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  • EEVblog #106 – Top 5 Tips To Bring Your Product to Market

    Posted on August 22nd, 2010 EEVblog 37 comments

    Are you are a hobbyist, hacker, maker, or garage engineer with a great product idea?
    Dave gives you his Top 5 tips for bringing your product to market.
    And a bonus Top 5 reasons to avoid patents.
    Copyright, Marketing, Advertising, Protection, and Creative Commons Open Source all get a look in.

    Watch all the Patent and Invention ads ironically popup over this video!

    The Creative Commons licenses available:

    http://creativecommons.org/licenses

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    • Dan

      Hey Dave,

      At the moment I am working on a project, and I had no idea which market I wanted to release it to. Releasing it open source, and selling kits or pre-build boards sounds like a really good way to avoid the hassle of trying to sell my idea to other businesses. Plus, there are a lot of blogs which will give me free exposure!

      Thanks,

      Dan

      • http://www.eevblog.com EEVblog

        Almost zero risk too, go for it!
        Dave.

    • PJ

      Patents don’t stop people from copying the design, surely a CC-license equally doesn’t stop people copying either… Perhaps in a niche market this is not a big problem.

      • squeezee

        The CC licence (or similar) just sets the terms of use on your copyrighted works, so other people can use your design for free without you just throwing it completely into the public domain or weakening your copyright.

        In this way you can distribute the code/schematics for personal use but still persue people for copyright infringement. Still like dave said, absolutely nothing will stop someone from copying your product.

        • http://cherishthescientist.net Cherish

          CC licensure doesn’t mean you’re required to let people use things for free. It means that if they aren’t making a profit from it, they can use if for free. There are other terms if they plan to use your ideas to make a profit. And if they are using it for profit and not paying you, it gives you justification for suing them for doing so. If you have a patent, like Dave said there is a huge expense initially, and it basically provides you with the same thing: the framework to sue someone who is using your idea. With a patent, though, you can go after anyone, even the kid next door who is interested in electronics as a hobby. Not sure why anyone would care about that…

        • http://openentries.org Nick

          You’d better to release it as open source but with some key features that will be accessible only for yourself.

      • http://www.eevblog.com EEVblog

        Patents don

    • Slobodan

      What does “niche market” mean?

      • http://www.brianhoskins.co.uk Brian Hoskins

        Hi Slobodan,

        A niche market is a small market that can only be targetted with some specific product. As a “garage Engineer” your *first* goal should be to find a niche market that you are able to satisfy in some way because if you can do that you have a much higher chance of selling a product in it. Why? Well, because the big players won’t want to touch a niche market – their organisation is so big that it isn’t cost effective for them to develop a product unless they can tap into a market with tens of thousands of potential buyers.
        But for a garage Engineer who is only really doing it for the fun of it and hoping to maybe make a bit of money at the same time, a niche market of a couple of hundred or more buyers can be perfect. You don’t have to pay any wages to anyone, and your running costs are incredibly small. This means that with just a couple of hundred buyers you can still be in profit and the big players will leave you alone because they can’t possibly make any money there.

        Find a niche market. Prefferably one where you’re already involved and know lots about it. In my opinion that’s THE key to success for a “garage Engineer”.

        Brian

    • http://www.brianhoskins.co.uk Brian Hoskins

      Hi Dave,

      One thing that always seems to be a weak point in my personal projects is the enclosure. I can design circuits, write software for a Microcontroller, get everything working, and I can even design a nice neat PCB for all the components to be mounted on. So by the end I have quite a professional looking circuit board.

      …but what about the enclosure? I must confess that most of my projects never end up getting an enclosure because I don’t have any tools here at home for cutting out holes for connectors and stuff like that. Not neatly anyway, and I’m one of those people who won’t do something at all unless it can be done neatly. I’ve thought about buying a low cost computer controlled milling machine but even the entry level stuff costs upwards of

      • http://www.digi-online.net masterburner

        In this episode, Dave explains how he designed the micro current: http://www.eevblog.com/2010/04/08/eevblog-72-%E2%80%93-let%E2%80%99s-design-a-product/

        The top of the box is actually the back side of the PCB. ;)

        • http://www.brianhoskins.co.uk Brian Hoskins

          Aha, yes I remember seeing that now. That works quite well actually, doesn’t it!

          • http://www.digi-online.net masterburner

            Yeah, it works rather nice. I’ve tried this too with a small project of my own. I made it at home (so no nice silkscreening). I was inspired by that episode.

