I’m a fresh graduate designer and i need to shmy designs to manufacturer … how can i do that?

But what do you want to do with your deisgns? you want to sell them?
or you want to get a job? or what?

I have a similar question…
I have a product that I would like have developed. After I find a manufacturer in the Thomas register, what is the next step?

Would it be standard for me to send them a non-disclosure and for them to sign it?

Is there an easier and better way to find a cheaper overseas manufacturer? and what is it like dealign with, say a plant in China?

Would it be a good idea to hire one of those “middle man” services here in the US that claims to act as a liaison between you and the Chinese manuf. plants?

Have you prototyped it yet? If so then, the next step would be to write a businiess plan, and then submit the business plan. You can also file your idea with a provisional patent, and or full utility patent, depending on how fully developed your product is. If you do not want to file patent, you can just keep it a trade secret. You will want to protect your IP, but asking for an NDA before an initial meeting is tough, and should be done with your own discretion. It’s ussually easier to write your business plan and send it without the full details. That is of course if you just wanted to sell the IP. If you wanted to just have it manufactured, there are plenty of vendors with direct ties to china. The way you chose is by what industry and what volume you are planning to do. Most vendors require a minimum volume before they will commit to anything. Also they will want you to have the capital to pay for the molds and consulting retainers. This costs alot of money to start up but can get easier if you have somebody back you. So unless you got the money already, write your business plan and get a prototype out for show.

be cautious when dealing with plants in China- I know it sounds a bit paranoid, but its pretty likely that you’ll compromise the product if you send the plans to china without some sort of legal muscle to defend yourself if someone rips you off- which seems to be part of the business culture there more than here…Anyone back me up/disagree?

Would the designer with the idea need to write up a business plan if they just want to sell the idea for an advance-against-royalty? Anyone? It seems like you wouldn’t need a business plan to sell the idea. A solid story about how much $$ its worth maybe…

Either you send the NDA out to the company and they sign and return it, or their internal legal will provide their own standard NDA. They may be more willing to look at your idea if you have them sign their NDA…just make sure its kosher from your side.

find out how to copywrite your idea, if not pantent it…so you have some time documented proof…

Approach with caution, and do all you can to protect yourself.

Call me a cynic, but in my experience some manufacturers do not respect the idea of intellectual property. For example, lets say you have this great idea for a “widget”. you take your idea and your documentation to a company that you feel would have interest in making your widget.

They meet with you, compliment your work, say that they love the idea, however right now it just doesn’t fit in their plan or some other lame excuse. Then, they take any sketches or promotional material you leave with them, and copy your concept. All they have to do is change it enough to get around any patent you may have.

I really don’t want to dash your hopes, but I have seen this happen.

Cliff Notes: I have posted this before, but it’s still relevant to the discussion so here it is again.

I’ve been going through the process of licensing one of my designs to a furniture company. I’ve been meaning to do a write up on this anyway, so I’ll break down the steps and protections I took in order to protect the design.

  1. Do not show your design publicly until you have taken steps to protect it. Quite simply, if you expect to try an profit from your design, don’t show it in any public manner. The minute you put it into publication (contest, magazine, etc) or display it in public at an exhibition, etc. then you have officially released to public domain and you have no standing if you try to sue for infringement.

At the same time though, don’t be one of those people that purposely avoid showing your design to absolutely EVERYBODY. The main reason I pursued trying to sell my design was the fact that I had gotten a great deal of positive feedback from many people when I discussed it in a casual and non-detailed manner through critique in class (it was the result of a design studio project), with peers, or even when someone out on the street etc, happened to ask me what the model was. The bottom line to me is, if you trust the person enough to disclose it, or you don’t feel that they would be capable of using the knowledge to steal the design, then don’t feel threatened by discussing your design. Some people have this “great idea” that they are ultimately to afraid to expose to the world and in the end they never act upon it, or come to find out in a few months or a year later that somebody has already done it.

I would also have to say that you have to take a risk in order to gain anything. Chances are, your invention will not be the next marvel of the century, in all likelihood, it already exists. If you hide it away from everyone and don’t go someplace with it, you will never see any sort of gain. Maybe your first marketable idea goes nowhere or does in fact get stolen, at least it will give you some added experience for the future. Besides, you have to keep trying to introduce new ideas in order to succeed. I also feel like when you really find that great idea, you will get a true gut feeling that it could go someplace. If you kind of half-assed believe that you have something but you don’t feel really strongly about it, then put it out there, what do you have to lose?

