Time being of the limited resource that it is... I find myself with an interesting decision.
Which seems (to you) to be most viable long term decision concerning the goals of my venture: Pursue new IP or develop current products already in my portfolio?
I've been mechanical engineering for a some bunch of years now, and have finally(!) developed the breadth of skills to setup my own R&D lab with the goal generating income with IP. But I still have a day job- engineering mechanisms for a boss. My lab has yet to start generating income.
Right now, I've got two main patents (pending). I've been developing a product based on #1 for a few years. It is a fairly complex project when seen through the metric of me working a full time job and having two young kids. Patent #2 was intended to be a low-effort side hustle to support #1 development with a cash stream. Of course, developing #2 has been a bit more consuming than I had lead myself to believe when I bought onto this project. ;). Patent #3 is so far only an idea and a few (fantastic)prototypes. No disclosures, no filing fees, just a big fat secret that tests well with friends and family.
Patent #1 is an active seat (it engages your core- think of sitting on a yoga ball). I've sat on one (not a yoga ball) at my day job for the past six months. I used to slouch into my chair and go home exhausted, now I sit straight, and feel great at the end of the day.
patent #1 is actually for the structure that allows the unique motion. The structure can be applied much more widely than an office seat, but that seemed like a good place to start. $3B office furnishings industry and all. I have big plans for the structure once I can quit the day job. robots, baby. robots.
I have some big designs and decisions to be made concerning #1. As a side project, I probably have another year of development.
#2 is a fidget "toy". It is very different than anything out there- it uses magnets and ball bearings. This product is intended to be a self-sustaining side hustle to support my main side hustle (#1). Originally, I thought I'd just sell small batches (100) of machined parts, and sell the device as the "Yeti" of fidget toys. Well, turns out that good economies of scale don't kick in that low, so it would cost almost $750 to produce each at 100parts! I made a few, and they are amazing- gotta do what ya gotta do when prototyping! Needless to say, I redesigned it so parts can be 3d printed. Instead of part cost about $800, it now costs ~$1.50 + the printer costs (which I consider an R&D expense). So anyway, I have a cheap way to make a bunch and get them out there for feedback.
In comes Potential #3. I'm not going to go into specifics, because we are in a "first to file" patent system. So, without specifics: #3 is part of a steadily growing, *very large* industry. It is slightly more complex than current competitor offerings, though offerings are trending in that direction. But it has the *wow* factor that drives the trends. Because of the competitor trend in the more complex direction, the size of the industry and #3's awesomeness, I feel urgency toward #3. I think #3 would respond well in a liscensing market.
Filing a patent is time consuming, and resource intensive. If I pursue #3, #2 effectively gets paused (unless I can convince someone else to run with it), and #1 is on slow crawl because of #2 anyway. I just finished a two patent marathon, and, frankly, I'm spent. Not to mention, that would eat a huge portion of development funds that would otherwise be used to fund #1 & #2. It's a bootstrap people.
But, my big picture goal is a solid IP portfolio that generates income. and to be honest, #3 is a bigger category, #2 is a fad category that is waning. I do not expect huge upside from #2, but I think it is interesting enough to have longterm traction and to generate a side income. I am a lifelong fidgeter, and I stress when I can't find my Precious. Yes, I call it my Precious.
So. Pursue #3? Risk backburnering #3, and worry about if someone else comes up with it?
What would you do? What am I missing?
From your brief situational description it sounds like #3 is not patentable. It doesn't meet the requirement of novelty if you said the industry is already going in that direction and you're only offering some complexity (which should be obvious to a person of average skill in the industry). I would gamble lots of people have thought of it but don't know how to execute. If you've already solicited feedback from friends and family, you've already disclosed, so again not patentable.
You have an inventor's mindset. Stop wasting time on patents. Make some actual products and get some sales. Then you will have credibility when it comes to funding or hustling on your (eventual) next idea. Investors are not interested in someone who doesn't give their business 100% of their time and attention, because it shows you'll just move onto the next thing as soon as you lose interest.
