This is a synopsis of an article that appeared in the May, 2000 issue of "The Fabricator" (Croyden Group, Ltd., Rockford, IL)

Many useful innovations come right off a factory floor. Even more come out of an effort to solve a customer’s problem. Twenty years ago Eric von Hippel, a professor at Harvard Business School, found that in many industries over three quarters of new products start out as direct requests from customers. How does one find and capitalize on opportunities hidden in off-beat requests?

Step 1: Anticipate change and innovation

  •  Your biggest, best customers are the most likely new product sources.  Offer them additional liaison and technical aid – even though they may ask for it least.
  •  Document "creeping improvements" that can add up to a significant change in technology.

 Step 2: Prepare for product development -- good planning can maximize the chance of securing intellectual property right when the opportunity arises.

  • Set up appropriate agreements with employees and with other companies.
  • Define who owns what at the beginning of the process when none of the untested ideas have any clear accountable value.
  • Organize and account for your development projects. Good project accounting records can be of considerable value.
  • Plan to control the flow of information in a reasonable way. Some things need to be kept secret; but others almost demand publication.

Step 3: Look into protecting the product -- Having a monopoly on a product may be the ultimate in niche marketing. The value of such a monopoly is going to depend both on how big the market turns out to be, and well that potential can be tied up with a patent.

 Successful innovation in the factory can come directly from responding to customer requests. But success in this sort of activity usually requires planning for the company’s acquisition of intellectual property so that the opportunities can be capitalized on when they arise.

David A. Kiewit
Registered Patent Agent
5901 Third St. South
St. Petersburg FL 33705-5305
+1 (727) 656 0669

+1 (760) 841-0989 fax
questions to: [email protected]
Copyright 2000-2017 by David A. Kiewit
All rights reserved



ABCs of Patents

Practical Secrecy

Utility Patents


Author! Author!

First Steps

Patent Searches

Design Patents

Provisional Appl.

Intellectual Properties



 Steps in getting a US patent