People every day, whether in business or not, have bright ideas and make initial discoveries about new or improved products, services or processes. Generating ideas and being innovative are important contributors to success in business.
What qualifies as an innovation?
It starts with an original idea or discovery. Any original concept, new or improved device, product, material, business model, process or service can be considered an innovation. The true test of whether an innovation can become a business success is when:
- In the case of a new device, product or service, it becomes accepted by the marketplace, or
- In the case of a new business model or process improvement, the cost saving, efficiency gains or productivity improvement it achieves translates into a competitive advantage.
Why evaluate or assess an innovation?
Because only a very small number of innovations end up making money for their creators. Many factors can contribute to this low success rate, such as:
- the innovation is not technically feasible;
- there is little demand for the innovation;
- the development of the innovation has been poorly planned;
- it is unable to be produced at competitive prices;
- inadequate knowledge of the marketplace and competitors;
- inadequate management skill to commercialise the innovation.
So before you go and invest scarce, valuable resources, time and energy in the quest to get your innovation into the marketplace, there are some important steps you can take to determine whether the innovation is, or can become, a commercially feasible opportunity. This also happens to be the least costly aspect of taking a new innovation to market, one that can save you that second mortgage on the family home, or give you the clarity of the innovation’s potential that it has to be pursued.
Either way, by looking ahead, doing some planning and by getting good advice an early assessment of your innovation will give you the confidence to make an informed decision.
Is the innovation new?
The ability to fully exploit the potential of your new idea will be partly determined by the uniqueness of the intellectual property (IP) underpinning the innovation, that is, that you are the first to conceptualise this new innovation. A common starting point to confirm you are the first is to find out whether anybody else has already created the idea and protected it through IP registration, like patents, designs and trademark registrations. This is called a ‘prior art’ search.
You can search the ‘prior art’ by searching freely available online databases that contain millions of records of registered IP – patent databases, design and trademark registers, for example. You should start with Australian databases first, then progress through various international databases in countries you think your innovation will be successful.
If your search reveals that someone else has already created the innovation, and has protected it, this may be the end of the road for your idea, unless you can cleverly differentiate or distinguish your innovation from the one you have found. Beware, though, if you press ahead with the innovation and someone else has already protected it through IP registration you carry the real risk of infringing another’s IP rights, which carries financial and civil penalties. Seeking professional advice from an IP attorney will be critical at this point.
Otherwise, if you find that there is no prior art from your searches, then you have a very good chance of taking your innovation further by seeking formal registration. To support your application it will be useful to be able to clearly prove ownership and/or commercialisation rights of the IP, such as laboratory notes/working papers and employment contracts that show when and how the IP was developed, or assignment agreement, licensing agreement etc.