      • Ondre

        Hi Brian,

        we have a company (http://www.schaeffer-ag.de) here in germany which produces custom front panals and enclosure parts made of aluminium. They have reasonable prices, even for single parts! I’m pretty sure that you’ll find something similar in the UK as well.

        Ondre

      • Slobodan

        Thank you.

      • Matt

        Hey Brian,

        I don’t think you need such expensive equipment to make professional looking enclosures. Depending on what the project is, I mean it may not look good for an MP3 player or something fancy but for a lot of projects a plastic jaycar-style enclosure works fine. Cutting the holes is easy and the tools you need to do it aren’t very expensive. You just need any drill with a stepper drill bit, a couple of files (both round and rectangular) and maybe some sandpaper.
        For the labeling, a good way to do it is to design a sticker to go over the whole front of your enclosure, can probably do it in your PCB design package. Then print it out on your regular printer onto that sticker paper and use a sharp knife to cut out the holes.
        Anyway, it’s obviously not a super sleek, ipod-like finish but you can definitely get it up to a professional standard. I’ve seen these techniques used at a company I worked for in the past.

        Hope some of that information is helpful.

        Matt

        • http://www.brianhoskins.co.uk Brian Hoskins

          Hi Matt,

          The techniques you describe can work quite well for creating neat looking test fixtures or basic projects for around the house, but if you want to sell something then I think you really need a case to have proper printing on it rather than a sticker. Also I find it difficult to cut good circles into stickers.

          With regard to drilling holes for connectors, it’s fairly easy to do basic drill holes for LEDs and toggle switches and stuff like that, but if you want to do a D-Type connector for example it’s a complete nightmare. You can do it with drills and files, and if you’re really careful the surround of the connector itself will cover any imperfections, but in my experience the finish is far from perfect. Also, if you’re planning on making any more than 2 or 3 of the projects then it would be a real pain to be hacking away at boxes with drills and needle files. It’d take forever.

          That’s why I’d really prefer to have a proper CAD driven milling machine I think. Then I could have perfect cut-outs relatively hassle free. But it’s a big investment for the hobbyist. :-/

    • http://www.cameraaxe.com/ Maurice

      Great tips Dave!

      For those asking about cases, I use http://www.polycase.com/. I generally find that it costs about $4-$6 per case with holes drilled and with printing as long as I order them in batches of 100. So if I plan to make a 100 kits it’s usually about $500 up front.

      One difference I have with Dave is that I advertise my kits on Google adwords and find it’s worth the money to do targeted ads. I’ve done a few month long experiments and at least for my kits I find the few dollars a day I spend on targeted advertisements is worth it. I agree that getting your product in blogs is really important, but paying 50 cents to have someone click on my ad when doing does a specific google search term is worth it on my kits market.

      • http://hackedgadgets.com Alan Parekh

        Hi Maurice,

        Nice looking product. I would be having too much fun using the device to be able to market it. :)

        Don’t forget about getting yourself in the Google search results for free. Google has renamed this service quite a few times (used to be called Froogle but I think they have stuck with Google Base right now). You can submit your products here for free and if they are niche they will get you in a Google search result in the products section which is normally around result #3.

        If you do a Google search for IR Jammer you can see one of our products that is in there. Google has also made the products section seachable on its own and it seems to becoming quite popular so it would be a good idea to get your products in there for just that reason.
        http://www.google.com/products?q=ir+jammer

        I tried a few adwords campaigns a few years ago with some poor results but I am sure it is all about the product and the competition…

      • http://www.brianhoskins.co.uk Brian Hoskins

        Hi Maurice, thanks for the link I’ll check that out.

    • brad

      The add on the Youtube vid is for an invention company.

      Priceless…

    • shodan

      Hi,
      I’m about the enter the market for a niche market and I have to say you confirm all of the advice I have gotten about doing this !

      especially the worthlessness of patents

    • Sachmo

      Hey Dave,

      Generally I’d agree with most of your advice and I appreciate your videos. Going open source and being the leader of a niche market is key.

      But I’d disagree about patents. (By the way, I’m only familiar with US patent law, can’t speak for Australia or elsewhere). A patent gives you certain monopolistic rights that you can really use to dominate your particular market. For example, if someone copies you and you sue, you can file an injunction that would stop the competitor’s products from even entering the US, if they get it manufactured in another country, until the case resolves.

