The 'Invention' Design Process (download example PowerPoint here)

Inventors’ and engineers’ initial ideas rarely solve a problem. Instead, they try different ideas, learn from mistakes, and try again. The series of steps they use to arrive at a solution is called the design process. 

• What are some different ways to tackle one of today’s challenges?
• How creative can we be? Off-the-wall suggestions often spark GREAT ideas!

• Which brainstormed ideas are really possible, given our time, tools, and materials?
• Can we phrase it as an invention statement, such as “I will invent an x that does y”?

• What are some problems we’ll need to solve as we build our projects?
• What materials will you need to build your invention?

• Why is it a good idea to keep testing a design?
• What specific goal are you trying to achieve, and how will you know if you’ve been successful?

• What were the different steps you had to do to get your project to work the way you wanted?
• What do you think is the best feature of your invention? Why?
• What are some things our inventions have in common?
• If you had more time, how could you improve your invention?
Create an Invention.
People often have ideas for inventions that are quickly dismissed or overlooked, only to have someone else take advantage of a similar idea and make large sums of money. If you dream about becoming a famous inventor, take your idea one step further. Spend some time to determine if it would sell on the market and try your hand at building a prototype and obtaining a patent from the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

Instructions: (All the above with be presented in greater detail to the class starting Week Two, Term Three.)
    1. Come up with an idea for a new product. The invention can be created from scratch, or you can modify an existing product to work in a different way. For example, recycle materials in an innovative way, such as using plastic storage containers as light fixtures. In order to be patentable, the invention must satisfy the requirements of being novel and non-obvious, which means new and never seen before, and markedly different than the most similar invention. You cannot get a patent on an invention that uses a different color or size than a previous invention. This part of the process must be well documented. 

    2. Determine if there is a need for this product by finding out if similar products exist through market research. If you invented a type of cookware, research different types of cookware. Does a similar product perform the same type of function? Find out if there is an existing patent on your idea by searching the patent databases at the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

    3. Build a prototype. The prototype can be a crude mock-up, with little more than cardboard and duct-tape. The purpose of the prototype is to give marketers a visual representation to help them understand what the finished product would look like and how it would work. You should create the prototype yourself. You will also need to create a model using Inventor Fusion, Sculptrus, Sketchup or similar. 

    4. Patent the invention by filing an application with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. A thorough plan with detailed drawings must be included with the application that details of the purpose of the invention, how the invention works and how to build the invention. A private attorney can file the application for you, or you can file it on the patent office's website. Often, patent applications are rejected on the first try. If this happens, you or your attorney can appeal the rejection. (this, and the following, is not a necessary step, but is here if you are wishing to go any further)

    5. Manufacture the invention. After building a prototype and obtaining a patent, you may wish to try to earn money from it. If you have some start-up capital, you can try manufacturing and selling the invention yourself. Alternatively, you can try to market the invention to a third-party manufacturing company. Find out what companies might be interested in the invention and contact them directly, or hire a marketing professional to do the work for you. If you use a third party to manufacture the invention, be sure to secure a contract that gives you a royalty for each invention sold.

Ideas for inventions
Perform a Task
  • Perhaps the more well-known inventions are those that which perform an everyday task. You'll need to use your creativity to come up with something, but try to figure out how to perform a task in a different way than it is performed now. Figure out how to turn on your television from the couch without the remote. Or, create a new can-opener that is different from the one you have. Build a device to clean out your fish tank for you. Something that can be done in a different way can be a task invention.
Brand New Inventions
  • New inventions are also important. These are things that do something no one has ever seen before. Build a robot that can walk and talk that is different from the robots that you have already seen. Or, figure out how to do something completely different, such as turning on the lights in another room or moving furniture without having to carry it.
Experimental Inventions
  • You can also make inventions that are experiments. What happens to your pet birds if you build them a new feeder? Do they get happier, do they sing more, or do they act the same as usual? Create a radio system intended for plants, and then play music for the plants and see if they grow at a faster rate than plants that don't. If you both create something different and use it for an experiment, you can have a great invention project.
Research Inventions
  • Some inventions require you to research something from a long time ago, and then try to re-create it using what you have now. Try to re-create the light bulb that Thomas Edison made, or try to re-create the simple circuits that helped invent electricity. You can also research the first telephones and then try to rebuild one that works.

Kitchen Items
  • Kitchen gadgets and appliances are a handy place to look when exploring ideas for the next great invention. From a faster, less messy appliance for making pancakes to a newly improved method of storing foods, kitchen-related inventions can become big sellers. A Provisional Patent Application can be a less expensive way of protecting your invention while you seek a company that is interested in obtaining the rights to manufacture it. Later in the process, you will need to obtain a traditional patent on your product. Consult an attorney, preferably one that specializes in patent law.
Games and Toys
  • While game and toy ideas are plentiful, it isn't impossible to create a new game or toy that becomes the "next big thing." This is another area that you should take a serious look at when brainstorming for an invention. Unlike kitchen applications and the like, a game or toy invention cannot be patented unless it has moving parts that are themselves new and innovative in some way. However, as Jennifer Lawinski points out in "A Guide to What You Can (and Can't) Patent," you can obtain a trademark or copyright for original authorship or content. Just as a trademark protects characters and logos, you can apply for a copyright to cover text in your game.
Storage / Space Savers
  • An invention doesn't have to be a complicated gadget that requires an industrial engineer. Indeed, you can come up with a new storage system that helps save space in a bedroom closet or the garage. And the innovation does not have to be as much about the construction or design of the storage unit as the location you choose for it. In other words, try to find unused or under-used space where storage units can be added.
Exercise Equipment
  • One invention idea that has potential for success is a new piece of exercise equipment. With more and more people trying to balance busy schedules, a quick and "easy" way to stay in shape is in demand. This is especially true for space-saving, lightweight equipment that adjusts to hectic lifestyles. If your design requires moving components, find an industrial engineer -- or even a graduate student at a college -- to create a functional prototype.
  • Food inventions can be fun to think up if you have culinary interests. You can invent new ways of preparing foods or new tools for making food preparation easy. Another idea is to invent new recipes for foods. Next time you are cooking in the kitchen, take note of the things you are doing and how you could make them more convenient, and you might come up with a useful or yummy new invention.
  • If you have an eye for fashion, try catering your ideas toward this field. If you sew, invent a new type of article of clothing. For example, in the '80s leg warmers were a new thing and turned into a major fashion accessory. You could get more abstract and invent new prints to make clothing and accessories out of, or invent a new way to wear a clothing piece for a modern twist.
  • Toys are constantly being invented and sold. Kids will always want to have newer ones to enjoy. You can invent a new kind of sports toy or activity toy. An example of this would be the invention of the pogo stick. Other toy inventions can be board games, new video games, candy toys and different children's characters.
Household Products
  • Household products for convenience are another invention you can try. Try and think of things you do in your household that could be made easier in some way. For example, there are now mops available that dispense cleaner and don't require the old mop and bucket setup. Other than household cleaning, you could think up a new method of household storage or a new trend in household décor.