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.


Metal Ultrasonic Welding now In-House

Posted on October 17th, 2022 in News

Ultrasonic welding is the joining of materials through heat fusion generated by high frequency vibration. Many different plastic and metal materials can be joined using this process. We have experience in thermoplastic component welding for a variety of applications, and metal welding for electronic components. In electronics, one of the most common uses is for welding contacts to the ends of batteries or wires to terminals. We now have this ultrasonic welding capability in-house. Contact us for any of these process needs at sales@metcalfegroup.com or 440-349-5995.


Patent Granted for Innovative Door Hinge Lubrication Device

Posted on August 15th, 2022 in News

Have a squeaky door hinge? Have you ever used an aerosol spray lubricant on a door hinge and sprayed lube where you did NOT want it, making a mess? Well, now there is Hinge Hush – a new product we developed and helped a client earn a patent to solve this problem. The product is made from flexible rubber and slips over any interior residential or commercial building door hinge, which required a lot of work to achieve. It has a vertical guide slot for the aerosol lube spray tube to only spray where you need it – on the hinge. It’s fast to install, spray, and remove and virtually eliminates the aerosol lube mess.  Have a building full of doors? Meet your new friend. Any excess lube is collected at the bottom of the device in a removable absorbent material cartridge. One might ask, why didn’t someone develop this before? To learn more, see US patent number 11,220,851 B2. If you are interested in licensing this product, please contact us at sales@metcalfegroup.com or 440-349-5995.


Extensive Welding, Brazing and Cutting Capability for Metal Products and Prototyping

Posted on August 10th, 2022 in News

Welding, brazing, and cutting metals enables ideas to translate into reality, although you need the right equipment and skill. For many years we have been cutting and welding different prototypes for customers: furniture, food processing equipment, exercise and recreation equipment, pet products, and more. So we thought it was time to let you know more about this valuable and extensive capability after designs are complete. We have welding capability for TIG, MIG, arc (stick), brazing, soldering, plasma cutting and CNC cutting.

Each of these tools or methods have the right application and we can help you with that. TIG is especially useful for its ability to precisely control welding of very thin metal to thicker metals. It can be used for aluminum, steel and stainless steel. MIG uses a motorized wire feed when more speed and efficiency is desired. Brazing and silver soldering use a torch to heat parts and use different metals for the joining component. When it comes to cutting metals we can use a band saw, precise chop saw, CNC machinery, vertical mill or plasma cutting. We can also provide laser cut parts from a variety of materials. To learn more about our capability or have us quote a project for you, email sales@metcalfegroup.com or call 440-349-5995.


Multi-Color 3D Printing Capability

Posted on August 5th, 2022 in News

Printing in 3D with 2 different colors in one part is now possible with our new technology. The colors can be isolated in specific areas or throughout the part. Our leading-edge capability allows us to produce parts that really stand out. Two print heads work in coordination to enable two-color printed parts. There are different applications for this technology, including logos, names or model numbers, touch points, arrows, grips, badges, and color accents in specific areas that represents two-shot molding, even artistic items like vases or anything you can imagine. For additional information or if you have a project that can leverage this capability, email sales@metcalfegroup.com or call 440-349-5995. We would be delighted to assist you.


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.


Expanding Electronics Development Capability

Posted on July 19th, 2022 in News

Electronics are a growing part of our life and ever so important to many new product innovations. An increasing number of our clients have asked us to develop more complex products with electronics. So, the natural evolution was to continue to expand our capability. In addition to our experience, we have invested in additional equipment to further facilitate the development of electronic products from idea, through breadboard, PCB (Printed Circuit Board) development, software development, and into production. We work with other professionals in circuit board development, software programming, app development and manufacturing to augment our internal capability of early stage development and breadboard build and test. We have developed different measuring/detecting sensors, life safety devices, law enforcement products, pet market devices, food service products, food processing, exercise equipment, and more. This valuable combination of mechanical, electrical and manufacturing capability enables complex ideas to be managed completely by our team from idea through to production. Contact us for your next project using electronics at sales@metcalfegroup.com or 440-349-5995.


CNC Machining in-House

Posted on July 11th, 2022 in News

Continually expanding, we now have CNC machining in-house for aluminum, plastic, wood-based materials, foams and more. It’s easier than ever to quickly and accurately cut prototypes, panels, sheet, small parts, engraving, signage, machinery parts, complex hole patterns, and other items requiring more than hand-cutting or manual machining can accomplish. Housings, enclosures, panels, displays, boxes, thin, light-weight welded prototypes, and even fixtures for assembly and packaging are just some of the things we have or can process for just about any project. When combined with our design, engineering, machine shop, 3D printing, metal welding/fabrication and painting capability we are a one-stop-shop for a wide variety of projects. Contact us for your next project at sales@metcalfegroup.com or 440-349-5995.


Enhanced 3D Printing Capability

Posted on July 5th, 2022 in Uncategorized

We now have the ability to 3D print larger FFF (Fused Filament Fabrication) parts with a volume build of (X)16 inch x (Y)14 inch x (Z)13 inch in PLA, ABS, and filled/engineered materials in different colors. Rather than carving up a larger part and gluing smaller parts together, we can print it in one part. Resolution of the print is adjustable based on the part requirements. If you have a need for larger parts using this highly sought-after process, please contact us at sales@metcalfegroup.com or 440-349-5995.


Celebrating 21 Years in Business

Posted on July 1st, 2022 in Uncategorized

Yes, it’s been 21 years since our humble beginnings in 2001. A sincere thank you to all of you who have been a part of our success. We have helped so many different customers with very different projects over these 2 decades, many resulting in patents and commercial success. We are thankful to have been chosen to create new innovations for so many different brands. We look forward to continuing to innovate, design, engineer, prototype, test and commercialize many more new products in years to come.