What to do first when you have an idea for a new product.

Posted on March 28th, 2023 in Learning, Reference

This is intended to be one in a series of articles on the not-so-well understood area of what first steps to take when you have a new product idea that your are considering to offer to the market. There are many things to consider and like many complex topics, it can be broken down into manageable smaller parts. We are starting at the very beginning and will explain the different pieces of the puzzle of new product ideas and how they become real, sellable products.

When you have a new idea for a product, there is excitement in the air. You think you might just have something that might sell to the masses. It is and can be exciting when you think of something new. But then some reality needs to set in to determine how new and novel, and attractive to the market your idea really is.

There are two things that need to be done before anything else. These can be done in any order, but both should be done thoroughly, without cutting corners, before you spend much more time and money on a new product idea. Said another way, don’t fall in love too deeply with an idea until you do the work we explain below. Even after some of this hard work, try to be optimistically skeptical, as we are in the work that we do for clients of all types (large companies to single person startups).

Try to think like, “It may be a pretty good idea, but why has it not been done before, and is it really a good and new idea?” Sometimes the answer is that it just has not been done before and you might be the first one doing something in a novel, unique way. However, sometimes it is just a bad idea or an idea already done many times over. Be positive, but with a healthy dose of skepticism.

Professionals in product development and legal areas can help you progress from any idea that initially may be simple and somewhat weak, to an idea that can later become much stronger and much more competitive and valuable. If it is a bad idea, or one that should not proceed for one or more valid reasons, try and learn that earlier than later, and move onto the next idea. Don’t give up too easily, but don’t hang on too long if it is not warranted. Like many things in life and business, it is a balancing act.

As an important disclaimer, we are not intending to provide legal advice. We are not attorneys and are not acting as attorneys. However, we do prepare many patent drawings each year for and with attorneys, based on the products we develop, and do help prepare a lot of the content that is used for filing both very technical patents, and simple ones too.

We have been involved in the new product design and development market and have assisted with generating patents for several decades. We have learned that people struggle with knowing what to do and wanted to help people try to gain an understating of some of the basics in the process of creating a new product and pursuing a patent for it. Like many things, and in trying to develop a new product, just knowing where to start and what to do is of great assistance.

One of the two first things is to conduct a patent search at the USPTO (Unites States Patent and Trademark Office). The USPTO site can be difficult to use, but the search can be done quite effectively without a professional searcher or patent attorney using Google Patents. This search done by you is intended only to get started, and familiarize yourself with this process and the patents themselves. It is often recommended to have a law firm or professional searcher perform a search for you before this step is considered complete.

Do your best to type the description of the idea using Google Patents. Change the description to use different terms so that different patents may be identified (in the event the category assigned varies for a similar invention). Save the PDF patents wherever you normally save your electronic documents. Consider using in the file name the inventor’s last name that the patent office uses at the top left on page 1, because it is easier to remember or reference than a long patent number. You can print them but it can become a mountain of paper that is difficult to manage. Do what suits you best.

If the inventor is James Smith, as an example, this is referred to as the “Smith” patent. The patent number in the upper right corner is also important. There are many things to consider in these patents, and one to make note of is the filing date in the upper left corner of page 1. This is important because for a Utility Patent in the United States, there is a 20 year life of the patent, with few exceptions. So, make note whether the patent is still active or if it has expired. If patents appear active, they may not be, if the maintenance fees have not been paid. Just consider them active as a conservative approach, if at the time you are doing the search it is less than 20 years for the filing date. If it is expired, (older than 20 years from the filing date) it means there is no longer patent protection on it, and you will not be able to patent anything disclosed in that patent. You most likely could commercially produce what is in the patent, unless there is some other reason preventing its use.

The claims in the patent are very important. Go to the last page of the patent and work backwards to the first numbered paragraph, usually on the last page or pages, where it states “what is claimed is” or similar language. Following this, are the claims, which are the numbered paragraphs of sorts, which are important words describing the uniqueness of the invention. For the best outcome when and if you file a patent, a patent attorney should craft these on your behalf after they fully understand the invention. These may seem confusing when you first start reading them. They are confusing, until you start to learn what some of the words mean. Do your best to read through and try to get a sense of what the patent is covering or trying to specifically protect.

Part of your job, with help of others in developing a competing product, is to dodge these claims with a different invention and your own patent. Read the patents from start to finish for those you might find most important and closest to your invention. Highlight important information you might find, which could be particular claims, a drawing, some of the background in the early writing of the patent, or anything that might be of interest. Discuss this information with the product development team or firm you hire to help you develop your product, and your patent attorney to help establish the direction you and your product can take for the best possible outcome.

The second thing you need to do is to conduct some competitive research to determine which companies have similar products at what prices. It is said that business is war, and your competitors that preceded you in the market or product category are the enemy of sorts, because they are pursuing the same market share you are. Who wins the battle or the war? You are all vying for market share with similar products. All products have functions, features and benefits and are offered at a price in some currency. Who is the winner or considered best, and why? It is often a certain combination of features and price that is considered one of the best, which translates to significant sales of a product.