      Also, the monopolistic rights are not quite so difficult to enforce as you might imagine. If you have a well-written patent, and the competitor has blatantly just ripped your product, many patent litigators would be willing to take your case on contingency – meaning they’d do it for cost. Sure, it would still cost a lot of money to sue, but not a million. More like $100k.

      This is still a lot of money, but let’s put something into perspective — you’d only being suing if you’ve developed a great product that you’re actually making a decent amount of money on. After all, what large company would bother ripping off of an unsuccessful product?

      Hypothetical situation -
      In your first month of releasing the product, your gross sales started out at $10k, and started increasing by 20% every month thereafter. By the end of the year, you’d have made over $400k gross sales (net would be a lot less of course).

      By the second year, your business could still be growing every month. The $100k you’d actually have to spend to defend your market position is really not that unreasonable in this kind of situation.

      You could probably obtain the cash for your defense in the form of an additional line of credit from your banking institution (which would be all to happy to lend you the $$ because of your growing business and strong case). And you wouldn’t be paying the $100k in one lump sum either, it would be in the form of numerous small payments that added up over the course of the trial.

      Defending obviousness is not that hard actually. Under the current US patent system, *anyone* can challenge the validity of a patent and have it re-examined. Before you go into a patent suit, the proper strategy would be to challenge the validity of your *own* patent. You present to them all of the prior art again, and if the office upholds your patent — its very bad for the infringers. When you do actually sue, they would have little chance of winning in the face of your patent being issued, and then reviewed and upheld again. In these sorts of situations, the infringer would very likely settle.

      If the patent office DOES NOT uphold your patent, then you probably didn’t have too strong of a patent to begin with, which you ought to be aware of as the chief designer and inventor.

      Now if your product flops and you don’t make any money on it to begin with, you wouldn’t be spending that $100k defending that patent. You’d only spend the initial cost of patenting which is much much less.

      I personally have filed a patent in the US for less than $5k. And to the best of my knowledge it is more well written and defensible than many others in the same field.

      The best resource (for the US patent system for filing a patent) is “Patent It Yourself” by David Pressman. Absolutely excellent book on the subject. Hands down invaluable resource, written by a former patent examiner turned attorney.

      In reality, the inventor is the *BEST* person to write the actual patent, because the inventor understands the actual product very thoroughly in a manner that your patent attorney simply won’t get as well.

      Every inventor – unless they’re a millionaire – SHOULD draft their own specification. The drawings, you can find someone on craigslist to do, again not very expensive. The only part you really need an attorney for is to proofread everything, and to draft the claims.

      I would even argue that the Inventor can almost definitely draft better claims than the attorney if they are inclined to put in the extra effort.

      “Invention Analysis and Claiming” by Slusky is a really good resource for this kind of thing. The reason for this is that the claims aim to describe the inventive concept at its most CORE level. In my particular situation, I never really got the sense that my attorney understood my invention, and once I read the book and reviewed his claims, it is my humble opinion that I was able to improve upon them greatly.

      Anyway, I think that people are intimidated by patents because they seemed to be steeped in all of this esoteric legal language, and you hear stories about how expensive they are.

      In reality, anyone who REALLY understand their invention is perfectly capable of drafting their own patent for under $5k. The advantage is an enforceable monopoly in a niche market as you say which lasts for at least 17 years.

      I’d urge you to reconsider your opinion on the matter, and definitely check out David Pressman’s excellent book on the subject.

      Of course, again, I should state this is all for the US system. Can’t speak for Australia and other places…

      • http://www.eevblog.com EEVblog

        @Sachmo Sorry, but you’ve missed the entire point. My comments were aimed at the midnight engineer and for them a Patent is almost guaranteed to be a waste of money and give you no return on your investment.
        No, I will not reconsider my opinion on the matter because I know am correct. And as always, it’s horses for courses.
        Ok, so you’ve got a hard-on for patents, I get it, nothing wrong with that, they have there place. And there will ALWAYS be good reasons to get a patent, but for the midnight engineer they are ALMOST CERTAINLY going to be a waste of time and money.
        There is no blanket rule for everyone, take my opinion and weigh it up for your own circumstances.

        I personally have filed a patent in the US for less than $5k. And to the best of my knowledge it is more well written and defensible than many others in the same field.

        Sorry, but your opinion doesn’t matter until you have successfully defended one in court, then you might be able to talk with some authority.

        In reality, anyone who REALLY understand their invention is perfectly capable of drafting their own patent for under $5k.

        I say rubbish. You may THINK you can, but when it comes time to defending the patent you might be left high and dry.

