Honest assessment, research and planning can be life-savers for star-struck inventors 

Visualization is the ability to project your mind to the day after tomorrow. Do you have a routine you follow, or is each day an exploration of the future?


“How ugly is your baby?”

No one ever asks a new parent this question—just as no one ever asks an inventor this about his or her new “baby.” Better judgment usually allows us to pre-examine our thoughts before saying what we really think.

However, over many decades I have asked literally hundreds of inventors: “Why do you think your idea is so great, what purpose does it serve, and who would buy it?”

These honest and legitimate questions address the reality that the road from product to market is not easy. This path is lined with numerous obstacles and disappointments that are never realized in the creation process.

Let’s briefly explore the roadblocks to success, starting with the idea/invention.

How good is it, really?

Look around you throughout your day. Take an extra minute to think about the product you are using or the switch you just turned on, or even the simple phone call from a cell or wherever you are.

Each is the result of someone’s ingenuity and follow-through—from this person’s creative moment to when he or she explored the market, competition, and the reality of: How good is the idea?

All too often, an inventor’s unfortunate assessment is, “I cannot find it in the store or on Amazon, so I have a winner and will be rich.”

Inventors often continue to fool themselves by becoming possessive of their idea and not stopping to ask themselves many important questions:

  • Who will buy it, and how much will they pay?
  • Why will they buy it?
  • If it’s such a great new idea, why am I the first one to think of it? Maybe I should search the USPTO and see if anything like it has ever been patented.
  • Can I do it on my own, or enlist the help of a relative or friend?
  • How much funding am I going to need to design and build a prototype—and who will invest it?

(Do not accept funds from relatives or close friends unless they can afford to lose it and know that right up front. I have personally been a witness to families suffering the consequences of grandma investing and losing her savings.)

A great many inventors I have been a mentor to have learned the hard way the critical importance of doing their homework. In decades past, when we did not have the internet, it was a laborious project consisting of hours at the library learning the answers to questions that were not easily known.

Today, we have at our fingertips the ability to find answers to just about any question, including who is in the market and what are similar products to our idea. I have always recommended that the place to start is uspto.gov to determine whether any patent has been issued or pending that may be similar or identical to your idea/product.

This requires an extensive time commitment; you must be accurate with your search results. The last thing you want is to invest time and money in attempting to bring your idea/product to market and find out you are infringing on an existing patent, or the fact that it was issued 50 years ago and you will not be able to patent it again.

Most important, I cannot emphasize enough that your commitment to research will pay off by not getting targeted for litigation—especially if the similar product is being produced and marketed by a large corporation.

However, if your research shows a similar product but yours has beneficial features not included in the existing product, you may have the opportunity to license your improvements to the company and be compensated. This still requires that you have some protection, so in that case you can file a provisional patent application inexpensively. Follow the instructions on the USPTO website.

A visualization/honesty test

Many years ago, I was involved in a consulting project for Ken Olsen, founder/CEO of Digital Equipment Corp. In 1973, he made the statement, “Who would want a computer in their home?”

Even this brilliantly creative and successful business icon did not visualize the birth of an industry. There are many examples in my life and yours where you could not foresee the future that was obvious to those like Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, for example.

Visualization is the ability to project your mind to the day after tomorrow. Do you have a routine you follow, or is each day an exploration of the future?

We often lose sight of the gift we have been given to not only explore our creativity but act upon it. How we use this gift depends on our perception of life, our innate abilities that we hopefully recognize, and the world around us that provides unlimited opportunity to live the dream.

Living in America provides you with resources you have not begun to explore, and the limitless information that can provide you with the answers to questions you have not yet been able to ask.

Here is a way to help the visualization process while providing honest answers to yourself about your idea/product.

On a sheet of paper, draw two lines from top to bottom, evenly separated into three columns. On the heading of the first one, write in “strengths”; on the second, “weaknesses”; and leave the third title blank. Tape this page to your bathroom mirror, so it is obvious in the morning and evening.

Start to fill in the first two columns. Be very realistic about weaknesses: Is it knowledge on how to design or build a prototype? Being able to create a funding document or business plan? Financials?

In the third column, write the names of people you know who have the knowledge or experience strengths that can balance your weaknesses. Within a short time, you will have created a team to help bring your idea into the new product stage.

Make relationships clear

Be sure that when you talk to these potential mentors, depending on your relationship, you ask them to sign a simple NDA (nondisclosure agreement). You can pull one of these from the internet.

The other critical point is how you compensate these team members. This is usually by providing them with a small percentage of your planned company. Because you do not yet have a corporation, you can provide a note designating that if and when you create the corporation, the percentage agreed upon will be allocated to these team members.

It is important for you to be aware of how much knowledge they provide that changes your invention and results in a better product. You may even have to add a name or names to your patent filing as a co-inventor. Be sure that when you meet with your patent attorney or agent, he or she is fully aware of the contributions by any of your team members that have added a perceived value to your invention.

From my decades of experience, the only time inventors get in real trouble is when greed rears its ugly head—or when you and a member of your team do not have a clear understanding in advance of their relationship with you and your invention. Consider the personal effects your invention may have on your family and your life. This is especially true when you must hand your patent attorney a check.

Remember: Your family, spouse and children should have a voice in your decisions. Imagine when you might have to tell your son or daughter you cannot buy him or her a bicycle because your money is being invested in your invention. Have a very clear picture about how your decisions will affect your future and theirs.

On a positive note, the potential for new products and services is endless. There are obvious opportunities all around–even though less than 5 percent of all patents issued produce enough income to cover the cost of all the legal requirements.

So, eliminate as many roadblocks as you can by being prepared. And go do it!