Any Inventors Here?

July 30, 2018, 4:58 PM · Has anyone here ever successfully invented anything new? Especially violin-related?

We all know it's easy to come up with an idea, but the factor that separates the successful invention from the others is that you actually MADE it and refined it to a level that could be produced and used.


I have had ideas for years (I've been inventing things since I was a child) but am currently the closest that I've ever been to actually MAKING a good thing that could sell. But I'm finding that the closer I get to producing it - to making it into a product people could actually buy - the less encouraged I am to finishing. I think maybe I'm just afraid of finishing and no one actually wanting it, but the only way to figure that out is to *finish*. (I actually do this in all parts of my life - I'm really good at getting something 90% finished and leaving it there).

If you ever invented anything: how did you get past this phase? How did you have faith that people would actually want your product? Did it take you years to actually take it from an idea to a product or was the process fairly quick?

Replies (50)

July 30, 2018, 5:23 PM · Envision the final "product." Refine that "vision" as you learn more.
Aim all your work toward that final product.
Stop when you get there and go on to the next project.

I never invented any "thing," but this approach worked for me on all my paid work projects (mostly analytical) for 50 years.

July 30, 2018, 6:34 PM · I re-invent myself as a violinist every evening.
July 30, 2018, 7:12 PM · As far as I know, there is no patent that was incorporated to the violin in the last 400 years (oh, ok, patents are much newer than that!). There were many, none is being used now.

July 30, 2018, 8:11 PM · Hey Erik,

You seem like a younger version of myself;)

I've never brought anything to market either, but every expert I've read talks about finding a void or niche to fill. In other words you don't want to sell something people don't already want (unless you're Steve Jobs.) If you have an idea or product which solves a problem, makes life easier for people, you've got a 90% finished product, the rest being details and lots of hard work. If you've got a product, but don't know already whether people want it, you're actually probably at around 10%. Your next step is to go talk to people, create surveys, start a blog, conduct seminars and workshops, all the while compiling your mailing list. Your mailing list is your single most valuable direct marketing resource. The point of all this is not to convince people of your idea, but rather to listen to how people react, and discover what problems they're trying to solve, what they really want. Remember, customers who buy shovels aren't looking for a hand tool which moves dirt, they're after holes.

July 30, 2018, 8:27 PM · Well Jeewon, I wouldn't want to go into too much detail before I have a completed product, but the reason I have faith in this particular invention is because it's something people already use, but a better version of it.

I've been pretty disappointed by most violin accessories that have come on the market. Sometimes you get something that sounds good on paper, but is then poorly crafted because the maker didn't think out logistics and production. Or, you get something that is just one gimmick ahead of the last version, but really is just the same design. Or you get something that does everything, but ends up being an ugly contraption.

Basically, my idea is something I have wanted since I was in my teens, but has never been made in such as way as to be a solidly engineered creation that suits all needs.

It just doesn't seem that the people that design violin accessories really care about making a quality product that lasts. There are so many half-baked violin inventions out that that compromise on something, and I'm just constantly let down when I order a new one. And when someone does make something that just works well, it's stupidly expensive.

I have faith that at least SOME people will buy it, because I've watched the market and the trends in the violin world and I think this fills a particular need.

Marketing will be my biggest challenge. I could go wholesale through somewhere like Shar and then lots of people would see it and know about it, but that would cut into my profits immensely and since it's not a high-volume product it would be hard to make that work well for me.

So I'll probably end up selling direct and probably do ads through this website. Maybe I'll send a few free versions to some prominent posters here with the hopes that they'll post a review or at least mention what they thought of it.

I like the mailing list idea, as I hadn't thought of that yet. I need to get it finished, have a system for meeting the demand that MAY come (nothing worse than having a product that's too popular and then loses momentum because people are having to wait months to get it), and then get whatever patents might be applicable in place.


By the way, if anyone here would like to be a "tester" or "Reviewer" and get a free one once I actually MAKE it, please let me know! I think in the violin world, there's nothing more important than positive feedback for a new product.

July 30, 2018, 9:37 PM · You need to understand patent law before you do any public disclosure of the product. They are expensive, especially if you are trying to cover more than the US. And you have a limited time with respect to the date of first public disclosure of the device.

I designed a violin shoulder rest with a number of new features - www.vsr.ravitz.us . I couldn't justify paying for utility patents and decided to limit my production to making parts on a 3D printer and hand assembling them. (3D printers are wonderful for development, not so great for production.) If I had spent money on patents, I would have needed to spend even more when I made major improvements to the design a year later. Having satisfied my engineering goals (the fun part of the project) and having a finished product that works well, I am satisfied selling in small quantities direct to end users via eBay. If sales take off and I spend money on manufacturing, I won't have any patent protection.