        And the point is, for the midnight engineer, they almost always never get sued, and almost always never get their patent bought out etc, so it’s money down the drain.

        Bottom line for the midnight engineer is, forget patents and spend your time and money making a good product at a defendable price point and get your product to market. Stay one step ahead of any competition.

        Dave.

      • http://www.eevblog.com EEVblog

        A patent gives you certain monopolistic rights that you can really use to dominate your particular market.

        That is incorrect. A patent only gives you an avenue to ATTEMPT to dominate a particular market.
        To actually go ahead and dominate a market using your patent you have to either:

        a) Threaten your competition with the patent and hope they just cave in. If the company is bigger than you then that usually doesn’t work. And given that we are talking about the midnight engineer, they will almost always be bigger than you! It might work on a fellow midnight engineer, but the smart ones will know you are a midnight engineer too and hence don’t have the money, and will simply call your bluff. If you go ahead with it in this case, you simply have two fools handing money over to lawyers.

        or b) Actually go through and sue them to force them out of the market or to pay you royalties. That can indeed cost upwards of a million dollars.

        $100K? – no way!
        Ask my patent-attorney brother-in-law how much it’ll cost you, and you’ll barely get lunch meetings for $100K.

        Dave.

        • http://www.brianhoskins.co.uk Brian Hoskins

          Dave,

          It’s fairly irrelevant to debate whether the defense of a patent costs $100K or more anyway because, let’s face it, what “midnight Engineer” has $100K to defend a patent with in the first place?

          Let’s just say you *did* have $100K floating around. To make it worth your while throwing it at a patent defense, then I guess you’d need to feel that you’ve a good chance of at least making your $100,000 back in future profits of that product. For a midnight Engineer selling to a niche market, that’s not likely to happen is it?

          So I have to agree. From an individual’s perspective, a patent is not going to be helpful in any way shape or form.

          I think Sachmo is looking at this from the perspective of a successful small business. Then, perhaps a patent is affordable. But for someone on their own tinkering away in their garage and hoping to make a few bucks in their spare time… nah.

          Brian

          • http://www.eevblog.com EEVblog

            Let

      • http://www.eevblog.com EEVblog

        You could probably obtain the cash for your defense in the form of an additional line of credit from your banking institution (which would be all to happy to lend you the $$ because of your growing business and strong case). And you wouldn

        • Sachmo

          Hey Dave,

          A lot of engineers who obtained patents later built entire companies and industries on them.

          There are some prominent examples like Dean Kamen and Maurice Kanbar, and in my personal life I’ve known a few others.

          As to the defensibility of patents, more than 50% are upheld in higher courts. That number is an underestimate as well, b/c it doesn’t count all of the settlements which is a sizable portion of the cases.

          Also, I think a person who’s put in the time and effort CAN judge the quality of a patent, just like someone who has put in the time and effort can judge the quality of a particular hardware design.

          You are correct that I personally am an authority on the subject b/c I have not gone through litigation.

          But I’ve known a few people (midnight engineers as you call them) who have obtained patents and used them offensively to maintain niche monopolies. And they’re business are doing quite well, in one case I’d estimate revenues in the millions due in no small part to some well written patents.

          And likewise, I don’t you are an authority on the subject either.

          The $100k figure is if a lawyer takes your case on contingency. In this situation, the lawyer doesn’t bill you hours. They bill you just costs (as in travel expenses, witnesses, etc) and take a percentage (usually a third) of your winnings or settlement at the end. I have a lot of friends that are patent litigators as well, I’m not just speaking off the cuff. The particular costs depend on the situation, but $100k is a reasonable estimate for trial expenses for what is presumably a small business.

          Finally, if you have a really successful product that entrenched competitors are actually copying, then no, I don’t think you’ll go bankrupt suing them. In this situation, you’d have every reason to want to maintain a niche monopoly and it would be good strategy to sue. I think you’d have really good chance of winning with a well written patent. I guess generally speaking, I have more faith in the court system.

          If your product flops, you’d only incur the expense of the initial patent.

          And if you’re not sure whether to obtain a patent or not, you can get a provisional patent for almost nothing, launch your product, and decide what to do about it over the course of a year.

          Anyway, we disagree but that is just my two cents for anyone out there listening.

          I hope that if we do continue to debate on the subject we can at least be respectful of each others opinions.

