Inventors: Turning dreams into reality

At Coller IP, we speak to many inventors and a common characteristic is that they have a ‘dream’, which on some occasions has turned into a ‘nightmare’ of cost and complexity.

While having a dream is necessary to overcome the inevitable setbacks on their business journey, this should be tempered by business reality and hard facts.

An idea or invention should be treated just like any other business transaction, using a third party-style dispassionate approach to enable balanced business judgements. This includes assessing the risks and developing appropriate mitigation factors, should those risks materialise, including termination of the dream.

Being your strongest critic (rather than your biggest supporter) has the effect of uncovering issues early, so that risks can be mitigated. By asking all the difficult questions that both customers and investors will ask, disappointment at a later stage can be limited.

Starting with a hypothesis and seeking to disprove it is a critical part of the innovation process, but this is often overlooked by inventors who are tempted to try to ‘sell the dream’ rather than road test the technical viability and market acceptance of their proposition. Much of the hypothesis testing can be done using internet resources and by contacting potential customers to survey opinions at low cost.

An innovation typically arises from a solution to a perceived problem and the ‘dream of a lottery win’ begins to form, however, the idea still has to prove itself, so remaining detached and critical at this early stage is extremely important. The cost of terminating an idea later can be much more expensive.

While exploring the viability of an idea, it is vital to keep it a ‘secret’ and to focus on the market application and any barriers to entry (including the route to market, investment costs, alternatives and risk analysis). While the invention may be classed as a ‘good idea’, this does not automatically equate to market adoption. The inventor also needs to take account of the speed at which anything new can be introduced; modern supply chains are lean and well-tuned, so there can be a significant barrier to supply chain entry which includes a delay in adopting a new product. The inventor also needs to consider the ability of larger companies to review an external invention, where the mindset of ‘not invented here’ may prevail. In general, if companies have an external window for innovation, that window itself is a tightly managed formal process and the inventor will need to provide a business case to enter the process.

Consideration can be given to establishing a business around the invention and this will depend on the funding requirements and the ability of the inventor to invest and seek other investment.

In some cases, inventors fail to realise that significant investment is required to take any invention to a point where a third party would be convinced of its viability. This includes a fully costed business case, prototypes, test results, application trails and supply chain. For any third party, the technology proposition must become a compelling business proposition.

Turning a dream into reality requires careful planning at the earliest stage and a ruthless, detached focus on the business case. As experts in IP management, we at Coller IP would advise inventors to seek advice at the very beginning of their journey in order to mitigate many of the issues that could arise later.