Opinion: The common-sense rules of invention

Have a great idea? Here’s how you can cash in

We’ve all had it happen – that epiphanic moment.

You know what I mean. When that big, booming, sassy idea for some kind of mind-blowing new product hits you like a jolt of 6 a.m. caffeine. You’re almost blinded with inspiration. You rush to take a few notes, maybe sketch a drawing or two.

But then what? What happens next for an inventor wishing to make his or her idea a reality?

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I asked Bruce Murison, the ex-Norteler-turned-inventor who a couple years ago patented and launched the now infamous We-Vibe couples’ sex toy. As has been well-documented, he dreamed up his idea around a decade ago and since then has been featured at the Academy Awards, in dozens of news articles and, just this month, at the Super Bowl.

But how did Mr. Murison – an engineer by trade – initially get his idea to market?

“The first thing an inventor should do is tell no one, until you’ve got proof that it’s your invention,” he told me, just days before he flew to Miami to distribute 200 of the happy contraptions to a crew of hyped-up football players and their wives.

“And the best way to do that is to file preliminary patent application,” he continued.

Mr. Murison, however, was in a good position already; as an engineer, he already had the skills to design and build several working prototypes. “But (they were) asymmetrical and not nearly close to perfect,” he said.

Enter Kevin Bailey and Design 1st, a local industrial design and product engineering firm which has churned out goods for several local businesses including Bel-Air Networks, GestureTek (for its motion-activated remote controls) and ProDrive Systems. 

Mr. Murison presented his then-top-secret idea to Mr. Bailey. A year or so and a whole lot of sweat later, We-Vibe was famous.

But the main ingredient, both men say, to successful product development isn’t silicon. It’s trust.

“Trust is everything in our new product development work, as the work isn’t usually defined in great detail when we start a program,” said Mr. Bailey. “Trust happens very quickly in some cases, and grows over a project in others.

“The process is based heavily on experience with the goal of finding new product value, configuring the product so it’s easy to use and has a compelling look that’s appropriate for the environment of use.”

Before discussing anything in detail, both parties sign a non-disclosure agreement. “We do the agreement right away so there’s a free exchange of information,” Mr. Bailey added. That’s the beginning of “phase one,” which entails a rigorous examination of all technical specifications and details of the product.

Then, discussions ramp up to what he calls “phase two”: concept development.

“And that’s where a lot of the creativity happens here,” he said, as potential looks and feels for the product are hammered out. Once that’s complete, the working model is machined and manufactured.

It’s a process to which Mr. Bailey said he’s grown accustomed. “I just met with a new inventor a few weeks back who’s now going through the process of deciding to trust in us,” he said. “He’s a local guy, runs a small moving company and has a great idea that’s revolutionary. He built a prototype and found us through word-of-mouth.” 

Sometimes the inventors don’t come back after the initial discussions, said Mr. Bailey – but not often. “(And) other times they try to go a lower cost route, then call back a year later are ready to proceed.”

After discussing the idea’s potential with Mr. Bailey and reviewing it with his business partners, however, Mr. Bailey said this latest client called back and is ready to begin.

It’s a familar situation Mr. Murison recalled fondly. “If you can find artists that can help interpret what (you’re) thinking, then it’s teamwork,” he said. “It’s a symbiotic relationship, and it’s important that you’re on the same wavelength.”

He added that We-Vibe has a couple of new products in the hopper, ready for launch by later this year.

But don’t try getting any details from Mr. Murison on his top-secret new offerings. Like any inventor, he’s playing his cards close to his chest on this one.

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