          • http://www.eevblog.com EEVblog

            If someone flat out copies your design then just get them on blatant Copyright (which cost nothing), I suspect there is no advantage to having a patent here, and the resulting suit might even be a lot cheaper.
            I’ve rarely heard of Patents being cut’n’dry cases, they drag on forever, and the deeper the pockets of your competitor the longer it will drag on.
            Sure there are examples of people who win with patents, and there will continue to be, but I’ve heard a lot more horror stories from midnight engineers and small businesses to whom patents have bought nothing but a nightmare and ultimately bankruptcy. Indeed it seems to be the norm, by orders of magnitude. But the most popular result by far is that the patent simply sits there and does nothing, and the money that went into it goes down the drain.
            You make make it sound like it’s easy peasy and low risk, anyone can write one themselves etc, and I think it couldn’t be further from the truth. That is why I am advising the midnight engineer to think very carefully and avoid patents.

            Ask this same question in any engineering forum and you’ll get the same result as here – most people telling you horror stories, and maybe one patent fan boy such as yourself who tells a rosy story. That should be a clue to the midnight engineer.

            And of course you are forgetting the most vital thing. Most things that the average midnight engineer would come up with are usually no were near enough to being so massively innovative and original that a patent will protect your entire product. If you are lucky it’s usually just one niche part of the product/process/idea or whatever which are often easy to beat, so any resultant suit is most likely to be far less cut’n’dry.

            And of course the patent office will famously patent almost anything, the whole system has become almost a joke, that is one of the reasons why everyone is talking about forming the system.

            As always YMMV.

            Have a listen to Mitch Altman’s talk (TV-B-GONE), and why he had a patent but ultimately went open source:
            http://thenexthope.org/talks-list
            And how he tried to sue someone and won, but it cost him a packet.
            http://c2047862.cdn.cloudfiles.rackspacecloud.com/tnha16.mp3

            Dave.

    • Petrus

      Brian Hoskins, you don’t need computer controlled milling machine to make holes for D-sub connectors, there are some hole puncher that can do this. I don’t know if it works on plastic but it worth a try:
      http://www.l-com.com/item.aspx?id=6949

      And for patents, and copyright laws in general It was initially created to protect the inventors/creators but now I think it is mostly used to protect big businesses and that just KILLS INNOVATION for example by using blocking patents.

    • Petrus

      Ootch, I just saw the price of the D-sub punch hole, maybe it’s not a good alternative after all.

    • Richard C

      Regarding patents, realize that Thomas Alva Edison, perhaps the world’s most prolific inventor and patent holder, claimed he spent more money on patents than he ever received in royalties. True, the legal framework has changed somewhat since then, but many of the changes have made it worse for today’s little guy. Does any midnight engineer have an ego so big that he seriously thinks he’ll have a better record than Edison?

      http://blog.modernmechanix.com/2008/02/10/did-thomas-edison-die-a-poor-man/

      If you’re still not convinced and think you might want to drop a few thousand dollars and a lot of your precious time into a patent application, here’s another small inventor’s site that more-or-less says what Dave said. Before you invest a bunch of time and money in a patent, at least invest the time to read up on what other small inventors are saying.

      http://www.tinaja.com/pasamp1.asp

      Maybe this doesn’t apply to you. Still, you might at least want to read it and figure out for yourself why it’s wrong or why your case is so different.

    • http://www.dictionary.com Dictionary.com

      http://www.thefreedictionary.com/patent

      Pronounced Pat-ent. Click the little speaker to listen to the pronunciation of the word Patent.

      Otherwise…Nice Post!

      • http://www.eevblog.com EEVblog

        Err, there are different countries, different cultures, and different languages, and different local dialects, so there is no one correct definitive pronunciation.

    • Al Martin

      Excellent advice Dave. It seems that you’ve been around the block a few times. I have too and I do exactly what you say. Difference is, I don’t do Open Hardware, I’m just not that comfortable with it. But you’re right. Patents? It’s Bouuu shiiit (as you say) and paying for copyrights? All a crock!

      One more thing, if you want to trademark I have a great suggestion, buy a DNS name from Network Solutions (NOT GODADDY) and use that as your trademark. It’s cheaper, no one can trademark the name because they won’t be allowed to. Just make sure you set up a web page around the name right away and IT’S YOURS! Add that to your mix Dave.

      Thanks for the great advice.

      • Al Martin

        How won’t they be allowed to trademark a DNS name? Well, The USTPO does a search on the web, if they find the name being used … DENIED!!! Besides, now you own the site and Google and other search engines usually put you on top due to the fact that your site has the name in the search field. BEAUTY!! THUMBS UP!!!