  1. Before you show your design to a prospective client, especially if you do not have a patent or lesser form of protection, get an NDA FIRST. An NDA (Non Disclosure Agreement) simply states that the person you are discussing any intellectual property with (design, business practice, method of production, etc.) cannot tell any other party about the information you have shared. An NDA doesn’t really protect against much either. If they like your idea they may try and alter it slightly and get the jump on you in the process of bringing it to market or protecting it. The only guarantee an NDA grants you, is that the persons signing the agreement cannot discuss it with another party.

It is very common practice for companies to tell you that they are not willing to sign an NDA before reviewing a proposed idea from you because they may already be working on a similar idea. Many will claim this right off the bat. For that reason, often times the BARE MINIMUM to get in the door and speak to someone is having a filed patent application. This way, they at least know that either it is an invention that is potentially patentable and/or may not already exist, or that if there is an infringement of someone else’s design YOU will be held responsible.

  1. Lower forms of protection. If you have not yet filed a patent application, and you want to protect your design in some way, you can essentially “register” your idea by either a) Make a document which describes the jist of the idea in enough detail for someone knowledgeable to understand it and having a person sign and date that document, or You can do essentially the same thing by sending a similar document to the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and they will serve as witness to the idea. You are much better off finding a professor, friend, or someone else you trust to witness your idea. The USPTO recognizes right to invention by First to Invent, not First to File. That means, that if you can prove with signed and dated documentation that you conceived an idea before someone else who is infringing upon you invention, you will have rights to the invention, even though the person that stole it may have filed a patent first. This is really only valuable to you if you have the money to fight them RIGHT OFF THE BAT. How does filing a patent for $3,000 - $7,000 sound, and then throwing God knows how much more money at it to defend it in court? Chances are, if this situation arises, you’ll cut your losses anyway.

  2. Provisional Patents. This is by far the best method of protection if you do not have the money to invest in a full Utility or Design patent, or if you are unsure that the invention may be profitable or patentable anyway. A Provisional Patent (PP for the sake of less typing from here on out) is essentially a “starter patent”. Under a PP you are granted the right to claim the status of “patent pending” and you can therefore display your invention in public, but there are long term drawbacks as well. You MUST take action towards filling a follow-up Non-Provisional Patent (NP) in the form of a Utility Patent (UP) or Design Patent (DP) within ONE YEAR of submitting (simply mailing, a postmark is your start date) the PP. If you do not act upon your PP within that one year, then you lose all rights to filing a NP in the future. It’s a great way to protect your design while you try and determine whether or not it is profitable, and it is affordable ($80 to file if you claim yourself as a small entity), but they have you by the balls if you don’t act upon it and file for a UP or DP afterwards.

  3. Non-Provisional Patents . Utility Patents (UP) and Design Patents (DP) are what people most commonly refer to when they hear about patents. A UP protects inventions which prove to have a functional value and a new (or novel) aspect/s which are currently not out on the market. A DP is simply a protection for a purely trademark or aesthetic appearance of an invention (ex: Coke Bottle). DP are easy to circumvent simply by changing the appearance significantly enough to beat the original patent, so you are much better off proving that your invention can be filed as a UP instead.

Whether it is a DP or a UP, the truth is, your patent is only as good as the degree to which you chose to defend it. These days you would almost have to file patents in the US, Europe, and Asia to truly protect you invention. All it takes is someone over in Asia to start producing your design, and you are screwed. Almost EVERYONE is pessimistic about the true value of a patent, but as I said before, often times it is the bare minimum requirement for a company to deal with you. It shows that you are serious about your invention and you understand the legal implications. From that perspective, it will get you in the door, whether or not you can successfully defend it (or can afford to) in the occurrence of an infringement is questionable.

What it all comes down to, is you have to PUT YOUR MONEY WHERE YOUR MOUTH IS. If you really believe that you have an idea that is going to be successful and make money, then you need to invest the effort and money to make it happen. If you are scared to expose it, or you are unsure that the invention really has any value, then forget it.

  1. IN MY OWN EXPERIENCE I originally finished my design in about December of last year and ever since then I have been working towards getting it out there into production. Early on I really did feel like I had something. It’s one of those “why didn’t I think of that?” designs IMO. The majority of people I have shown it to have genuinely liked the idea and thought that it was interesting.

At that point, I started to really think, “Could I sell this to someone”? The biggest help and motivation for me was speaking to my Stepdad (who runs a consultant firm for electric motor design) and my professor who has had great success with a chair design he sold for royalties. Both of them had past experience and were able to steer me in the right direction early on.

I DID show this design to my classmates, my instructors, family, and even other students I did not know before applying for patent, but in all of these cases I either trusted these people or didn’t believe they were out to rip me off. I still feel that was the motivation for going for it. My first real public debut was for my Senior Show at Graduation this May. By that time, I HAD filed a PP the day before my public showing. I knew I wanted to do something with it, but I didn’t know where to go from there.