Edited: July 30, 2018, 10:47 PM · Erik, you don't have to reveal anything while you do market research.

Sure you can make a prototype, or 2 or 3 (which as Cary suggests is easier now with 3D printers, but you're probably still looking at forking out at least a few thousand dollars,) and get feed back on your product from a few people, and still have no idea if it will sell.

Or you can go out and see what struggles real people actually have and see if there seems to be enough demand to make your prototype. You're looking for the intersection of people's problems and the solution you can provide. E.g. if it's a shoulder rest, go out and give a free workshop on body alignment, get people to bring what they already use and observe their struggles. Give a few tips about how to move with their existing apparatus, and you don't even have to reveal your product at this stage. You just give them a nice little booklet, point them to some videos you've made and a blog, and collect their email. Do this type of research until you're satisfied you have a solution for a significant group of people. In this way you find out exactly who your customers are and where you can find them.

From what I understand, it's notoriously difficult to create a market with better versions of a thing without a) a paradigm shift in the market (e.g. a whole demographic of people entering the study of Western Music with a body type which benefits from a shoulder rest.) If you've noticed something shifting (e.g. greater concern for ergonomics, preventing pain and injury in the market) that you have a solution for, then you may be onto something. Or b) without creating a niche within the existing market (e.g. luxury version, low cost version,) but it has to be something that's obvious. If you have to explain why something is better, forget it.

Either way, you have to be first in the mind of the prospect. In shoulder rests I would guess #1 is Kun, and #2 is Wolf. You know you've made it if your brand replaces the generic name for the product: https://mentalfloss.com/article/56667/41-brand-names-people-use-generic-terms

Check out:
https://www.amazon.com/22-Immutable-Laws-Marketing-Violate/dp/0887306667

https://www.amazon.com/Guerilla-Marketing-Inexpensive-Strategies-Business/dp/0618785914/ref=sr_1_4?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1533007901&sr=1-4&keywords=guerilla+marketing&dpID=51sf%252BZMON2L&preST=_SY291_BO1,204,203,200_QL40_&dpSrc=srch

Edit: from that brand name list, you can see how branding and trademarks are more important than patents for you (which are very expensive--10K+--and provide very little protection for the little guy; there's a thing called a provisional patent you can get for a few hundred dollars which lasts a year, but if you don't file a proper patent then you lose that priority date at which you filed the provisional, or something. Lawyers=$$$$)

July 30, 2018, 11:30 PM · Jeewon, great points. I, too, have been thinking about the power of branding and that if you're the FIRST to do a specific design, people will tend to have brand loyalty just because you were the first brand to do that design, even if there are copy cats afterwards and you don't have a patent.

Also great points from Cary (cool design, by the way! I think I might recommend that rest to some students).

Based on what I'm hearing, I'm better off focusing on just making a great product and having it speak for itself, rather than trying to get a patent to prevent others from making the same thing. That was actually my original plan and then people started telling me I should patent my ideas.


I should also add: I'm not trying to take a big chunk of the market. I'm just trying to make something excellent that has enough demand to keep me busy making them (from wood by hand, and later on a cheaper plastic version if enough people express interest in that). If the demand ends up being overwhelming then I'll be happy to scale up production, but until that happens it'll be more of a built-to-order type of thing.


Regarding having to "explain why something is better," I'm not sure I totally agree.

Personally, I like it when a new product has some explanation behind it, especially in a logical fashion (and not in an emotionally heuristic way, like the string manufacturers tend to do). I do plan on explaining why/how the product works. With that said, my intention is to make it elegant and aesthetically pleasing enough for it to "speak for itself" without too much unnecessary description.

My product will be fairly expensive, and so I feel like the people buying it won't be "impulse buyers" in the sense of them just buying it because it has a catchy idea behind it. They will need to know how it's made, what it's made from, and what it's capable of.

I'll definitely be making a lot of videos explaining how to use it, which will double as marketing and show what it's capable of.


One thing I love about the violin accessories market is because it's so niche, you can have a specialty product, made in small batches, that still sells well enough to keep you afloat financially, without having to really compete against the "big names" in the industry. With shoulder rests, for example, Kun isn't really concerned enough about someone small coming along and making a specialty shoulder rest, because they're not really going to sell any less of theirs as a result.

July 30, 2018, 11:59 PM · To be first in the market is a great advantage, but useless without being first in the mind of the customer.

