You must be sure the item you have invented, or something very similar to it, is not already in existence. More than 40,000 new toy products are introduced each year by about 150 UK manufacturers who employ their own salaried research and development specialists. Independent professional inventors use their personal contacts to sell their ideas to toy companies and design firms. A smaller number of independent inventors manufacture and distribute through their own companies.

Thoroughly research the toy industry at the retail level to see what is currently on the market. Visit as many outlets as possible that sell toys, including large toy chains and small corner shops; discount stores; catalogue showrooms; bookstores; etc.

A good time to do this is in the late summer or early autumn, when most new products have arrived at retail stores for the holiday shopping season.

Observe how toys are sold: categories, pricing, packaging, product displays and amount of retail shelf space devoted to each category – important information, especially if you should later decide to manufacture your invention yourself. Remember too that something similar to your invention may already be in the planning stage. Read the toy industry magazines and also check the consumer press in your local library. Look for coverage of the Toy Fair held at Olympia every January, in the press and periodicals. All this research should tell you which products attract attention to help you develop your idea.

Conduct patent and/or registered designs or trademark searches, which are done prior to applying for this type of protection. Firstly the British Library allows individuals to conduct their own initial searches by using their links to the patent office database. Secondly the British Library offers professional research services charged at a competitive rate. Searches can be time-consuming; also for a fee, patent and trademark agents who practice patent and trademark law can do searches for you. A list of these practitioners is available from the Patent Office.