Then I totally lucked out. A classmate of mine has a cousin who happens to be the VP of the company that is working toward purchasing my design. She went to him and told him about my idea, and he was interested enough to contact me to set up a meeting. Otherwise, I could have spent a whole year getting rejected by companies.

A month after graduation I went in and pitched the idea, and he really liked it. He signed an NDA, I felt comfortable with placing a significant level of trust in them to move forward, and since then they have done some prototypes and we are close to finalizing the licensing contract. The relationship I have had with them so far has been absolutely wonderful, and that is a very important factor in the success of selling any design. If you feel like the company is trying to screw you, get out!!! If you believe that you can trust them then move forward and don’t be too afraid to discuss openly your idea and what you want to get out of the arrangement. At this point half my fingers are cramping, and I can’t think of a genuine conclusion to this, sooo…


Helpful Books: Patent It Yourself by Attorney David Pressman

I agree about proceeding with caution when it comes to China. The company I just started working for deals with them quite a bit, and I’m starting to learn about the implications of getting manufacturing done there. There are definate cost advantages to having things produced over there, but at the same time you have to be leary of them deciding to cut you out of the deal.

By that I mean a good portion of the companies are sometimes only concerned with selling product. Soo, if you have something produced over there and you aren’t careful, they could simply sell your product outright to somebody else (a retailer). They would just assumed sell YOUR product to a buyer because it means they get YOUR wholesale price for it. Definately DO NOT insult the company by implying that they may do so, but insure that YOUR product isn’t sitting around for other people to view. My boss phrased the concern this way:

“I just want to make sure that our chair isn’t sitting in the showroom for everyone to see right now, is it?”

Another thing they do is sort of “entice you” with designs they have done on there own, to show you what they are capable of producing. Some of these pieces may look great, and they may be something you may want to consider adding to your product line, but if it is in their design book then chances are anybody can have access to that as well.


  • Another thing you have to think about is ABSOLUTE CLARITY with your drawings. I have started to do the technical drawings for our company now, and I put MUCH more thought into how I chose to display information. Essentually, you want to leave no doubt as to exactly what you want them to do. They seem to take things literally at times. For example, if you are showing a clip that attaches two frames together, don’t show the second frame in the image because they may think it’s a new part to add on.

It’s also very important to be concise with your dimensions, angles, etc. It’s better to round up to whole measurements (.0625 is better then leaving an odd number like .0613) or incriments. In general, rather then contacting you in regards to a question, they will use their best(?) judgement to alter things to make them work.

JL thanks for the cliff notes.

This topic has been discussed to death on Core for years, seems like many designers here are either too lazy to do a proper search or expect instant results on complex issues like this.

99.9% of IDers should stay away from attempting to sell paper ideas to even the most “trustful” manufacturers anywhere, let alone China. It IS a jungle out there and the fight for survival among mfg firms too brutal for most wide-eyed portfolio-toting designers to stomach, or ever win.

NDAs are toilet paper and patents worthwhile only for large corporations with the resources to defend them, otherwise what’s the point of having one?

Biggest problem, however, is designers usually lack any semblance of business skills and have a hard time seeing their creativity as part of the larger economic picture that selling physical goods really is.

Sure there are tons of books on the topic, and for a reason - someone buys them, meaning tons of others Sunday tinkerers or “inventors” are out there too, trying to do the same thing. An entire profitable industry has been built around invention-assessment and assisting various types to market their product ideas - clubs, magazines, lawyers, firms large and small, consultants of all kinds will show you - for a fee.

At least these people understood there’s way more money to be made “assisting” the millions of suckers trying so hard. The money is always in the process, not the end product. The mold shop makes real money, for instance, the distributor, and so on. The designer is worth next to nothing in the big scheme of things except for having most often provided the original seed of thought others brought to fruition. Believe me, this inspiration is next to worthless in industry until proven.

This may be on the hard side but I talk from experience and having seen dozens try to do what you hope against all odds and in the process lose their money, health, relationships and any faith they still had in the future of this marginal profession.

As long as anyone can claim to be a product designer, business will treat us accordingly. Speak to others who have tried, or even succeded in making some money off this, but by and large a designer’s best bet professionally is working for solid, nimble firms that have serious clout in their industry, can protect AND PROMOTE your ideas, and allow you to grow feeling positive about the impact you are having. A regular salary helps too.

Your goal is noble, and I hardly know a designer who hasn’t dreamed or tried this, but unfortunately the “system” out there doesn’t function that way, it’s strictly pragmatic while you are still idealistic. You’ll learn with time.