It's not enough to create a 'great product,' you have to provide a solution to a problem your customers are having. In other words you won't know whether you have a great product without meeting your customers, and knowing who they are and what solutions they want.

But I know nothing. These are not my points. Take it from the guys who are consulted on this stuff for a living: Levinson, Ries, and Trout.

July 31, 2018, 12:12 AM · Hi, Erik. Do your “testers” or “reviewers” need to be advanced or intermediate violinists? Or can a beginner help you out as well?
July 31, 2018, 2:03 AM · Inventing is part of my job and there are a few patents out there with my name on it. They are typically small parts of bigger industrial machines in a competitive market, so my experience will not map completely to your circumstances.

But: if your product is actually useful, knockoffs may be mass-produced for prices that you can't compete with. You need patent protection. Filing a patent application can be done without a patent attorney, although there are similarities with learning violin without a teacher (you could make mistakes that are hard to undo later on). Find the book "Patent it Yourself" by Pressman. That book is aimed at people like you, who are trying to turn an idea into a successful product, including pros and cons of letting another company deal with marketing.

If you file a provisional patent application today ($75 for a 'micro entity'), you still have 12 months to prepare a "final" application, but you can start disclosing your idea tomorrow and still have benefits of patent protection later on. Note that your filings would become public 18 months from now. A US patent is not that expensive during the first few years, especially for a "micro entity" like you.

If you outsource development, production, and marketing, your royalties would be a few percent of the consumer price. That may feel unfair, but it is actually in proportion to the costs and risks that are involved. It really is a lot of work.

July 31, 2018, 2:51 AM · Aika, unfortunately it probably wouldn't do much good for a beginner to review my product because they wouldn't necessarily have the perspective and experience with other similar products to be able to tell how good or bad it was. I suppose it might be equivalent to giving a beginner a very good violin when they haven't had a chance to gain perspective on lower level violins yet for comparison. I will probably do any "beginner testing" with my own students to see how it works with a broad range of different body types. But, in terms of reviews, the more advanced the testers are, the better. I think it also helps that the opinions of more advanced players are respected much more in general, and that the wood version of my product would be expensive and geared towards advanced players anyways (beginners definitely would NOT purchase it until I made the plastic version, and even that would probably be more money than beginners would typically pay).


Han: I think you've turned me around on the patent thing. I can use those 12 months to see if there's enough demand in the market to validate the cost of a "real" patent, and then progress from there. I certainly should be able to tell if people want to buy it within 12 months of releasing the product. I think it's a solid idea, so it would indeed be a shame if someone just started pumping them out for cheaper by outsourcing.

Edited: July 31, 2018, 7:46 AM · I don't know if this counts in the context, but I own a couple of patents (and several trademarks) myself. The difference is that I never tried to profit from them directly, but rather to incorporate the patented items into the products I make to make the latter better.

Considering how much it costs to patent something on a global basis, in the limited market offered by the classical music field a patent for a stand-alone product (say, a mute, a shoulder rest, a music stand, etc.) is rarely profitable.

Not to mention, as mentioned by others, slightly modified "knock-offs" can invalidate your effort, and a lawyer to defend your patent legally costs usually upwards of $400/hour.

July 31, 2018, 5:57 AM · My main point re. patents is that it's kinda low priority right now, at this stage, when you've done no market research. As a business of one, your main job is finding your market, not design, prototyping, manufacturing, intellectual property protection, accounting, etc. Of course those are all essential things you will have to learn to run your business, but also all things you can outsource. Finding your market is your business, and no one can do that for you. Of course if your design is innovative you must protect it. But even with a patent if Pirastro or Thomastik decided to steal your design there is literally nothing you could do about it because you have no resources to fight it in court.

If you've got something really innovative and you can show demand and figure out costs and profit margin etc., you could try licencing it to a big company. That approach seems to have really grown for inventors since I first heard about it 10 years ago.

Edited: July 31, 2018, 7:40 AM · Jeewon, if you really have something innovative and present it with a business plan to a big company, you run the real risk of them stealing (or underpaying) the whole thing and then saying "sue us".

Lots of examples out there: Laszlo Biro (ballpoint pen), Erno Rubik (famous cube), John Hetrick (automotive airbags)...

July 31, 2018, 7:18 AM ·

When you invented something you also need to invent inferior variations as part of the same patent so it becomes harder to steal.
You can also sell things without a patent and instead concentrate on getting it to market First and to the sellers first at one time, since China or others are going to steal it anyway.

I've invented things, but I don't have the ability to get them to market it's a skill I don't possess. A lot of Teslas out there I guess...