I personally have no faith in toys for long term revenue, especially ones that revolve around fads. Naming a ridiculous figure for the office furniture industry is not helpful. What you need to quote is how tiny the slice of the office furniture market is for non-chair chairs. Miniscule. You can't count on people like me who sat on a yoga ball at my office for a couple years before eventually 50% of my office did the same thing. That's not fast enough to make you rich, and you won't have champions like me selling for you day to day. If you really like your invention then get out there and sell it now to all the non-chair chair makers and then step back. As much of a champion as I am for the ball-sitting, I cannot be persuaded to "upgrade" my ball for something that's just a little better. I'm satisfied and not looking for improvement. That puts you in competition for a slice of all the other ball seat modifications out there.
Here's what I think you're missing and what I would do. It seems you have a decent-enough relationship with your current employer where you're already designing systems. I would evaluate whether my relationship with my current employer could be modified in a way that allowed me to be more creative and to be rewarded for my creativity. If not, then I would drop the distraction of the day job and work full-time on my own engineering/design firm that did allow for this invention outlet. BUT, building a better mousetrap so-to-speak hasn't netted you much if any money yet, so you have to ask yourself whether your inventions are not solving real problems that more than a few people have, or if they suffer from lack of attention.
I see lots of inventors who create hundreds of things, even patent many of them. But so very, very few make money. They're frequently distracted by the next idea before the first one is finished or profitable. In those situations where the inventor is unable to find a singular focus, my usual recommendation is that they work for someone else who wants them to be a problem solver, removing all the overhead of running a business, and just focusing on finding the most inventive and saleable solutions to problems they're given.
I detect that you have been watching too much Shark Tank. It's entertaining, but if you pay close attention to those inventors, the ones who have too many products never get funding. The inventors who have ONE product that they have beaten into submission to be the absolutely best product it can be, are the ones who find champions among the sharks.
What you're missing is focus. Good luck!
Hi Paul, I really appreciate your thoughtful answer. I am well aware of risks associated with multiple concurrent product development efforts, after all, that is what I do for a living.
I feel it important to clarify a couple things, more for my own posterity than correcting your points, which I find to read absolutely true if your suppositions were correct. Now I understand the importance of the long tail type question!
I don't, however, agree with your statement that patents are a waste of time. I agree, patenting without getting the bugs out in a development sense could well prove to be a wasted effort. But protecting my IP certainly has not precluded the dozens and dozens of iterations and prototypes that I have built of the chair. Nor the fidget. As for idea #3, I will be drafting a provisional patent application, which I anticipate should cost me about 10 hours in time. Not a very high risk there.
I love that you sit on a yoga ball! You must be familiar with the productivity gains associated with active seating? My question did not describe the seat because I am not selling anything here. But I promise, this seat is a massive improvement in design, functionality and feel over sitting on a big ball, or any other active seat on the market. Of which there are many. And I own iron clad IP. The problem with this one is development costs. As you said, no one wants to invest with someone with no track record. Enter the fidget. it is simple, and will help establish said track record so that I can fund the final steps in developing the seat.
As for the fidget, I have been a life-long nervous energy kind of guy. It's probably why I am developing like 6 things concurrently. And I find massive synergy between the developments, otherwise I would not undertake, nor even be able to juggle them all.
And as a life long fidgeter, and a specialist in ergonomics, tactile perception and manufacturing, I do not think it such a stretch that I would develop an innovative and addictive stress-relief device. I use it every day, and I still love it.
I almost forgot to mention, the active seating market in 2016 was approximately $780 million, with high growth. This is separate from the now ubiquitous stand-up desk market.
Patent are most not that good for the futuristic purpose reason why most invention are made.
if you want to make something out there that will stand time gladly work on your invention that express you.
It may be worth including that I do not have any relevant experience in guerilla (or other) marketing that I will need for #2. So, the time requirement to get up to speed there is at odds with the time req to properly work toward patenting #3.