You want to evaluate all of the products you can find on the internet, in a store, or anywhere you can find a product for sale in the category you intend to target. If you know how to use spreadsheet software like Excel from Microsoft, or Google’s Sheets, then enter at your preference the company name, product name, brand, price, the most prominent features and any other information you should know. Try to determine how you stack up to these products. Be honest with yourself. Try to be the best, whatever that best is.

The country of origin (where it is manufactured) is an important attribute because if every one of your competitors is made in a particular country in Asia, you will likely have to do the same to be competitive, unless there are some very unique circumstances.

If you cannot use spreadsheet software, or are not computer savvy, make a list on a pad of paper and maybe use a page for each product. Printing pages from the internet can be useful and then summarizing by hand-writing the summary details like price and features. Think like you are a marketing or product manager because this is what they do. If printed pages are better for you, get a 3-ring binder with dividers for patents, competitors, and any notes, drawings, sketches or the like for your ideas or inventions. Do not share this with anyone you cannot trust, and consider using an NDA or Non Disclosure Agreement to be signed by anyone that reviews your confidential information, even after you have filed for a patent. Keep you information close to the vest and protect your hard work.

After you have looked at enough of the available products that are similar to your your product idea, you will have a sense of who might be some of the more dominant companies or products in the target market you have your eyes on. Look at the number of reviews on Amazon, as that can be a great indicator for a product with a longer selling history. However, a new upstart could have a great product but not that many reviews yet so use your judgement and resourcefulness to find as many places as you can where the products are being sold.

Keep checking over time the same sources because things change and markets are very dynamic entities, just like biological plants, growing and dying, thriving or struggling, based on wet or dry, hot or cold conditions around them. Enlist people to help you if they are more familiar with using a computer or can multi-task, or divide and conquer with you to reduce the time it will take to search and find valuable information, or to widen the search net for competitive products and companies.

The prices of products is very important because it largely dictates the price at which you have to offer your product unless your are more featured at a higher price, or if lesser featured, at possibly a lower price. Just because it is more featured, does not mean those purchasing will pay a higher price, as it may be over-featured. People are tight with their money and make buying decisions very carefully. The market is the dictator of pricing.

Along with price, a product’s cost is very, very important, in part because the difference between the price and the cost is the profit, which is the life blood of any company (which is leading into another topic for another article). Try to determine if all of the product is being sold direct to the consumer, or are they going through a distributor of some type, which requires a markup. Product Cost and Channel to Market expenses are some of the most important aspects of products, old or new, and will get more attention in another article. Be smart, strong and persistent in your work.


Duplication Mode 3D Printing

Posted on July 27th, 2022 in News, Reference

Duplication mode printing is now available internally with several new FFF printers we have. This means two print heads operate on the same part simultaneously right next to one another. That translates to faster output of the same part. Two (print) heads really are better than one. Whether the parts are large or small, we can speed up printing of parts by duplication mode printing. Not many 3D printers can do this but we find having the best technology, the best methods, and and the best people translates to the best results for our customers. To learn more about how this can help you make more parts faster than ever, email sales@metcalfegroup.com or call 440-349-5995.


BIMs – Building Information Models – An Overview

Posted on March 30th, 2016 in Reference

What are BIMs?

BIMs (Building Information Models) are interconnected, parametric digital representations of buildings and their components. They originated about 20 years ago and have been growing in popularity because of the value they offer to architects, engineers, contractors, building owners, and manufacturers of building products. Early BIM software developers had a vision of the benefits to an all-digital model of architecture. With everyone having access to the same digital information, there is reduction in construction timelines and misinformation made possible by vast amounts of 24/7 real-time information in text, numeric and and 3D (3-Dimensional) formats.

Just as in mechanical or electrical product design for a telephone or automobile with hundreds or thousands of components, in the AEC market (Architecture, Engineering and Construction) the buildings can be designed and managed in a digital format, with myriad advantages. The 3D digital models are object-based and tied to a database of all components which are carefully categorized and can even have 4th and 5th dimensions, for time-based values for procurement and construction scheduling, and price-based values for cost management.

What are the Benefits of BIMs?

When all of the dimensions, quantities and specific placement of products are implemented into a building digitally, there are many advantages. It’s widely understood that changes are imminent in designing anything. The many changes made in the design and construction cycle require time and associated costs. When those changes can be completed more effectively by altering the digital model, less time and money is expended. In the past, interference of components was often not detected until the construction phase, but now in the digital model, crash detection can be performed at the earliest phases of design. All of this visualization and data-rich environment has benefit to the different disciplines and phases of the building lifecycle.

Centralization of the digital information is also a significant advantage to the contractor who has to offer a proposal for the building, and has to manage through the construction management phase. Furthermore, the probability of errors or misinformation is lower and schedule delays are reduced in part because of the immediacy of information access. And when the building is complete, the owner of the building has a more effective means of managing the facility throughout its long life of maintenance and remodeling.