Edited: July 31, 2018, 7:47 AM · Charles, one trick is to describe the object itself as vaguely as possible in the patent filing, in fact the vaguest you can get away with. No CAD design; pencil drawings with smudges, that sort of stuff. I'm not kidding.

The more precise the description is, the easier it is for someone to tweak a detail somewhere and call it different and therefore their own.

Edited: July 31, 2018, 9:52 AM · As you noted, the idea is the easy part. Slightly less easy is building a functioning prototype. Next is building a manufacturing prototype, and figuring out what getting it manufactured is going to cost. (The reason why so many objects are suboptimal is because the optimizations frequently cost more than consumers are willing to pay.)

Manufacturing tends to be the graveyard of small product start-ups, as any number of Kickstarters et.al. can attest to. That's especially true for anything with a complex design. If you can make it in your garage and you expect only enough orders for hobby manufacturing, you just need to make sure that what you charge for it seems worth your time. (On a per-hour basis, it should probably be worth more than your teaching time, I imagine.) If you're expecting to produce these at a rate that exceeds what you personally want to make, then you'll need to investigate third-party manufacturing. That tends to be expensive as you go back and forth with prototypes and figure out what the manufacturer can actually make in a quality way.

Once you're beyond the hobbyist production stage, that's a good time for a Kickstarter or the like to raise funds to make some inventory (a manufacturer wants an order in quantity, not one-offs). You'll need a solid business plan at that point -- including ongoing support of the product, a way to replace defective models (you have to hold back enough inventory to have spares and whatnot), sales to retailers, etc. And it's a good idea to apply for a patent, but keep in mind that unless you have the resources for a drawn-out court battle against a well-resourced company, a patent is functionally useless for protecting your business. (And even if you win a court battle, some company may cheerfully violate your patent for years.)

Remember, too, that the profit doesn't go straight into your pocket. If you hope to keep this product in the market, you need to keep enough cash on hand to fund the next manufacturing run in the future. And you have to set aside funds for marketing, put aside money for taxes and an accountant to do them, and so forth. Don't forget that your time is worth money, too -- time you spend running the business is time that you are not teaching and whatnot.

Note that there's only "brand loyalty" if consumers are aware that this thing is yours. It's entirely possible that you invent something but don't have the ability to really bring it to market at a scale, "big" company rips off the idea and makes a big splash in the market, and consumers end up thinking of you as having built a knock-off. (In the violin accessory space, the "big" companies are basically still pretty small businesses from an absolute revenue perspective.)

So your next step is really still very early in the business creation stage -- building and testing prototypes with users. I'd suggest continuing to work on that until you get something that people are satisfied with, and then you'll have an initial cost basis with which to figure out if it's something people are willing to pay for.

July 31, 2018, 9:17 AM · ...and never forget the Golden Rule: your enthusiasm will ALWAYS bring you to underestimate the costs and overestimate the revenue!
Edited: July 31, 2018, 12:13 PM · I invented an electric version of the historical clavichord featuring solid soundboard, steel strings and humbucking pickups; I also invented a kind of electric guitar based on violin design where the bass side had a hollow resonator cavity centred under the bass bridge foot and the treble side was solid. Neither idea was patentable.

electric clavichord

July 31, 2018, 2:16 PM · Regarding costs: you'll need to plan the market research, first disclosure of the idea (to potential customers and manufacturers), and the provisional filing such that you postpone the higher patent fees further down the road as long as possible. Over the first five years (starting from the provisional filing), the fees add up to about USD 700. If you hire a pattent attorney rather than DIY, they will bill you for another USD 6000 or so on top of that.

As mentioned/implied, a patent is essentially a right to sue infringers. Since you probably won't be able to sue outside the US, it won't make much sense to patent outside the US. Moreover, the fees will build up really fast if you choose to apply in multiple countries.

July 31, 2018, 2:34 PM · I thought the law was changed so you can no longer do the patent search DIY and have to hire an attorney.
July 31, 2018, 3:28 PM · Han: Yeah, I think I would limit my patent (if I ended up getting one) to the USA only. I'm assuming that's where most of my sales would be, anyways.

Lydia: my idea is definitely made to be something that I can handcraft in my garage/workshop, and then build a less expensive "production" plastic version later down the road if the demand seems to be there. I have also already planned how I would do a mid-scale production with the idea in case there's more demand than I can supply alone through handcrafting, but not so much demand that I could validate outsourcing the work or hiring employees.

To be honest, I wasn't thinking of this idea as something that would change my career and lead to big $$$ as much as something that some people would buy, and would act as a supplement to my primary income (teaching). Even if I make, say, $10,000 extra a year making it, I'd already feel successful! Actually, even if I sold just one product, I'd feel pretty good.

