Shopping a cell phone design around?

I was checking out that LG / Crowdspring competition, and it got some creative juices flowing around cell phone design, but I really dislike the rules of the competition (they own all rights to any submitted designs, whether they win or not). I’m now wondering if it would be feasible to approach some of the cell phone makers directly with my design.

Some aspects of the design have to do with the user interaction with the phone, and are potentially patentable (I did a quick utility patent search, and found some related patents but nothing directly relevant). Other aspects are the visual design of the phone, which is pretty novel, but I did find some similar things when searching for concept phone designs (but the interaction concepts solve the major problems with this form factor).

But is it really possible to sell an existing design to a cell phone maker? Seems like they wouldn’t want to see any submitted designs, our of fear that people would sue them later on the claim that the ideas were stolen (if the company had already been developing a similar idea internally). And what protection could I have, besides patents, that the company wouldn’t just take the design and use it. And it doesn’t seem like any of the companies would appreciate me showing the designs to the other companies (since they all hold their future designs so close to their chests), but then it seems like that would be an important part of negotiating with them.

Any suggestions? Thanks!

Companies such as LG, Motorola, etc, are project based. A project will have various flavours of product specification document. Design team starts to ideate concepts. Depending on project of course, a designer and / or team will produce 50, 100, 5,000 concepts, iterations, colour, finish, designs.

Now, some of these product specifications may also spell out accessories, alternate markets, technology embodiments, private labelling. Another 50, 100, 5,000 concepts etc. will be generated.

What I personally have no private knowledge of is number of identifiable projects such companies put work effort to in any given year. More than one, less than 1,000.

So you have one cool concept. LG, or similar, have 100 - 20,000 this year, 100 - 20,000 last year, etc.

The only consumer electronics company I’ve ever heard of accepting private design submissions, was Sony.

Apply to their competitions or to employment with one of them; showing a complete concept in your portfolio will impress: your own private design efforts to develop a cool concept is always time well spent.

Selling any ideas to any large corporation is going to be next than impossible.

The issue with the “Hey I have this great idea, please build it” business model is any “new idea” is generally either something that:

  1. Has been explored already, and not been deemed viable or

  2. Has a large amount of risk associated with bringing it to a production environment.

Even if you do have a great idea, just handing off some IP to a company doesn’t mean they have the engineering and manufacturing resources available to bring it to a product. Risks like that are factored into project roadmaps and schedules, because development of them costs a lot of money.

Realistically I would say the only real way to get something adopted by a large corporation would be to develop the technology on your own, and integrate it with an existing mobile device to show exactly how it works, and how it could improve things. One example I can think of this in the mobile space is FastTap

They basically designed a more efficient keyboard input method, but didn’t have the resources to develop their own phones, so they developed prototypes based on some other low end phones, and then use those to pitch the idea to other companies who want to use and license their technology. The advantage to this is the risk has been taken out of it, so larger companies are more likely to use (or even buy out) the company if the technology is good enough. The downside (or reality) is that this means YOU are responsible for proving how good your idea is.

I used to design phones at Motorola PCS, so I speak from experience.
Unfortunately I don’t think you’ve got much of a shot, and the real reason is that you don’t have an audience:

It’s not going to be the designers: they’re busy pushing their designs! The one’s they’re paid to do, and do well.

It’s not going to be the marketers: they only want to know if you’ve desgined to their brief, developed something focused on their segment, and have proof!

It’s not going to be the engineers: they take instruction from the designers and marketers, and they want to work with people in-house due to the long-haul of development.

It’s not going to be management: they need to keep their people happy, and trust in their abilities, and they don’t know enough to make design decisions.

It’s not going to be a startup: they may not have what I describe above, but they don’t want to gable on a design created by someone without direct experience–they’ll hire a mobile designer.