Q: I hold a patent on a device that requires a relatively simple electronic programmer. It really wouldn't be any more complex than the small IC boards used in battery-operated clocks or small toys. I've tried to locate manufacturers in Taiwan, but I haven't been successful. I'm also very hesitant to approach an overseas company-I'd prefer to deal with a North American firm. How do I locate a designer and manufacturer for the programmer?
A: You've indicated that you tried unsuccessfully to locate a source in Taiwan. I'm sure there are many, but you'll probably have more luck if you create your prototype in the United States, and then ask an overseas source to duplicate your final design. Dealing with original designs overseas is often disappointing.
One of the best ways to get familiar with sources is through the appropriate trade journals. These journals often carry ads from overseas agents, so you can get expert guidance on your design and prototype as well as your production source. Electronic Design News is one such trade journal. You can find others on Ron Riley's helpful site (http://www.inventored.org/trade) and in the reference section of your library in Ulrich's Guide to Periodicals, SRDS (Standard Rate & Data Service) and Bacon's Publicity Checker.
If you wish to get deeper into the technical aspects of your program chip, a great source of specifications on computer chips is the IC Master 2000. Its price is well over $100, so you might want to check out your nearest university's library for a copy. You may find there's already an off-the-shelf chip that will accommodate your programming needs without requiring custom design.
While at the university using their library, contact a professor or two in the electronics engineering department and ask if there are any students capable of designing the device you want. Professors often moonlight on such projects, so ask them as well.
Lastly, why not phone an applications engineer at one of the big chip manufacturers. Motorola, Texas Instruments and Dalas Semiconductor are good sources with which to start. Explain your objective, and if one company doesn't have what you need, chances are they'll recommend another that does.
Jack Lander is a prototyper for inventors. Prior to starting his own business, he worked for several years as a corporate manufacturing engineer and later, as a mechanical design engineer, acquiring 13 product patents. You can contact Jack at (203) 792-1377 or visit his Web site, The Inventor's Bookstore, at www.inventorhelp.com.
The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, not of Entrepreneur.com. All answers are intended to be general in nature, without regard to specific geographical areas or circumstances, and should only be relied upon after consulting an appropriate expert, such as an attorney or accountant.