Also great points from Dimitri regarding making the patent as vague as possible. I had thought of that as well, but wasn't sure if it was a valid strategy or not.


Lastly, even if my idea got stolen, I'd still view it as a success, and I imagine I'd still get enough demand from my handmade wood version to be happy. Violinists - including me - seem to like handcrafted, quality things, and will often choose them over the cheaper knockoffs because of that.

I'm most worried about the part that I'm least familiar with: *telling* people about my product so they even know it exists! For my teaching business, I've always relied on online reviews and a well-rated website, but I'm not sure that'll be enough for an invention.

July 31, 2018, 6:25 PM · You might consider protection via trademark. Get a catchy trademark and work to associate it with the high quality version of your product via advertising. Then competitors will be able to copy your product, but not your name.

July 31, 2018, 7:08 PM · Eric, we live in a day and age that makes doing what you want to do so much easier than in years past. Creating prototypes, production, selling, shipping, exposure, and getting paid can be accomplished mostly with your own efforts and abilities.

I started an online store a few years ago as a spin off from my regular business. It took a bit of time and learning, but I did nearly all the work myself so I knew how everything worked and to maximize my profit. I have things set up so all I have to do is put the item in a box, print the shipping label, and hand the box to the post person. And get to work on the next batch. I can get an item out the door in minutes. The money appears in my bank account and life is good.

Some of the products I make, since I am an experienced machinist, and others I have made depending on available time, demand, and processes. Initially I made most of the items but has demand grew I found small companies willing to help. I recommend using companies in your region as much as possible. I have seen boat loads of incorrectly made items come in from overseas leaving the buyer with loads of expensive junk with no means to get their money back. Sell some of your items whole sale to larger companies, but do not allow a larger company to have any control over you or your product. I had to learn that one the hard way. Also avoid partners and investors. Start small, nurture it along, and allow it to develop with as little risk as possible and utilizing your own efforts as much as possible.

Getting the word out is also easy these days. Forums, YouTube, Facebook, google, and the like are there waiting for you.

July 31, 2018, 7:15 PM · I was a British patent attorney for the greater part of my working life, retired 20 years ago and have had no contact with the profession since. Because of the many changes in law and practice that have doubtless taken place in that 20 year period I cannot give specific advice except to comment generally on two fundamental points which I would always draw to the attention of a new client at a first meeting.

The points are the novelty and unobviousness requirements that together are essential for a valid patent. “Novelty” means that an invention has to be new in the sense that it has never been known, used or published in any form anywhere at any time before the patent application is filed. It follows that the inventor must be very careful to keep his invention strictly under wraps until the patent application has been filed, otherwise the validity of a subsequent patent is likely to be compromised.

“Unobviousness” is a more difficult concept. Simply put, it means that the invention would not be obvious to the notional “man skilled in the art” in the light of what was already known – in other words we're looking for that “Aha!” moment when the spark of invention makes its presence felt.

July 31, 2018, 7:31 PM · My father patented one of the early stackable music stands/desks. The only other inventions of his I can remember weren't patented, e.g., the rucksack-type harness with a foam-rubber sheet to protect my back, which I wore when cycling with the violin to school and the baskets on the sides of his bicycle that he used for transporting instruments from and to schools (before he passed his driving test).
July 31, 2018, 7:36 PM · I actually invented a totally new kind of semi hollow body guitar, but I was told it was unpatentable because previous patents had covered any variation of hollow body design, even ones that had never been thought of or tried before, like mine.
July 31, 2018, 7:38 PM · Now of course they may have been lying to me and going to patent it themselves, I have seen similar designs since on the market.
August 1, 2018, 1:01 AM · Good to know, Trevor! But I can't get over how arbitrary the criteria for a valid patent sounds. In a sense, I feel like my invention is super "obvious" so I'm pretty baffled why no one has done it yet. And yet, no one has! It serves the same PURPOSE as other things, but does so in a way that is novel. So, I don't know.

Luckily, even if I can't get a patent I'm still gonna build them and sell them.


From all the posts so far, I'm definitely getting a broader idea of the challenges involved as well as some great ideas on how to market it when the time comes. Believe it or not, I hadn't actually thought of social media, but it makes perfect sense! I just didn't think that a page for an accessory would make sense, but thinking about it, tons of those already exist and there's probably a good reason for it. I guess having a "following" for a product is already a huge part of marketing.


Timothy, it's good to hear a success story of sorts! I tend to be a bit pessimistic about projects going into them (I feel like having a background in violin will do that to a person). I definitely plan on doing all of the work myself, because that is always how I've done things, and it's a great way of keeping the profit margins good in a situation where a product is a low-volume (specialty) seller.

