Navigator Insights

Product Development Issues

The next stage in commercialisation after ideation is the development of the product from the idea to the market stage. Product development is the process that takes that idea through a series of stages until the concept emerges at the end of the process as a completed product ready for the market.

At the development stage of the product life cycle, you must ensure that the idea will meet your potential customers’ expectations as well as design, resource and manufacturing requirements.  While planning for all the potential outcomes and risks in advance is essential, the process should be iterative – testing ideas, designs and such like against prospective customers, challenging your own assumptions about the product, how it might be used, what is important, and such like.   The main focus should be on working with a team of designers, manufacturers or product development experts in concert with a key group of prospective customers as a constant sounding board, to produce prototypes, test prototyped product, and source and price materials. New 3-D printing technology can provide for a cost effective way to rapidly prototype different versions of your product.

There are many different intellectual property issues which might be considered or created during the process of development which includes patents, trade marks, copyright and trade secrets.

One IP-related concern which should be kept top of mind in product development is the importance of confidentiality.  It is best to avoid public disclosure of new ideas until final decisions around patenting and other IP issues have been made, so as to not negatively impact the patentability or trade secret status of the new product or process.  International patent laws for example, in varying degrees from country to country, prohibit the valid patenting of inventions which have been disclosed to the public in advance of patent filing.   As well as the need for appropriately timed confidentiality around projects in the earlier development stages, if IP protection for a particular project relies in whole or in part on trade secret protection, it will be necessary to document and maintain long term confidentiality around the ideas or information in question.

It is highly recommended to consider using non-disclosure agreements to cover external product testing and other third party involvement in product development projects, to minimize the triggering of public disclosure timeframes and otherwise minimise the risk of third party misappropriation of your IP.

Most inventors or developers lack the full set of skills or resources that are required to do 100% of the product development work themselves, so they must engage third parties.  It is critical to be careful to use written contracts that explicitly deal with the issue of IP ownership to avoid unexpected consequences – the last thing a new venture needs is a question over the rightful ownership of the underlying IP.  In cases where a number of research partners are required to bring a product or technology to fruition, a joint development agreement should be drafted which clearly defines the relative contributions of all the parties involved, as well as where the resulting new intellectual property will be held.

Decisions will need to be made around whether to seek to intellectual property protection for one or more aspects of the new product, and when exactly that protection should be sought.  Filing a patent application sets in motion a timeline which is critical with few options for extension.  At the end of the timeline are some significant costs if you seek international patent protection, so it is important to match these costs with expected revenue or investment rounds in your budget timeline, to ensure smooth coordination of IP strategy with market entry.

Navigator Partner Simon Rowell has over 17 years of experience as a lawyer and patent attorney and established the Innovation Liberation Front to help protect entrepreneurial business to protect and commercialise innovation.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles /