We have been developing successful products for over 40 years and we offer our expertise to those who wish to develop new products or services.
All products will involve one or more of the following:
- Web site (with or without ecommerce to make online sales.)
We began as a software development company but we found that some projects required an electronics element to make it work. For example, our Wordcraft word processor was software only while a development from it, Typecraft, required electronics to link the software to digital typesetters. We developed the electronics.
Our DryFire product started as a hardware idea - something to move a beam of light to simulate the movement of a clay target. This then required electronics to control the movement, (with firmware within the simulator) and software to enable users to select targets and to see the result of each shot. That led to web development to make the world aware of the product and ecommerce to enable us to sell it to customers worldwide.
From idea to product
Having an idea and developing a new product is fantastic fun - we know, we have been doing it for years!
However, it is easy to get carried away, to become emotionally attached to an idea and to forget the realities of business. Never forget the most important question: "how will I sell it?"
Lack of careful thought and planning before you start puts you at risk of throwing good money at an idea that will never pay for itself.
Before you start
- Check the Internet - has anyone already had your idea? Is anyone already selling the sort of product you are thinking of? Check the patent databases to see if the idea has already been patented. Totally new products, with no market competition, are great - but very rare!
- If you think your product is unique, ask yourself: "why has no one else tried this before?" It may be too expensive to develop and manufacture. It may be impossible to sell.
- What need does your product meet? It is possible to generate need but it is much easier if the potential customer sees that your product will meet a real and current need.
- How will your product differentiate itself from others already on the market? What is its USP (Unique Selling Proposition)? "Ours will be cheaper" is not a realistic differentiator, it becomes a fight to the bottom on price and companies established in the market will drop their prices to kill your product.
- How will you sell the product? How will you reach the potential customer? It is absolutely vital that you answer these questions before you start development. You might as well not start at all if you don't have a clear marketing plan.
- Do you have the skills to develop the product? What skills will you require from outside?
- Do you have the financial strength to develop the product? Nothing ever comes in on budget so double any initial estimate you may have for development costs.
- Never sell your children or mortgage your home to fund your development.
If your idea is a good one you should be able to attract external financial support if you don't have the funds in-house. External funds will come at a cost, usually a share of your company, but better to have a smaller share than to lose your home and family. Look at back episodes of "Dragon's Den" - could you sell your idea to a Dragon? We are happy to be Dragons for you to test your ideas on.
Ideas can vary from "I've got this great idea for a new product!" to "We need a good website to sell our products."
Very often those with an idea or need don't know how to turn it into reality and they feel at the mercy of "the experts".
We know what this is like and, over the years, we have come up with a simple process to help and we have answers to the questions most people ask.
Step by step
- Talk to us - it costs nothing to chat it over: on the phone, by email or face-to-face. If we think your idea is rubbish, we will say so (with reasons). If we think it will be impossible to do at a realistic price we will say so. If we think it will be impossible to sell, we will say so.
- If we think the idea is a good one, or your need is realistic, we will outline how we can help.
- We will agree a price with you to develop a specification (the "spec") that clearly defines what the project is, what the outcome will be and what the cost will be. That is your only commitment - to pay for the spec to be drawn up.
- If you agree with the spec and the cost we will develop "milestones" - targets to be reached and paid for by certain dates.
- We will keep you informed of progress at all times - and you can ask as many questions as you like.
- You may decide to change the spec, you may wish to add things or take things out. This is known as "moving the goalposts" and, with you, we will revise the spec and let you know the cost implications.
Moving the goalposts costs money - so it is important that the spec is right in the first place.
Questions we are asked
We have tried to provide answers to most of the questions we are asked about product development but please contact us if you have one that is not covered here.
How much does it cost?
We can't say until we have spoken to you and agreed a fully costed specification. Drop us an email, give us a call, arrange to pop in for a chat - that costs nothing!
How do I keep things secret and get a patent?
The first question asked by anyone interested in buying your idea, or investing in it, will be:
"What Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs) do you have?"
We recommend watching a few episodes of the BBC's "Dragon's Den" programme to see the questions asked by potential investors.
- Non Disclosure Agreements (NDAs): never disclose your brilliant idea unless you have signed an NDA. The moment you tell someone, outside colleagues working on the idea with you, it becomes "public knowledge" and you will have lost the right to protect it. Wordcraft has signed NDAs with some of the world's largest companies.
- Copyright exists to protect "creative" works, normally in literary, musical or artistic form, but these days copyright also applies to software. You don't need to do anything to claim copyright if the work is your own - though it is best to attach the copyright symbol, ©, to any copy of the work along with your name and the year when it was produced.
- Trademark: this can apply to a product name, the way the name is written/drawn, a symbol or even a phrase. Applying for a trademark is simple and low cost - £170 in the UK if done online. You must ensure you register the mark in the correct "class" so the advice of a Patent Lawyer may be advisable.
- Registered Design: this applies to the way a product looks. This is also simple and low cost - £60 in the UK if done online. Again, the advice of a Patent Lawyer may be advisable.
This complex and very expensive path definitely requires the advice of a Patent Lawyer. All professions have a private language and that of patent law and patent applications is totally alien to outsiders. Using the wrong language, or putting a comma in the wrong place, can negate all your best efforts - so, get advice!
- Find out if your idea is new and original by doing a search of online UK, European and USA patents using as many different keywords as possible. A Patent Lawyer can arrange searches for you - for a fee.
- There is no such thing as a worldwide patent - you have to do it country by country and region by region. Lawyers make their income from complicated things and they will fight to the death to prevent a simple system being used worldwide.
- There is no "Patent Police Force" to enforce your patent if granted. You have to enforce it and that means very costly fees for lawyers' and courts - with no guarantee you will win because the other side may have very deep pockets and very good lawyers.
- The total cost of getting and maintaining a European patent, from application to grant, including professional fees, will probably be over £25,000. In the case of a complex patent this could rise to over £85,000.
Note: this is for Europe alone. Costs for the USA, Japan, China, Russia etc. could be of a similar order - for each country!
- The cost of defending a patent against someone who steals or copies your idea could be well over £100,000. How are you going to defend your patent in China? What are you going to do if the company you are fighting decides to close shop with no remaining assets?
- Obtaining a patent doesn't guarantee that you haven't breached someone else's IPRs somewhere in the world so you may have to defend yourself against claims made against you by others - with similar costs.
We have seen very large global companies buckle when accused of breaching someone's IPRs. It is often cheaper for them to pay a small per-unit licence fee, or make a one-off payment, than to fight it through the courts. There are the equivalent of "ambulance chasers" in the patent world, people who spend their lives making claims against large companies in the hope of being bought off. This is very common in the USA where legal costs can be astronomical.
Applying for, obtaining, maintaining and defending a patent is a money-pit - and, in many cases, the lawyers will be the only ones making money.
So, given the cost, why bother?
If you want external investment, or you want to sell your idea to another company for them to develop and exploit, you will need IPRs - or they will simply steal your idea.
The best advice is to keep your idea secret for as long as possible (subject to NDAs) while proving it will work.
Note: during this time you will have no protection if someone beats you to it and files a patent application before you do - you need to assess the likelihood of this happening - like everything in life, it's a risk.
You can then apply for a UK patent which, with lawyers fees and depending on complexity, will probably cost you between £2,000 and £5,000 to submit the application. This gives you a "filing date" and a breathing space of about a year before you have to go further.
The filing date applies worldwide but by the end of the breathing space you must have taken steps to move the application on in the countries you are interested in. This is the point where the fees start to go through the roof.
During the breathing space you are free to approach potential investors or companies who may buy or license your idea. This is the time to put all your effort into promoting and marketing your idea to get the funds required to move it forward - don't sit in your study or workshop making it look prettier - get out and market it - not to the public - to potential investors and licensees!
If you haven't secured investment, or found a licensee, within a year, you have to ask yourself: "is it worth continuing with the patent application?" The answer is probably: "no, don't waste the money."
How do I know it will work?
The spec defines the job and the outcome. The milestones define what must be done and by when.
Systems have to be tested and we do this as we go along. We will ask you to take part in the testing process as things develop.
All computer systems have bugs - it is the job of the testing process to find those bugs and it is our job to fix them as part of meeting the spec.
Our rule is pretty simple: if it doesn't work as it is supposed to work (according to the spec) we will fix it.
What about training, support, maintenance?
We can provide as much, or as little, training as you want - at an agreed price.
We will quote you for an annual support service so you can contact us at any time with questions or problems.
Things change in the computer world. Hardware becomes out of date, operating systems change, the world changes. These changes will have an impact on your products and services and we are here to help keep you up to date.
Who "owns" the product?
That has to be clearly defined in the contract between you and us.
In most cases the answer is the one you expect - you paid for it so you own it.
However, there may be cases where your costs can be considerably reduced if we are allowed to sell the same, or similar, product to other people. In this case we retain to the copyright in our software.
For example, we developed a variation of our word processor called "LaserFax". We developed different versions of this software for different office equipment manufacturers. In each case we signed an NDA to protect the commercial confidentiality of the manufacturer but we remained free to sell our software to others.
The choice is yours.
What software expertise do you have?
A lot - spread over more than 40 years!
We could provide you with a list of the dozens (hundreds?) of programming languages and systems we have used over the years - and we will be happy to do so if you give us a call. We could bore for England when it comes to technical stuff!
Languages and systems are the tools of our trade - we select the right ones for the job. Do you ask your joiner which brand of saw he uses, which chisel he prefers, what hammer he intends to use - or do you trust him to use the right tool for the job in hand?
What electronics expertise do you have?
We refer you to the previous answer!
We have worked with a wide range of processors (ARM, Atmel, PIC, etc) and a wide variety of different electronic sub-systems.
Define your requirement (we can help there) and we will recommend the best hardware for the job.
We can develop circuit diagrams and get prototype PCBs manufactured - we can even build them up in-house. We can recommend the best way to transition from development to production - we have done all that for our own products.
We know our limitations and, if your requirement is for something particularly obscure, we will recommend you to someone with expertise in that specific area.
What web development expertise do you have?
We refer you to the previous answer!
Web sites are a matter of personal taste - some people like lots of fancy pictures, others prefer to deliver a lot of in-depth information (like this one).
A web site for a restaurant or hotel will not be the same as one for a firm of accountants or lawyers.
With over 60% of web hits now coming from smartphones and tablets it is vital that any new site is "mobile friendly" - we can do this for you.
A web site that sells things will require an ecommerce system to make the purchasing process simple and quick for the customer.
We have experience in developing all sorts of web sites - chat to us, tell us what you are trying to achieve, show us examples of web sites you like - we can then discuss the best way forward and the likely costs.