Most great life science inventions come straight from the bench. That also means that most great life science inventions come from career scientists, who are most often inexperienced in commercialization. There’s a host of things that you should think about before rushing to commercialize and many scientists turned first-time inventors often neglect one or more such issues. We’ll go over a few commonly skipped considerations so when you have the next great idea, you can properly vet it before you run to your patent attorney.
1) Be sure you own your IP!
There’s a good chance that great idea of yours may not belong to you (at least not totally). If you developed it at work or school, your institution may have a partial or full claim to your IP. Check your employment contract or other signed employment documentation. A similar issue: if you have a great idea that is essentially an improvement of another technology but is based on that other technology (in other words, your invention would require the existing technology in order to operate) you can claim rights to the improvement and file a patent, but will most likely be unable to commercialize it due to needing protected technology in order to do so.
2) Is your idea as good as you think it is?
It’s easy to get really excited about an idea for a new invention, but your emotions have to be tempered with reality and pragmatism. Is your idea really as good as you think it is? Understand the key differentiators of your technology. For example, would it be cheaper, faster, easier to use or would produce better results? What Ask some trusted friends and get some feedback or set up a survey using a free online survey tool (without giving away the idea!) and leverage social networks, forums, colleagues, professional networks, etc. Be sure others think your idea is a good one as well.
3) Is there a market for your invention?
Just because you need something doesn’t mean anyone else does. Would this product be used by a large enough market in order to justify pursuing it? This decision will need to be based primarily on three things: market size, price of the product, and cost to develop it. Ballparking at this stage is perfectly fine, but you want to be reasonably certain that your development costs would be far less than your total potential lifetime sales.
4) What would it cost to make / what would scientists be willing to pay?
This is a frequently overlooked issue early on. While without manufacturing experience or having worked in a manufacturing environment the cost of building a product can be difficult to quantify, you can think in terms of simplicity. Simple things are usually cheaper and easier to make than more complex things. If your invention would be approximately 20% better in a certain performance metric than the next best technology available but would be 100% more complex, think long and hard as to whether researchers would pay about twice as much for that 20% increase in performance.
Another small piece of advice for those innovative minds out there – don’t always think big. Some incredibly profitable yet relatively simple inventions have come in areas that were ignored for decades. Things slip under the radar all the time, and if no one else is thinking about a topic the lack of competition among innovators in that area can make commercialization much easier and improve your likelihood of success.