Road blocks to Innovation

I’ve been talking to a couple of inventors recently, and have been really enthusiastic about their ideas, only to be told about a problem which is stopping them from proceeding.

The interesting thing is, they aren’t technical problems, but rather they’re societal problems:

  1. A fear of people who sue for a living. Apparently there are people out there who’ll take a new product, find a way of injuring themselves with it, and then sue the person who sold it to them, or the manufacturer. This particular product included a hinge which was safe under normal use, but could potentially be misused.
  2. A fear of the media taking a product and attacking it. The product involved was a camera based system used in swimming pools for drowning detection and performance measurement. It didn’t record footage which someone could watch back, but just the fact that there would be a camera in the swimming pool opens up the possibility for claims of spying on children.

What’s someone supposed to do if they’ve got a fantastic product, which potentially falls foul of either of the above?

The inventor should obviously try and mitigate the risk as much as possible. There’s tools such as Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (FMEA) which can help identify problems which could lead to the failure of the product.

With respects to the media, designers should try and avoid giving them any cheap shots. Make no mistake, bad PR can sink an otherwise fantastic product. Treat it as part of your market research to find out whether people are sensitive to certain issues e.g. has there been any previous cases where people have been opposed to cameras in pools?

I welcome comments from people who’ve encountered this kind of thing in the past.