Cary, I've been thinking about getting a "catchy" name but I'm torn between something that's clever and catchy vs something that is professional and formal sounding (since my product is more geared towards people willing to pay good money for something). I'll have to think on that one a bit more. Out of curiosity, - and if you don't mind answering - have you found your personal invention to be a "success" in your own terms? I always wonder about products like yours when I see them on occasion, and I wonder if the violin market is big enough for someone manufacturing out of a garage/workshop to actually make a decent living making their product. Or, maybe it's like some situations where you might get lucky if you sell a dozen in a year's time. I know this question is a bit personal since it involves your income, so feel not to answer, but it definitely piques my interest.

Edited: August 1, 2018, 3:10 AM · Hi Erik,

A topic near and dear to my heart!

I have invented, and just recently was allowed a patent on an aid to attaining a relaxed and functional left hand position for violin.

patent US9899012B2

The idea was first conceived of back in 2013. I spent quite a while refining the idea into something that actually helped, was functional, and comfortable to use.

Since it was a unique device I decided to pursue getting a patent for it.

Getting a patent is not easy! It requires a very competent patent attorney. It also requires a great deal of input from you, the inventor, to be able to fully express the design, intent, important aspects, etc, etc etc. to the attorney to allow him/her to best craft a strong patent application. It also requires a fair bit on $$$$ to pay said attorney.

And your patent application WILL BE REJECTED after you file it. At least that's how it will go 99% of the time. You will then have to pay your attorney more $$$ to argue how your patent is different than the ones the patent office says already contain your idea. By the way---get a prior art search done first, before ANY of this, to save yourself a lot of heartache, it may be a non-starter if prior art exists. Just because you don't see something out in the marketplace doesn't mean that there isn't some patent already out there for something that never made it to the marketplace for whatever reason.

Anyhow, there are pros and cons to getting patent protection for an invention, as others have outlined above. I can certainly highly recommend a great patent attorney if you want to contact me via PM.

Marketing.....yeah, I'm still working on that angle myself. A website is a good start.

www.wonderthumb.com

Conferences are also a great place to get exposure to a targeted audience.

I also have been fortunate enough that Johnson Strings just began carrying my Wonderthumb

Wonderthumb at Johnson Strings

Pics don't seem to be up as of yet, they just picked it up, as I said.

Good luck! It's a fascinating journey; exciting, difficult, exhilarating, frustrating, inspiring, educational....who knows where you may end up!

August 1, 2018, 3:08 AM · The concept of "obviousness" is vague. However, if you have identified a long-existing problem that basically all advanced violinists have had to work around and your invention solves it in a way that is, in hindsight, "oh, of course" (with substantial advantages above the preexisting solutions), that would probably qualify as unobvious. Moreover, it seems that the bar for unobviousness at the USPTO is not very high, these days.

The hard part is 'novelty' in my experience. The patent examiners at USPTO are suprisingly skillful in digging up publications (usually preexisting patents) that appear to have covered your invention, as Lyndon apparently found out. Someone may have had a patent claiming:

A device for creating acoustic vibrations in air, comprising between two and twenty strings, an acoustic coupler connecting the strings with a wall of a first cavity, and a second cavity, whereby the second cavity is substiantially closed and whereby the first cavity has an aperture connecting the volume inside the first cavity to the ambient air.

And this would cover any string insrument with something like a bridge ("acoustic coupler") and two or more resonant cavities, including the one that Lyndon had invented. The part up to "wall of a first cavity" covers preexisting instruments. Now, if my employer wants to patent something without colliding with such prior art, the patent attorneys will usually figure out a way to phrase the claim such to avoid collision with such prior art. If the preexisting patent has expired, you could work around it by stating one particular detail of your version, for example "...whereby the second cavity is L-shaped" and spend a couple of paragraphs explaining why an L shape is such a good thing that no one had thought of. (The downside is that a competitor could then manufacture one with an H-shaped cavity and not infringe on your patent.)

The book "Patent it Yourself" by Pressman does a good job explaining these things.

August 1, 2018, 3:41 AM · "I thought the law was changed so you can no longer do the patent search DIY and have to hire an attorney."

Searching a patent you can do here: https://www.google.com/patents or on the less user-friendly websites of USPTO and EPO.

USPTO has information pages on submitting patents on your own: Pro se assistance program.

