Sometimes I hear about inventors who question the value of prototyping their inventions. I cringe when I hear an otherwise intelligent person make a statement like that. There are so many reasons why producing a prototype is important. I will list the ones that come to mind.
1. Prototyping the the invention helps smooth out design issues. There is an interesting development process that occurs when the design goes from the “cranial” to the “literal”. The details I gloss over in my mind make themselves painfully evident in the process of producing the first model of the invention. This is called reducing the invention to practice.
2. Prototyping allows you to patent all the details that are patentable. I normally give my patent attorney a prototype for him to use in visualizing the invention when he is writing the patent application. Any details that are not clear in my description are easier to understand when looking at the prototype.
3. The artist who does the patent drawings will also appreciate the model to work from. It will be a lot easier to sketch the device when you can see one and examine it from all angles. The drawings are more accurate and will reflect the actual device much more, when there is something to go from.
4. Producing the first model will also help you consider the best way to actually manufacture the device you have invented. Can you make one on a lathe? Must it be molded, carved or sculptured? Will you be able to injection-mold the item in plastic? All of these issues begin to come into focus when you actually have to build the invention.
5. What will the device cost to manufacture? While the first model may cost a bundle compared to the actual production version, you will begin to appreciate the cost of manufacturing the item. How will the actual product be best manufactured? What kind of package will work best? I even put labels and instructions together to really begin to look at marketing my inventions.
6. Once my intellectual property rights are assured I will use my model for photographs. Video, 3D computer models and Jpegs for use on the web are a snap, if I have a respectable model.
7. Testing an actual model is far more informative than all the imagination you can muster. Identifying weaknesses becomes easy when you can test the actual device in real terms. There are always surprises when you test the device. You can also make adjustments to refine the design. When you try to sell the idea or get financing to
produce it yourself, it is a natural question that will come up, “have you tested the idea”?
8. When the time comes to make a presentation of the invention, having a model really gets the marketing juices flowing. If a picture is worth a thousand words, what is a prototype worth? One day I sold rights to 5 of my inventions to one company, on the same day. The CEO went around my hotel room pointing at my prototypes and said, “I want this one, this one and that one…. where is that tape tool you showed me? I want it too…. ” While this guy was also an inventor, the actual prototypes made the inventions real for him.
9. Demonstrations sell technology. While I have not always sold inventions when demonstrations go flawlessly, many times it is critical to show how it works. The better the prototype works, the better you will control the situation and make the best deal.
10. While buyers for major chain stores are normally able to understand the concept, they are actually human beings (claims to godhood are questionable). I have seen demonstrations of the competitor’s product in comparison to our new product turn a buyer right on the spot. Having a good prototype will help sell the product even if it is not even in production yet. Prototypes remove the element of uncertainty and make the product real.
Certainly there are valid reasons to not prototype an invention but they are the exceptions that prove the rule. If the invention is to large, too expensive, too complicated or too hard to prototype you can get by without it, but that rarely is the case. Don’t try to cut corners, do your homework and prototype the invention. It will pay off in spades!