Once the commitment is made by a manufactuer of building products to provide their BIMs and specifications on any of the BIM repositories via the Internet, there are many ways to be found: searching for a part number, a manufacturer name, a product category and other terms. For anyone interested in better marketing their product for the building industry, it’s important to produce BIMs because they are becoming a competitive advantage; if you have a similar or identical product line to a competitor, and you do not have BIMs, yet your competitor does, the opportunity, exposure and professional perception is greater for your competition.

Who creates BIMs?

In order for building models to be digital, someone has to create them. Manufacturers of products for the building are the ideal resource to provide BIMs used by architects in their designs. The information will be most accurate and complete, and when the manufacturer provides BIMs it effectively precludes duplication of effort of individual architects across the globe, inefficiently making their own components to suit their individual needs. For building product manufacturers, offering this digital information is an important marketing advantage. It enables direct digital communication with the end user of the information.

Selection of products are based on information, so providing more professional quality information offers more opportunities to be be specified and selected. That translates to opportunities for more sales revenue. In addition to the BIMs, literature, catalogs, drawings, and engineering specifications can all be provided in one place for digital review or downloading. The more information that can be provided via this means the more effective it is for the provider and recipient. In today’s global need for speed, much work is being done asynchronously in the off hours of morning and night when other people may not be available. So having the information available 24/7 in the format needed, designers, architects, engineers, and construction professionals can do what they need uninhibited.

What software is used for BIMs?

Manufacturers of building products are likely using one of a handful of popular mechanical 3D CAD (Three-Dimensional Computer Aided Design) software systems to design and engineer their products. This 3D CAD software is not the same software used to create the BIMs. Exporting file formats from the mechanical CAD is only the beginning of creating BIMs, and even that is not always simple. So designers and manufacturers of products for the AEC market need to either acquire new software or look to the outside for a third party firm offering assistance in creating BIMs. There is much to know when offering BIMs so be prepared for a learning curve. The building industry knows that BIMs are here to stay and creating or managing this information requires an investment to participate.

In considering BIM software, there are several leading software brands that offer the capability to create and manage BIMs, such as Autodesk’s Revit and Graphisoft’s ArchiCAD. Repositories of BIMs of the many components that comprise a building, such as windows, doors, lighting, electrical and plumbing systems, and even furniture, are offered by leading websites such as Seek or ARCAT, or directly from a product manufacturer’s web site.

How can I get someone to create BIMs for my product line?

We have created BIMs for the AEC market and can assist manufacturers that need to bridge the gap from mechanical CAD to BIMs. We also have designed, engineered and tested products for the construction market with experience in plumbing, electrical, lighting, furniture, vending machines, food service, washroom/restroom systems, floor care and water treatment systems.



CAD Updates – Creo 3.0 & SolidWorks 2015

Posted on October 7th, 2014 in News, Reference

Here at The Metcalfe Group we’re always striving to stay on top of the latest technology and tools in product development in order to create better products faster. As you may have guessed, one of our primary tools is CAD. We’ve recently upgraded PTC Creo (formerly Pro/E) to version 3.0 and SolidWorks 2015 will soon be released. These are the two major players in product development, and while conceptual work can really be done in whatever software one is comfortable in, having a common software platform allows easy collaboration with our customers’ designers and engineers and makes for a quicker road to production.

SolidWorks has been used for the majority of the CAD work we do at The Metcalfe Group. This year’s enhancements include many to the user interface that should make our lives easier and reduce headaches, as well as a few powerful tools that get to the desired geometry in fewer steps than before. Others have compiled their top lists of features if you’re interested (Javelin and SolidSmack or the official version), but the short version is that we’re excited to use some asymmetric fillets, move some faces with end conditions, view parent/child relationships, and flatten a few surfaces on your next project.

PTC Creo is also a very powerful tool that a number of our customers use. PTC has a good top list of enhancements as does Develop 3D. Among them are enhanced abilities to work with other CAD software, integrate freeform surfaces with other geometry (they also got the flatten surface memo), and analyze parts. While SolidWorks still wins on the interface front, Creo 3.0 has its own interface enhancements, including ways to more efficiently work with early stage concepts.

Of course, if your organization has not yet upgraded (many wait a bit for the bugs to be worked out) we always keep previous versions on our computers. So we’ll be able to give you SolidWorks 2014 and Creo 2.0 files for as long as you like. Let us know how we can put these tools to work for you.


What Your Brand Says About You: The Importance of Visual Brand Language

Posted on July 16th, 2013 in Reference


The power of branding surrounds us on a constant basis. Quickly, can you guess what company’s logo this is? If you guessed McDonald’s and identified the image as those well-known, easily-recognizable golden arches, then you have just experienced the power of branding. Why is it that some companies seem to crop up in everyday conversation, while others don’t seem to be as pervasive? When it comes to establishing and maintaining a brand’s identity, nothing does more than the proper application of Visual Brand Language. (more…)