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Assistive Technology Transfer Update


Title: Supply-Push Program
Author: James A Leahy
Published: 2000
Publication: Assistive Technology Transfer Update: Vol. 2 Issue 2 (Fall)


In order to see a new product licensed it must be commercialized and in order for the commercialization to be well received, potential barriers must be determined and eliminated. This article talks about approaches to overcome such barriers and promote positive reception of commercialization attempts.

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Full Text

Eliminating or minimizing barriers to commercialization perceived by licensing companies is of the utmost importance to the successful licensing of new inventions. It is much easier for a corporation to say 'no' to a new invention than it is for them to say 'yes'. 'No' doesn't require any licensing or R& D (research and development) expenditures, marketing analysis, consumer testing, or any of the other costs or time associated with a 'yes'.
In this edition of our newsletter, I will touch on some of the information and methods we provide to companies to make their decision to say 'no' more difficult.

Marketing Strategies
Manufacturers are given commercialization packages on new products that highlight certain key information needed by a company to make an informed licensing decision on the product. One key area of information is the target market for the device. By "target market", we mean the individuals who will actually use the product, not necessarily those who will purchase it. For example, a product may be developed for the elderly or populations that have reduced strength. Someone from the target market may purchase this product, or it may be purchased by someone else (relative or caregiver) for use by a person in the target market. The important aspect to us here is identifying those who are actually going to use the product.

Once this target market is identified, we then employ US Census information or other statistical databases to place a finite number on the size of the target market.

Next, we provide licensing companies information on Market Growth. Is the market for the product growing? If so, where, why, and how much growth is there? We include a detailed analysis of competing products and their manufacturers. Why is this important? Well, we benchmark the features of competing products to highlight the features of our product that are not found in products currently in the marketplace.

Product Comparisons
For example, if you were the inventor of the first disposable cigarette lighter, you would look for competing products (for example, matches and refillable lighters) and list out the features of those devices compared to your product. Your goal is for your product to possess not only the consumer-expected features (i.e., the ability to light a cigarette) but also the 'wow' features that the competing products in the marketplace do not possess. The 'wow' features for a disposable lighter are low cost, being a disposable – not having to refill it at home, and the ability to purchase it at any neighborhood store.

In our package, we also provide information on the consumers' current status and satisfaction level with existing products that address the same function as our product. Along with this, we provide consumer-purchase-intent and price-point information on our item, to give the company a good 'read' on anticipated consumer response to our new product. Lastly, from our technical analysis of the device and from our detailed consumer focus groups, we design and present an 'ideal product' possessing the features, in rank order of preference, that the consumers would like to see in the new product.

All in all, we provide as much useful information to the licensing executive as possible, in an attempt to hurdle or break down any barriers that may be in the way of their company's licensing the device.

All this information is needed to permit the product we are bringing from outside the company to compete against internally generated ideas that have in-house corporate 'champions'. These 'champions' know the questions and issues that must be addressed before their innovation may move forward within the company. We have to reduce the intrinsic barriers an external submission faces when being reviewed by corporate management. We provide the information needed by corporate executives to make an informed decision regarding your invention.

Outflanking the Status Quo
However, sometimes information is not all that is needed to bring a good, needed product to market. We may have to create a demand for the product and show its sales potential prior to a company's licensing the product.

As an example, the RERC on Universal Design at the University at Buffalo, in conjunction with a leading cabinet manufacturer, developed a prototype of an Adaptable Bathroom Vanity. The vanity possessed features that allowed it to adapt easily for use by a child, an adult, or a person in a wheelchair. The RERC on Universal Design had developed information on the target market, and had used consumer input and testing in the design. However, even armed with that information and the knowledge of fabricating costs they gleaned from the production of the original item, the cabinet manufacturer that developed the prototype refused to add the vanity to its product line.

The reasons the cabinet manufacturer declined to produce and market the Vanity were: (1) there are extensive tooling and startup costs to be incurred on any new product; (2) they were unsure what initial sales would be; and (3) most of all, inertia, or an internal resistance to change. The company opted to stay with the 'tried and true' because they weren't sure how to tap this new market.

Knowing the reasons for the firm's rejecting the Vanity, we at T2RERC undertook the task of identifying a company that annually purchased a large number of cabinets for its own corporate use. We contacted a developer of senior living communities and persuaded him to review a commercialization package on the Vanity. This developer deemed the prototype to be an excellent idea and one that had been needed for some time.

We discovered that the developer was seeking cabinetry for his units that had some flexibility in design and function. This meant units that could be easily converted to the needs of the individuals renting them, whether the tenants were able-bodied, elderly or disabled. His company, through new construction and the remodeling of existing units, would generate a 'need' for 650 cabinets per year. As the developer was purchasing cabinets on a yearly basis already, he had developed close contacts with a cabinet manufacturer, So the housing developer – or consumer, in effect – introduced the Vanity to the manufacturer on our behalf!

If we had gone to the cabinet manufacturer directly, we, in all probability, would have been rebuffed. By involving the end purchaser of the device early on in the commercialization equation, we feel we solved the problem to the benefit of all. The cabinet manufacturer is now reviewing the design at the insistence of the end purchaser. Our goal is to have this cabinet manufacturer start producing Adaptable Vanities, and once the product has been introduced into the market, we believe other developers will force other cabinetry manufacturers to follow suit. Thus we hope to bring another new assistive technology product to the marketplace.

In a nutshell...
In summation, our efforts in Technology Transfer have shown us that not only do we have to do a thorough job in researching the product, its consumers and the market. We must also be creative problem solvers, looking for other avenues or paths around barriers that prevent your product from becoming commercialized.

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