Thursday, January 26, 2012

Some Additional Thoughts on Commercialization -- Part 15 in our IP and Patents Series

This is the fifteenth in a planned 20-part series of articles on intellectual property.  In future posts, we will explore trademarks and copyrights.

In this posting, we will take a look at some additional things to consider during the commercialization process. 

In an earlier post, we noted that the commercialization process consists of the steps taken in the transition of an innovative technology or process from research to a competitive product or service.  These steps assume that there is a market for the product stemming from the technology and the resources are available to turn the technology into a product.  And, we noted that commercialization starts with an honest evaluation of the technology and the markets, followed by an evaluation of the steps that need to be taken to turn that intellectual property (IP) into a product. 

If all the numbers add up and everything look good, then the resource question needs to be addressed: do you have the money, the personnel, the facilities, the equipment, etc.?  Is the IP protected and, if not, can it be protected (or should it be protected; on rare occasions, it may make more sense to keep something as a trade secret rather than pursue a patent)?

Other questions to be asked include how long it will take to get the technology commercially ready, how the resulting product or service will be marketed, what the expected revenues and profits will be, and will it be worth the effort?

With the funding and resources secured, and with a plan in place, the commercialization activities can begin – thes einclude things like streamlining the production process, product testing and evaluation to maximize market reach, etc.

Typically, once the resources are in place, the process consists of developing the production plan (how will the production look – the steps to manufacturing the unit, design of the facility, etc.).  Once these are established, companies might produce alpha (α) units (i.e., the first version of a prototype), incorporate the needed changes to produce beta (ß) units (i.e., the first versions of how the item will look during production), followed by production units.

During all these phases, from IP protection to production, it is important to remember the following things:

Be passionately dispassionate – I know this doesn’t sound make a lot of sense on the face of it.  The balance one needs to maintain is very tough.  The inventor is almost always very passionate about the idea – he or she came up with it; it is their baby.   

It is almost like a religion – there is a lot of faith early on.  And this is important to the future success of the product.   Without the passion, the product likely would never have existed and the desire for someone to push it to commercialization simply wouldn’t be there.  There is a lot of faith and zeal involved, especially early on – the “believers” in the product are excited about the future success and what it means.  The belief is there that the product will bring about positive change.  Investors want to see that passion.  Potential customers want to see it as well.

But, if there is passion for an idea, but no market, then the idea of commercializing the idea likely should be abandoned.  Abandoning one’s faith is a very tough thing to do.  Left over believers become akin to followers of a false cult – they have their faith, but there is no rhyme or reason to their convictions. 

The market needs to be evaluated fully and properly.  It may be a terrific product but, if no one is going to buy it, why would a business pursue making it?

Make sure you have the resources – the number one reason for business failure is not that the idea was necessarily bad, but rather that the company ran out of money before it could attain positive cash flow.  There are a number of studies on this area and, while other factors certainly come into play, most businesses fail because they run out of money before they have a chance to succeed.

In addition, there may be technical, business, accounting or marketing expertise that may be lacking.  An honest assessment of your situation will point out the needs.  We have all worked with more than one person who felt he or she was an expert in areas where they were actually lacking.  There is no shame in admitting you need help in an area and getting it.

In future installments, we will discuss trademarks and copyrights.

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