I want to pitch a backpack idea to a company -- Any advice?

Without getting too specific- I’d like to pitch an idea I have for a backpack to a newish small performance clothing company with whom I feel the bag would would be well suited. I know I need a clear business plan and an idea of what to ask for in terms of compensation(about which I am undecided), but I would really appreciate any wisdom/warnings the community may have. Obviously the last thing I want is for them to pull a Dyson/Hoover on me and steal the idea and run…

A few more details:

  • I can not afford a lawyer- maybe it would be a good idea to secretly record audio? (maybe this is ridiculous)
  • I plan on presenting with well-executed renderings and then asking for money to build a working prototype(good idea?)

Thanks very much in advance!

I am a full-time freelance Industrial Designer that focuses on this niche realm of softgoods design and development. I can’t tell you how many backpacks I’ve designed so far in my career, who knows… a whole lot.

Depending on how big the company is, and what they’re interested in pursuing, your chances of having them sign an NDA with you are slim.

There are several factors involved here…

  1. You can’t really “patent” a backpack design. You can patent very specific features and or mechanisms that are innovative and revolutionary. (for example, these would be mechanisms invented and proven with designers and engineers, that do something very specific, and work perfectly, and there are no other mechanisms that could do it better or compete with your innovative mechanism/function)
  2. What if they’re already designing this concept, then they decide to meet with you? Then they’ve thrown away thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of development costs since you now could sue them.
  3. They are their own business, with their own unique strategy and unique plan to go about business. If you went to Apple with the idea of the iPod in 1989, they would have likely turned you away, because that wasn’t part of their plan to be a successful business. Just because it is a good idea, doesn’t mean a company will be willing to put a % of their expendable dollars towards it. Especially if they’re a small company. They may only have X dollars after profit from their existing products, and that X dollars is 100% used to renew their stocks of their products which they know for a fact are selling, rather than an unknown.

My suggestion… design and develop the concept yourself (or hire me to do it!). Companies aren’t interested in buying ideas. They’re interested in buying success. Ideas are cheap. The work that goes into developing the idea and making it perfect, well, thats design, and good design is expensive. The work and execution is the valuable part, not the idea.

If your concept is truly amazing, you should be willing to go broke on it (sell your car, your house, eat rice and beans, because it is such an amazing idea), and bring it into reality and/or into market. If it amazing, people will notice, and they will come with their check books ready.

Plus, if you go to them, who’s to say they just don’t steal your idea and claim it as theirs (even to use for the future)? It really only matters who’s lawyers are better, and my guess would be theirs.

Was just going to post “Paging TaylorWelden”

Nice insight, Taylor.

You can get a design patent can’t you?

Yes and No.

Apple made an iPod, which is a portable mp3 player. Sony also makes portable mp3 players, along with hundreds, if not thousands of other companies. Totally legal. They’re just mp3 players. Heck, they’re all mp3 players with screens, headphone ports, controls, using the same type of internal memory. Very similar when you break it down.

If the backpack were a very very very specific purpose, for example…
A woodland firefighters backpack that has a hydration bladder and the ability to carry a burn victim out of the woods, made from some very specific material, handmade in the USA.

Would another company be able to make a backpack that does this same exact thing, out of the same exact fabric, and in the USA?
The answer is Yes.

Design patents are easy to work around and require a lot of money and legal power to enforce, especially if it’s coming from a random factory overseas.

Both of your original thoughts are very, very wrong.

#1 - don’t record people without telling them they are being recorded. Ever.
#2 - Well done renderings are a dime a dozen. Asking someone to develop a product based on pretty renderings is foolish. I could make crap renderings of a phenomenal and ultimately commercially successful product, or amazing renderings of a crap product - but you are asking someone to take a leap of faith that people will actually buy your product, which goes far beyond pretty renderings. What you need is a complete business case and a venture capitalist.

Ultimately Taylor is right, if your idea is good enough you should prototype it and try to sell it. There are lots of venues these days like Kickstarter that could be used for capital and softgoods tend to be easier to start off with, especially if you don’t require any unique tooling.

I to this day have NEVER heard of a company that welcomes unsolicited ideas with the exception of Quirky.

Stacks of companies i’ve worked for love unsolicited ideas but they never, ever pay for them. consumer feedback is tremendously vital.

Ideas are cheap, taking action is expensive.

If it were me, i’d probably give them the idea for free, leave my business card and say ‘there’s plenty more where that came from’. Treat it like a new business pitch.

I’ve come across a multiple businesses that are open to reviewing ideas and inventions that fall within their market. They’ve claimed to work out agreements with the inventor/designer.

I’m not saying it’s a safe idea, but it seems to me that if the company is small enough that you can speak with the President directly they’ll welcome it.

I might approach this as a larger brand extension pitch. In order to get them on board your design work, you need to market them on everything else a business would be concerned with and alleviate any fears.
Exactly how does this fit in their product lineup? in their business model? What are the costs on manufacture? could you allocate same factory resources? retail price point. Is there something incredibly niche that fits their future marketing direction? Can they buy any patent rights? (ex: a unique closure system used in packs AND clothing)
Everyone above has great advice. I’ll add:
You are a business… but other companies will only buy in if the numbers add up. Most will not gamble on unproven tech/product/service.