Your first patent will probably be stronger if you hire a patent attorney. But if I had an invention not related to my job that I wanted to patent, I'd probably go the DIY route. I have reviewed too many patent-application drafts of my own inventions where the expensive attorneys had misunderstood something and wrote down nonsense or wrote claims that missed the point or could be trivially bypassed by a competitor. I might hire an attorney by the time the USPTO comes back with feedback (like "not novel because it looks similar to something preexisting"), but by then we could be three years down the road from the provisional filing and I'll have an idea of whether it's worth the additional expenses.

Edited: August 1, 2018, 5:01 AM · Cary, unfortunately trademarking doesn't work either. I routinely receive orders for Musilia cases; there is even a Musacia Levitas out there (we make the Musafia Lievissima). Riboni has been "translated" to Rebons.

My compliments to the imagination of these wonderful people.

Edited: August 1, 2018, 6:35 AM · But despite knockoffs I would guess Musafia has the corner on the high-end case market, wouldn't you say Dimitri? Quality. Safety. Luxury. Standard. Hence the knockoffs. And I would also guess Musafia gained mind-share after the end of Gordge, a disruption in the market.
August 1, 2018, 6:39 AM · Jeewon, I just try to do my job as best I can, and whatever happens, will.
August 1, 2018, 6:57 AM · Well whether it was by design, or an impeccable sense of timing, Musafia is a great example of the power of branding. Some company could make an exact knockoff but without the exact name no customer would mistake the two brands. No amount of explanation would convince me the knockoff was as good as the original. And that's not because Dmitri has convinced me of the superiority of his products. It's simply that there is one "slot" in my brain for best violin case, and somehow, Musafia has filled it (and I'm guessing the same is true for the majority of the market.) And for whatever reason no company is going to copy the brand name verbatim, nor would they be allowed to keep it for long if they tried.
Edited: August 1, 2018, 9:47 AM · Craig First, "... your patent application WILL BE REJECTED after you file it".

This is a normal part of the process. It usually arises because the attorney initially drafts the main claim as wide as he dare without knowingly straying into the prior art area. The patent office examiner, who is often an expert in the particular field, is in a position to reject the application on the basis of prior art he already knows or can easily access through the patent office's search system. This gets back to the attorney who then, after due consultation with his client (at the usual hourly rate!) reduces the scope of the main claim, usually by incorporating the restrictions of a subsidiary claim. This process may be repeated a second time, resulting in a further claim restriction, but rarely more in my experience. The examiner may also raise objections regarding ambiguity or other issues (e.g a claim in a chemical invention having no experimental evidence in the text to support it). In the more difficult cases a face-to-face meeting with the examiner can sometimes work wonders, and and you find that they are human after all!

The aim of the exercise is to get a breadth of the main claim that protects the client's invention, does not impinge on prior art, and, importantly, is not so narrow that someone else can skip round it. If the claim is initially drafted too narrowly then it can be difficult, and a little embarrassing, to widen the scope. You can see that there are fine lines to be drawn in the art of claim drafting.

All the above is from the point of view of a long-retired British/European patent attorney. My overseas applications, such as in the USA, were filed and prosecuted by local attorneys, who would always consult with us before doing anything out of the ordinary.

August 1, 2018, 9:21 AM · Trevor-
Yes, thanks for the explanation. I just wanted to make Erik aware of some of the things that happen that are “normal” for the process, but may come as a surprise for someone new to the process
August 1, 2018, 10:50 AM · I think a lot of this discussion is premature until you have a working prototype, have done some testing with potential users, and come to an expected initial steady-state with regard to the time, materials, and cost needed to manufacture a production model in your garage. That will tell you whether or not you have something that can be profitably pursued.

The patent is the least of your concerns. Ditto the branding and trademarks. As a small business owner, you should expect that you will not have the wherewithal to actually fight anyone who violates your patent, whether that's a big business doing a version of their own, or a Chinese company manufacturing a cheap knock-off. (Or your contract manufacturer doing illicit runs of your actual product!)

Edited: August 1, 2018, 11:14 AM · Lydia, the testing with potential users before filing a provisional patent application is a problem because a public disclosure before filing will prevent you from ever getting a patent.

In theory, you could make every test user sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA), but with a violin gadget you can't really expect that the users hide the gadget from sight whenever anyone else is around. If just one person breaches the NDA, it will count as a public disclosure. Alternatively, you'd have to ask the users to come to your office and try it out there, which will cost you and them a lot more time (not to mention all the coffee and travel reimbursements).

That's what the provisional filing is for. If it's just to cover yourself from the problem of (accidental) public disclosure, it does not strictly need to be written like a patent application; that would only be necessary to protect yourself against a competitor filing a patent.

