Spoke with a patent attorney

Today I spoke with a patent attorney to protect my first product before I start the crowdfunding campaign. Apparently there are dodgy people that troll these sites to steal popular ideas and get the products to market before the campaign is even over. Therefore, it’s even more important that I apply for my patents before the launch.

I did hours of research back in June to see if there were other products like mine already out there. Fortunately, the answer was no for two of the products as far as I can tell. For the last one, I can’t be sure as there is an US patent that might conflict, but I need a lawyer to look at that one harder.

This research also made me realise that it’s far too complex for me to apply directly – hence why I spoke with a patent attorney today.

After that teleconference, I decided to go ahead and apply for provisional patents in both Australia and the US for Product #3. These are my two target markets in the short to medium term. Hopefully, this will deter any scammers from trying to replicate my ideas, and further help my marketing campaign.

Unfortunately, the legal fees will be as much as the design costs. I can’t see another way around this though because the documents are so technically complex.

The only good thing is that this firm agreed to work with me on a deferred payment plan since I had worked with them before in previous jobs. If I’m successful in obtaining the grant next month, I’ll use part of that money to pay them. If not, I’ll have to pull that money out of my dwindling savings account.

Patent research

I spent most of the day researching both Australian and international patents for anything close to my products. It’s exhausting especially since I’m not an expert in “legal-ese” or product design. There doesn’t appear to be any active ones in Australia which is good. It’s hard to know for sure for the other countries though. As much as I want to consider everything while finalising these designs, I can only spend so much time and money on this now. I’ll have to revisit once the products are proven here, and I’m more serious about exporting.

Today, I also had a good chat with Manufacturer #3 which took forever to organise with them. I have a phone call with Manufacturer #4 (referral from a friend) tomorrow. I want to have a competitive process for selecting my manufacturer to ensure I get the best price and engineering team on board. This is especially important since I’m looking for a long term relationship with them, and the cost of stuffing up a design could cost me 5-figures for a new mould.

Intellectual Property

Everyone keeps reminding me that I need to protect my intellectual property (IP). So, today I spent a few hours looking at the patent process. I know I need to do this, but I’m constantly weighing the cost of protecting ideas and designs that haven’t resulted in a cent yet. Still, if I want to attract investors, I know that my company will be worth more if I have protected IP.

IP Australia has lots of great information on its website. They’ve suggested that the “application to a standard patent” process can cost about $12k per product just in Australia alone, but I’m not sure if that includes legal fees. Ouch! Afterwards, I still have to apply and pay separately for other countries.

Manufacturer #3 onboard

Finally received the signed NDA from Manufacturer #3. I was starting to give up, thinking that I was too small for them. I sent them the rough CAD design for Product #2 and asked for a phone call to discuss it further.

Received the first draft of my Product #3 design. Wow! This crazy idea is feeling more like a real business every day.

Handshake Deals

I’m looking for a manufacturer right now to make my products with recycled plastic.  The company I thought would be a great partner just turned me down.  Why?  Because I wanted them to sign a non-disclosure agreement.

They said that they never needed one before, and didn’t see the need for one now.  Of course, they have little to lose for refusing to sign it except for my small business offering.  I’m the one that has more at risk – my patent pending designs.

I admire the idea of a “gentleman’s handshake.”  Unfortunately, I have been burned before by such verbal agreements.  When things get hard as they sometimes do with any long-term relationship, it’s amazing how many people forget what was agreed to at the beginning.

It’s even happened when I did have a written agreement in place. Several times, I’ve had to go back through old emails and the contract itself to remind the other party what we had decided months or years before.

I don’t think that it’s necessarily most people’s intention to break a handshake or verbal agreement.  I just think that it’s easy to miscommunicate and/or to forget what might have been agreed to long ago.

At the beginning of my career, I was a Contracting (procurement) Officer for the US Air Force.  I was taught then that contracts were written, but ideally put aside afterwards and never referred to again.  These pieces of paper were merely a safety net in case there were any issues later.

Today, I still think it’s just good business practice to have such agreements in writing even if you fully trust the other person.  If anything, the agreement gives both parties more reason to trust because their intentions are clear, and it equally places the risk on both of them.

As for my manufacturing partner – the right one for me is out there and they’ll understand the need for such agreements.

Potential manufacturers

Signed the NDA with Manufacturer #1 and sent them a 4 page Word document with Product #1 functional and technical requirements.

A friend made an introduction for me with Manufacturer #2 – a company that I wanted to talk to for a while because I appreciated their work with recycled plastic. We’ll chat soon.