos, and slideshows online. Before joining as an interactive general assignment reporter in 2008, she freelanced with Black Enterprise beginning in 2003 while working as the technical editor at Prepared Foods magazine. There she further honed her writing skills and became an authority on food ingredients, including ingredients used in food fortification and enrichment. Meanwhile, her freelancing with Black Enterprise and helped her stay current on issues pertaining to the financial and business welfare of African Americans. As a general reporter for Black Enterprise she attended and reported on the Democratic and Republican National Conventions, where she interviewed Valerie Jarrett, senior advisor and assistant to President Barack Obama and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. Marcia has a Bachelor of Science degree in Agriculture with an emphasis in food science from the University of Minnesota, and a Master of Science degree in journalism from Roosevelt University in Chicago. En route to her secondary degree, she served as the editor-in-chief of the Roosevelt University Torch, a weekly, student-run newspaper. An avid photographer and videographer, Marcia is one of several employees at BLACK ENTERPRISE who interned for the publishing company as a college student. She lives in New Jersey with her husband, a food scientist; her seventeen-month-old daughter; and “The Cat”, but still considers Chicago home.