Invention Junction: What's Your Function? - DIY Week on BTR

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Norman Rockwell’s “Perpetual Motion.” Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Quirky, the Website and online merchant unites the profit-driven with the creatively minded individuals to inspire a more communal approach to product development.

A healthy version of capitalism, one might say; or as CEO Ben Kaufman described in a Fox Business interview, “The ultimate product development company, helping ordinary people get their products from basically the point where it’s just a napkin sketch in a bar to getting distributed globally and sharing their revenues.”

Less a DIY model and more a DIO (Do It Ourselves), Quirky localizes the development process to an on-site idea exchange between initial conceivers of ideas and contributing “influencers.” Influencers determine the viability of a new product by voting on design characteristics, branding, and posting comments on the product page to help the creator fine-tune their product. Just like your Blood Mage in World of Warcraft, your status as an influencer increases the more you work together with others on the site and the less you aggravate dangerous monsters.

If or when the product advances past user reviews, the Quirky team’s evaluation (for marketability, feasibility and originality) then works its way into production after the demand threshold is met, the total revenue from each purchase is shared with submitters and influencers alike, according to levels of involvement.

Each idea submission comes with a $10 price tag (at one point it was $99), a nominal fee for the potential for real time product feedback and market demand projections. If successful, the community members who have supported your product “will evangelize the product for you,” says the permanently smiling Kaufman, a full-faced Jordan Knight sporting a set of Winnie the Pooh eyes. The built-in brand loyalty of committed and engaged community members pays dividends when the product enters its marketing stages.

Historically during economic downturns, those who are unable to sit on trillions of dollars of savings and comfortably wait out the raging storm either suffer the system’s wrath or start thinking of new markets to explore. Especially with corporations such as Google and Microsoft peeking out sheepishly from under their overstuffed money mattresses, now would appear an ideal time for product innovation.

In fact for the last few years in America, patent offices have been flooded with applications, leading to extensive backlogs of patents and in turn, strategies taken to rapidly approve or reject applications without extensive consideration.

In 2010, there were 502,277 patent applications submitted to the USPTO in the US alone. In 2009 there were 482,871 applications submitted, and in 2008 there were 485,312, equaling the second highest total to 2010’s,.

Middlemen like Quirky would ideally benefit from the increased workload of a federal office that is not hiring, especially considering their offering of a real-time model of efficiency that updates everyone involved on product statuses.

“The number one question we get asked here at Quirky,” Kaufman explains, “is how do we deal with intellectual property…we don’t. We’re simply here to validate and facilitate.”

He points to the terms and conditions for site participation, a well-knit, tight set of legal jargon that essentially says: we protect your ideas, and if we like them, we will make sure you are compensated in exchange for the rights to your product and any of the designs and language surrounding it.

As a final note of caution, Quirky is a distinct market filled with like-minded individuals who share similar ideas concerning product development, so a quick perusal of its items for sale should give all the insight needed before idea submission goes under way. Items that improve the performances or add to the features of iPhones, iPads, computers, or other obscenely trendy consumer electronics represent the majority of Quirky goods. But what America truly needs to bounce out of the recession is the following: An affordable jetpack, a pair of moon boots, a portable microwave, and the king of all inventions, a lifetime supply of Pepto Bismol injected Hot Pockets.

Written by: Jakob Schnaidt

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