ABCs of Inventing
Every product is different but there really are secrets to success. Begin with these basic steps, and you’ll avoid a lot of common mistakes!
1.) Stay away from invention marketing companies that advertise on radio and late night TV. They’re out to fatten their wallets and empty yours!!!
There is no one stop shopping as far as invention development is concerned. Some invention marketing companies claim to be able to present any kind of product to industry, but that would mean they would have to be very knowledgeable about every industry. Successful invention marketers work in selected industries and have specific contacts in those industries. They have spent years building relationships with those inside corporations in specific industries.
2.) Keep good records about your idea . . . some day they may be the back up you need to prove YOUR idea is YOURS!
If your idea of keeping notes about your invention means stuffing scraps of paper into a desk drawer, change your ways! Get a bound notebook and record in a professional manner everything you do with your invention. Record the name of every person you talk to, including the date and a brief recap of the conversation. Staple into the notebook receipts of materials youÕve purchased to build prototypes. Record ideas you have for other inventions so that you don’t forget them. Have a trusted friend witness your notebook periodically. Your notebook will become your invention diary that will be a very valuable tool as you develop your idea.
3.) Do your own patent search online at www.uspto.gov or at a Patent Depository Library. If you find that your invention is already patented, there’s no need to go to a patent attorney.
Just because you’ve never seen your product on the market doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist! It could be patented but not marketed. It could be on the market in another area of the country. It could be sold only through catalogs or specialty stores. Do a patent search — and an extensive market search — and really satisfy yourself that your product (or something better!) doesn’t already exist. Check specialty catalogs (there are thousands on the market) because many products are sold in catalogs and may never be sold in a retail store. Do an Internet search.
4.) Build a model. No need to get fancy at first. . . cardboard, white glue, balsa wood, off-the shelf parts. No matter how simple the idea, you have to prove it works.
It’s one thing to see something in your mind, but it’s quite another to hold it in your hands and work with it. There are very few products that can’t be improved. In fact, your idea is most likely an improvement on someone else’s product. So, build a model … then build another one. Work with it. Make it the best you can. Try to out invent yourself because once it’s on the market, you can be sure your competitors will try to improve on it!
5.) Have your invention evaluated by a non-biased professional (even if your Mom’s in the business, go to someone else!).
It may be nice to know that your friends and neighbors like your idea, but do they know anything about new product development? Do they know about manufacturing or how to price a product? Do they know about distribution channels? Do they know about designing a product with an eye to packaging and shipping? Do they think about product liability? Probably not. So don’t move forward based on comments from those who like you. You want to hear everything that’s wrong with your idea so you can make it better. Strengthen your ego and get a professional opinion. The nonprofit United Inventors Association offers an excellent invention evaluation. Give them a call at (585) 359-9310 or go to www.uiausa.org.
6.) Read all you can about new product development. Go to your local book store or library . . . others have gone before you. Don’t reinvent the wheel.
Most novice inventors have no idea where to begin and no one to guide them. They’ve probably never known someone who developed a new product from scratch, so the road ahead seems overwhelming. Take heart! There are many folks — just like you — who have taken an idea and turned it into a product. There is a tremendous amount of information available, so don’t strike out blindly. Educate yourself about the basics. By reading and learning, you’ll be creating a road map for yourself that you can use as you move forward with your idea.
7.) Network with other inventors. Join a local inventors’ organization.
Who can I trust? What do I do next? How do I find the help I need? Among the best people to answer these questions are those who have successfully marketed new products. There are nearly 100 nonprofit inventor organizations around the country. The members include inventors, lawyers, prototype makers and others who are in the field of new product development. You owe it to yourself to join a group so that when questions about a specific company or a specific problem come up, you’ll have someone you can trust to turn to for advice.
8.) If your patent search looked promising (see #3), make an appointment with a patent attorney, patent agent or professional patent searcher. Show him the results of your search and follow the advice.
Patent professionals are able to do a thorough search of the files of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office as well as searching some international literature and patents. The patent search report that they give you should also have an opinion of patentability, which will tell you what they think your chances are of getting a patent. An attorney or agent’s charges for preparing and filing a patent application is several thousand dollars. There’s no sense paying all that money if a professional patent search will reveal that you have little chance of getting a patent.
9.) Do what you do well and hire pros to do the rest.
This seems like such obvious advice, but many people try to save money in areas they think don’t really matter. Some inventors can make excellent prototypes then they send them out to prospective licensees with handwritten, poor quality letters. Others can create wonderful brochures and letters and send them with terrible prototypes. You only have one chance to make a first impression, so don’t mess it up! Think about the things you do well and do them. Be honest about your weaknesses and get help.
10.) Don’t fall in love with your invention, but if you’re sure you’ve got a winner (see #5), hang in there! Even overnight successes take a while!
In invention, as in life, the key to success is most often perseverance. Inventors have to have thick skins and a lot of determination. For example, IBM experts told Chester Carlson that his invention wasn’t really needed because people had carbon paper. Carlson’s invention was the xerography process, and the company founded on his invention is Xerox.