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                          INVENTIONS AND INVENTORS


        Inventors and inventions are the lifeblood of industry, and yet the obstacles that confront an inventor in attempting to get a new product on the market are formidable. This, of course, is not accidental, for it is in the hurly-burly of the marketplace that the worth of new ideas is tested. The old saying that 'if you invent a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to your door' is a manifest untruth. The patent office is filled with thousands of good ideas that never made it to the marketplace (along with thousands of really terrible ideas), simply because the owners of those ideas never pressed on past the patent stage, assuming that somehow the world would 'beat a path to their door'.

        We see many inventors who come to us because their inventions involve molded plastics. These inventors come in all stages and sorts, from the person with only an idea and a few paper sketches to the fully evolved design with CAD prints and beautifully made (and expensive) models. All of these share similar needs, however, and most have similar questions, so here are a few of the FAQ and answers. If you are an inventor, doubtless you will have other, more specific questions, and for these you may contact us directly by e-mail, snail mail or phone.


        How can you, an individual inventor, protect your invention from being 'ripped off' by someone else or by some company? And how can you protect yourself while explaining your idea to the company that you hope will manufacture your invention?

        The ultimate protection, of course, is the status of 'patent pending'. Note, that I did not say 'patented'. A patent protects a very specific device or process, set forth in the patent claims. Once the patent is granted, someone wishing to make a similar device or process can look at the patent claims and 'work around' those claims to avoid infringing on the patent. During the application or 'patent pending' phase, however, the application is kept secret, and a potential infringer is left in doubt as to what the extent or strength of the issued patent will be. Few persons or companies are willing to risk tens of thousands of dollars in tooling, advertising, marketing and production of an item that might result in lawsuits, penalties and royalties being paid to someone else. This means that the very best time to begin production on a new item is during the 'patent pending' phase. Of course, the run up to production, the time when final designs, engineering and tooling are produced occupy a significant time all by themselves, hence it is well that the manufacturer-to-be is consulted from the beginning.

        In order to protect the inventor's interests a Letter of Confidentiality or Confidentiality Agreement may be signed by both inventor and manufacturer. Better protection may be had during the development and engineering phases by means of a Disclosure Document, filed with the Patent Office. The filing costs $10, and establishes that you are working on the described idea (it is NOT a patent application- it just establishes a date, making you 'senior party' to later persons filing). The Patent Office returns to you a number to which you may later refer when filing for a patent. The Disclosure remains on file for two years.


        Always the big question, of course! The price of placing a new plastic product on the market is comprised of five factors. First, there is the cost of engineering. The engineering may be of two types, product design on the product itself, which consists of design or redesign of the product to minimize the cost of production, enhance ease of use or appearance; the other is the cost of designing the tooling - the equipment used to manufacture the product. The second portion of the engineering is usually included in the mold costs. Product engineering is usually charged as a separate cost. Mold costs, of course, involve the costs of producing the molds and tools needed in production. The third factor is the cost of actual production and, if needed, assembly of the plastic product. This may involve items from outside vendors, such as bolts, wire, "O" rings, etc. These are usually referred to as part prices, the cost of a finished article. The fourth factor is packaging costs. These costs include vendor packaging - what the final customer sees, overpack - the box in which a quantity of vendor packs are sent to the vendor, and skidding - the cost of a pallet and wrap for shipping one or more overpacks to the vendor. The final expense, of course is the cost of marketing, which includes advertising, stocking and shipping of the product. Surprising to some is the fact that in most cases, the marketing costs are the most expensive, and require the greatest capital outlay.


        Virtually nobody decides to come to market with a new product and says "well, no hurry, take as long as you wish"! Time is often of the essence when entering a new market. It seems that when a new idea comes up, suddenly lots of people have the same idea. This is often referred to as 'steam engine time' ; when the steam engine was invented no less than seven different independent inventors invented different versions of the steam engine within an eighteen month span of time!

        If there is little engineering to be done molds may be made rather rapidly - sometimes in a matter of a few weeks or two for simple items. Most often, however, the design and engineering, plus the actual cutting of metal for production tools takes a matter of several months, with some complex multi-part products taking up to half a year.

        Always be aware of the 'oh, my gosh' syndrome. Very  frequently the first time a completed product is at hand someone will say "Oh, my gosh, why didn't we do so - and - so?" There is something about holding a complete product in hand that seems to trigger the inventive instinct to improve on it. Isn't that what inventors do, after all? This can range from minor improvements (engraving a website or phone number is a favorite) to major design changes, and these all add to the time (and expense) to bring the product to market.


        Injection molds, in most cases are fungible - that is they can be run by any company or individual with an appropriate size molding machine and appropriate expertise. Once the molds are paid for, they are the property of the company or individual who ordered them. As a matter of convenience, the company running the molds usually stores them so that they may be ready for production at any time. Jigs, fixtures and assembly machines are generally paid for and owned by the production company and are not the property of the inventor, unless other financial arrangements have been made. If there are no liens (unpaid bills) the owners are  always free to remove their molds.


        The custom in the industry is for a 50% down payment on tools, with the remaining 50% payable upon production of approved samples. Most companies with reasonable credit histories can expect a 30 day account for parts. Individuals or some companies with insufficient credit background may be on C.O.D. for 2 or 3 cycles, until experience is acquired with them.


        No reputable molding company charges for quotations on parts or molds. These are provided free of charge and without obligation. Quotes are generally supplied within a week, and are good for 120 days, after which they will need to be requoted. This time period is placed on quotes because of the volatility of material prices, both of mold making materials and of plastic. Plastics are mostly petrochemical products - for a quick idea, look at gasoline prices; a pound of common engineering grade plastics generally equals the price of a gallon of gas!


        Contact us at DRAGONJWL@AOL.COM