Edited: August 1, 2018, 11:56 AM · Ditto the prototype.

I think everything's premature until you've done the market research to see what problems people are having, who they are (demographic, pro/amateur/student), where they hang out and how you can reach them, who makes decisions for them (parent, teacher, luthier, salesperson) and whether your solution will be immediately apprehended by them. And then spend a year listening to them, as you do other research (cost analyis--your time is a cost by the way, sourcing material, manufacture, learning marketing, etc.)

I can immediately see in the Ravitz rest (cool design by the way Cary!) that the curve of the rest is completely adjustable in the way it moves side to side, a feature no other rest offers, and so allows the user to position the fiddle anywhere, left to right, relative to the shoulder. But I can see the potential benefit in that because I've spent a lifetime trying to understand and teach how to setup the instrument relative to body proportions and playing style. But how many prospects will grasp the importance of such a feature, and how many will be able to make use of it to effect change in their playing setup? Who can make use of this unique design and help make it sell itself? The dispassionate answers to these kinds of questions are what you need to help take you to the next step, or quit before you sink a lot of time/money.

August 1, 2018, 1:42 PM · Erik - Re: success of my shoulder rest

As an engineering and learning project, very successful.

As a manufacturing project, I don't want to spend the time on it, still making them one at a time, but I have improved things.

As a sales project, after nine months, no advertising - just a web page and an ebay listing, 25 sales and picking up. If it gets much better, I may have to limit sales.

As a money making project - I have a long way to go to cover my startup costs and my personal time.


Re: trademarks style. How about a classy name for the wooden version and a catchy name for a cheaper version?


I think Jeewon is right about branding. And it has the advantage and less time pressure.

Dimitri - yes people can imitate a trademark, but a lot of people are aware of and reject imitators. Imitation of a trademark is, to me, an indication of low quality.

Jeewon - Yes, knowing how to use the adjustments effectively is a problem. You really need an ergonomic expert to help you set it up. But patience and listening to your body also works. My interest was engineering, not sales.

August 1, 2018, 3:18 PM · I actually think Dimitri is my ideal example of what a business should be.

He's just made an excellent product over the years, backed with effort, passion, and thoughtful design. And he's done it long enough to get his name recognized through the community as "the name" when it comes to premium violin cases.

As far as I know, intellectual property wasn't the thing that propelled him to where he is, and people routinely try to copycat his cases, but as Jeewon noted, no one is ever going to accidentally order a musafia knockoff.


The dialogue between Cary and Jeewon has actually made me have an interesting realization: even if you give people a good product that opens up a lot of possibilities in terms of their own comfort/body mechanics, there is no guarantee they'll know how to fully utilize it, and thus won't see how excellent of an invention it is.

August 1, 2018, 4:04 PM · Erik,

Yes I have. Back in my early days it was popular to put your violin in a satin bag - usually a drawstring type that could over-fill the place where the peg-box goes in a fitted case.

I "invented" a trapezoidal bag with a Velcro closure at the bottom and since I actually know how to sew made a whole bunch of them. They were popular for a while, then rectangular cases with blankets became the fashion and nobody wanted my bags anymore. Flash in the pan - as the saying goes...

Bottom line, make at least one, show it around, see what happens. Just don't make it your day-job.

August 1, 2018, 4:29 PM · Solid advice, george! Still encouraging to hear that people at least bought them for a while. Like I mentioned before, if I end up selling *one* I'll feel like a success.
Edited: August 1, 2018, 11:45 PM · Erik, since there seems to be a significant learning component to your product, why not develop a course to go along with it.

Start with your students to develop the material. Then maybe turn it into a summer course and try and attract other teachers and their students. You could have one course directed at teachers, maybe one version for private teachers, another for class teachers, and a separate course for students. Also, try to present to schools, both public and private. I'm assuming it has something to do with comfort so it wouldn't necessarily encroach on other teachers per se. If that goes well you could develop an online course, with live internet seminars etc. Then publish a book, an app, videos, skies the limit. All the various course materials would be the marketing for your product (just don't make it seem like a sales pitch.) If you have more general ideas applicable without your product, that could be part of the course as well.

August 2, 2018, 2:09 AM · Those are all great ideas, Jeewon. Now if only I wasn't so damn lazy....
Edited: August 2, 2018, 9:56 AM · Yesterday, I came across this link on the Gizmo website, https://www.instructables.com/

Quoting from the Gizmo website: "Instructables is a place you can learn almost anything. It specializes in user-created and uploaded do-it-yourself projects that have clear step-by-step directions. The directions are text and photos, with video and downloadable PDF's on most projects."

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