How to learn more about a company by examining its products

How to Learn More About a Company
by Examining its Products

A process is provided below to learn more about a company by examining and testing its products. Competitive product reviews can be helpful in identifying competitive advantages and disadvantages of your products and inventions, identifying potential changes your competitor may be contemplating, and identifying features you may wish to include in your own product or invention. Most comments below apply to evaluating products and mechanical inventions, many could also apply to evaluating a service. This site is frequently used by those developing new products and inventions as well as market research and competitive intelligence professionals.

"How to Learn More About a Company by Examining its Products" is a Polson Enterprises web site and part of the Invention Information Center. If you have any suggestions or comments about the web site, please email them to us.

Top Ten Scam Warnings from U.S. Patent and Trademark Office

  1. Identify the product to be tested
    • Identify the main product of services of the industry or specific company.
    • Identify the product as a consumer or industrial product.
    • Find an advertisement for the product - What features do they promote? Does advertising appear to be a major expense in relation to product cost? Where was the ad (what kind of media and style of media)? (technical magazine, outdoor magazine, etc)
    • Price - are they price competitive? premium priced? commodity priced?
    • Visit with local sales and marketing people if possible. Are they friendly? Knowledgeable? Helpful?

  2. Stand Alone or Dependent Product? Can the product be used by itself? or does it require something else to be used (boat motor requires a boat, refrigerator magnet needs a refrigerator).

  3. Product Line Depth & Options
    • Is the product available in different sizes? (how many)
    • Does it come in different colors, styles?
    • Are accessories available?
    • Are specific versions available for different countries?
    • Are they available for different age groups, sexes?
    • Are they available with Logos? (colleges, pro teams, high schools?)
    • How does the variety available compare with that available from competitors?
    • How frequently do they offer new models?

  4. Intellectual Property Issues
    • Is the product patented, copyrighted, trademarked?
    • Have relevant URL's been reserved (
    • Are the intellectual property rights sound? (solid, defendable, encompassing)

  5. Competition
    • Is it a me too product or a unique item?
    • How easy could it be transplanted to other manufacturers?
    • Are their unique requirements in the manufacture, sale, distribution of the product making market entry difficult for others? (Identify high barriers to market entry)

  6. Locate and obtain the product to be evaluated
    • Depending on their nature, you may already own one or more of them
    • Find them in a store?
    • Available on the net?
    • Does one of your friends have one?
    • Many products (both new and used) can be obtained economically through Ebay.
    • Ebay can be especially useful in locating older products. Studying older, earlier models can give you an idea of their rate of improvement.
    • Large expensive industrial products and machinery may be able to be observed in operation at a factory or work site.
    • Availability of the product?- Widely available and easy to find? Regional availability? Available on the net?

  7. Identify the specific unit being evaluated
    • Record the date of the review
    • Record the model number & serial number
    • Does this unit have any special options/features?
    • If color or material are an option, record them
    • Are any production dates available (product stamped with a date code, product literature or packaging has a date, etc)

  8. How was it built?

  9. Does it come assembled? Some Assembly required? Are any batteries already installed?

  10. Does the product require or consume other products to function (batteries, external electrical power (110volts, 220 volts), gasoline, fuel, ink, etc)?

  11. Are any accessories available for the product? (carrying bags, chargers, ink, accessories for special tasks, Video or DVD instructional tapes, bullets, etc)

  12. Do any standards apply to the product? (ASTM, etc)

  13. Documentation
    • What kind of documentation is provided (warranty card, assembly instructions, operating instructions, service instructions, troubleshooting tips, list of service centers, product guarantee, instructional tapes / DVDs, etc.). Are they also provided online?
    • Is the documentation clear and easy to understand?
    • Are assembly instructions easy to follow?
    • What languages is it provided in?
    • What is the date?
    • Are the graphics clear?

  14. Product Specifications
    • Are printed product specifications available, record them.
    • Measure and weigh the product
    • Photograph the product from several angles, up close and from a distance.

  15. Packaging
    • How is it packaged for shipment?
    • Is packaging durable enough?
    • Are recyclable materials used?
    • Is packaging and shipping a significant portion of their cost?
    • Does the packaging identify where the product was manufactured or shipped from?
    • Does the packaging include any patent number or copyright notices

  16. Styling/ Industrial Design / Ergonomics
    • Looks nice?
    • Looks current (not a very old style design)?
    • Controls easy to reach, easy to use, easy to understand, logical operation?
    • Easy to use from a knowledge standpoint (not like trying to program a VCR)?

  17. Use the product for the purpose it was intended.
    • Does it work well?
    • Is it easy to use?
    • Are the controls logical?
    • Do gauges offer feedback of operating conditions?
    • Does it do a good job?
    • Photograph the product "in" use with a "still" camera and with a video camera (digital cameras might be especially useful for this).
    • Record any sounds the product may make with a recorder
    • Cost of operation?
    • Does it consume other products (blades, gas, etc.) What are the consumption rates?
    • Is it comparable to other units?
    • Does it have any advantages over the competition?
    • It seems safe? has safety guards? warning labels?
    • Any negative aspects of operation (noise, vibration, emissions, leaks, smoke, etc)?
    • Capacity & Performance Limits - how fast does it go, how high will it go, how far does it go, how much does it hold, etc - are they in line with advertised maximum capacity & performance variables?
    • Measure the output of the device if possible (electrical signals, how fast the ink comes out, etc)
    • Is it stable (rollover, etc)?
    • Is a storage method provided (box, hanger, etc)?

  18. Failure Testing
    • If you can safely break the product by overload or similar means, see where it breaks and record the level.
    • Test multiple units to failure if possible to generate and average.
    • Do all units fail by the same mode?
    • Do all units fail at the same level?

  19. Product Tear down (disassembly)
    • Tear it down if possible
    • If possible, teardown both a new unit and a heavily used unit.
    • How they are constructed
    • What processes are used to form the parts and how are they assembled
    • Does it bear any patent numbers, marks from other manufacturers, notations of countries of origin, or notations of content?
    • Are parts coated, painted, plated?
    • What parts appear to contain the most cost?
    • When tearing down a used unit, do some parts appear worn, about to break, look like they have been replaced?
    • Take photos of the assembly and of the disassembled parts. Put a ruler or other scaling device in the photos to help scale the parts.
    • Can it be reassembled after disassembly?
    • How well do the parts fit together (nice smooth fit, or do you have to pound it back together)?
    • Does the original assembly process appear to be easy?
    • Are there several small parts you have to keep track of?
    • Attempt to identify major suppliers from the purchased component parts
    • If you are able to tear down a new one and an old one, what parts have they changed? Why do you think they changed them?

  20. Service Parts & Maintenance
    • Which items appear to need replacement with use?
    • Are service parts available?
    • Is it easy to identify what you need?
    • Order service parts if possible and see how long it takes them to arrive.
    • Is a maintenance schedule provided?
    • What items are in the maintenance schedule and how frequently do they need inspected, checked, replaced?
    • Is support for the product available online?

  21. Look for product review of the industry's products or services by others. Some may be found in consumer and trade magazines, however many of those magazines rely upon the same company for advertising money. Some sources of consumer product reviews are:
  22. Put together an independent focus group (people that do not know you or your company, - just normal people off the street) and have them evaluate the product as a group.

Example Reviews

Here are some reviews we did of keychain virtual pets in the late 1990's.


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