How to turn an idea into a patented product
The following is the story of an inventor, an idea and how it turned into a patented product.
The first fishing rod or pole can be seen in ancient Egyptian murals several thousand years ago, but it was not until 1195AD that the fishing reel was invented in Song dynasty China. Fishing reels first appeared in England around 1650 AD, and by the 1760s, London tackle shops were advertising multiplying or gear-retrieved reels. Surprisingly no one had ever combined a reel a tip and a handline., and although a large percentage of the world’s population enjoy recreational fishing, very few technological developments have occurred in equipment.
In the early 2000’s, John Rich, an Australian inventor and keen fishermen, conceived the idea of combining the convenience of handline fishing with the power of a fishing rod. The question was how to progress this idea with limited funds, no company structure and minimal resources. At this stage many inventors assume that they have something of value that could be sold to a company or would attract immediate investment, sadly this is generally not the case and they find themselves with a dilemma, try to make a prototype, try to attract an investor or give up.
Making the first prototype
John Rich decided to make a very basic prototype to demonstrate to potential investors or to licence to an industry manufacturer. What he made was ‘fishbusta’ version1.
He managed to partner with someone in the industry and 2,000 copies were made of the prototype.
To gauge market feedback the units were sold at market stalls and during this process customers were asked for feedback both positive and negative and from these many lessons were learned. Modifications to the design and functionality were made and incorporated into the next prototype ‘fishbusta’ version 2
From the photo above it is obvious that significant modifications were made to the original design including the positioning of the reel from an internal design only capable of accommodating a closed-face reel, to an external mount capable of accepting many types of reel including the purchasers own favourite reel. An extendable telescopic tip was added together with an ergonomic arm rest that uses the natural power of the arm. The complete unit was redesigned in a way that it became reversible for left and right-handed anglers and foldable for easy packing and transport.
Protecting the IP
As ‘fishbusta’ version 2 had never been released to the public or publicly shown it was decided that an application for an Australian Standard Patent would be lodged. The application was officially lodged in November 2013 and Standard Patent granted in November 2104.
Following on from the successful Australian Patent application it was decided to apply for a US Patent in October 2014, however, the process was a lengthy one taking four and a half years to achieve a successful outcome. The US Patent was granted in February 2019.
Making a 3D Animation from prototype version 2
In 2019 a design engineering company was engaged to prepare Computer Aided Design (CAD) files that would be used to manufacture ‘fishbusta’ version 3. To achieve this STL files were created and an animation of the new prototype was made.
(STL (an abbreviation of “stereolithography”) is a file format native to the stereolithography CAD software created by 3D Systems).
Making a 3D printed prototype of version 2
The STL files created by the design engineers were sent to a 3D printing company to produce a prototype.
The3D printing process used by the company is known as Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF) which uses melted plastics, known as a filament.
FFF is the most commonly used additive manufacturing method. It utilises a filament (coiled plastic) that is melted through a heated nozzle and creates the product layer by layer. FFF is mainly used for rapid prototyping as materials are affordable.
The total cost of 3D printing the version 2 prototype was approximately USD$800 and took approximately 3 days to complete.
Observations made from 3D printed version 2 prototype
The benefit of producing prototypes is that you can physically see what works and what does not. In this case there was a weak point in the design where the extendable tip entered the body casing. Modifications were easily made to the design and the tip was extended further into the casing solving the problem.
Making injection moulding tooling from prototype version 2
It was now time to commit to the manufacturing of injection moulding tooling to produce the finished item.
The STL files and prototype version 2 were delivered to the tooling manufacturers who were commissioned to manufacture tooling capable of producing 5,000 finished units per week. Because most injection moulded items have a complex shape the tooling design is often complicated as the critical issue is how the individual components are extracted which in this case required the moulds to be a four-piece interlocking design. The moulds were originally scheduled to be completed within 4 months, however, as is often the case, this extended to double that length of time. In October 2020 the moulds were completed, and initial production commenced.
The final step
After the final design was determined and tooling commissioned you will need to consider how the product will be packed, labelled and shipped, all processes in the journey from the idea to the customer.
Gaining Australian and US Patent protection is a valuable asset, however, if you are anticipating going down this path be conscious of the time and costs involved in the process.
Prototyping is a vital and essential process that is worth undertaking before you launch into production as it will help you avoid costly mistakes as well as giving you the opportunity to incorporate features that you may never have thought of as well as addressing user criticisms.