Self-assessment, early market research should be among your initial steps.
Generally speaking, inventors typically fall into one of five following categories:
1. People with one or more ideas but don’t know how to move forward.
2. First-time inventors. You’ve decided to develop your new invention idea but need guidance as to how to proceed.
3. Experienced inventors. You have filed and/or obtained one or more patents and maybe have even obtained a licensing agreement.
4. Professional inventors. You make a living as an inventor, having commercialized your inventions, and probably have several projects in development.
5. Invention manufacturers. You have established your own business manufacturing and/or marketing one or more of your inventions.
What’s interesting is that, independent of which category you find yourself, there are “common threads” or common characteristics among people in these categories. Have you heard of the Keirsey Temperament Sorter, one of the most-used personality tests in the world? If not, you have probably heard of the MyersBriggs personality questionnaire, one of the 16 role variants in the inventory.
However, there is also a variant called the “Inventor Rational” that describes general personality characteristics of inventors. Selected excerpts:
• Inventors tend to be expressive, introspective, toughminded and probing (they like to solve problems).
• Of all of the role variants, inventors are most resistant to doing things in a certain way just because it was done that way in the past.
• Designing and improving mechanisms and products is their constant goal.
• Inventors have an entrepreneurial character and are always looking for new projects.
• Though full of ideas, inventors are primarily interested in those that can be put into action or used to make products. • Inventors are often nonconformists and can have a circle of friends who are interested in their ideas or activities, who can provide feedback relative to their invention ideas.
• Ideas are great, but they don’t tend to go anywhere unless they’re paired with passion. Inventors fall in love with their idea(s), and love is what keeps them going. It doesn’t feel like work.
Demonstration of these unique characteristics is illustrated in how inventors perform in the various aspects of the invention development process. For example, the “early inventors”—that is, those in the first two categories—are the ones who generally need the most help in getting started before moving on to the other categories.
Research the market early
If you are just starting your “invention venture” and have one or more ideas but are not sure how to proceed, one of the first things you should do is find an inventors-type club or organization in your area where you can talk to other inventors to see what’s involved. Talking to the “been there, done that” crowd could give you some real insight into what to expect, as well as what to do and what not to do. You can find a list of such organizations at inventorsdigest.com/resources/inventor-organizations/.
Another very important activity involves some type of preliminary market research to see which products or services are already in the marketplace that might be identical or perhaps similar to your invention idea(s). An internet search is helpful to get you started, but going to stores that might sell products like your idea would help. Also, seek out trade shows where you might find products exhibited relative the marketplace you would like to enter. Keep in mind that this is just a preliminary research effort to give you some indication as to whether it is worth your time to move forward and conduct further research. In other words, always do some initial homework!
If you are confident that it would be worthwhile for you to move forward and explore becoming a firsttime inventor, conduct an initial patent search. You could do this yourself or hire someone. The many sources of this type of information include a basic Google web search by going to http://www.google. com/patents or the USPTO website uspto.gov. For first-timers, the USPTO provides a tutorial step-bystep strategy to help you get started. Keep in mind that this is just a preliminary search to see whether there are other like products or services that are already patented. Obviously, you don’t want to infringe on these.
Keep in mind that just because you find nothing like your idea, that doesn’t necessarily mean your new invention is patentable. Further investigation by the USPTO, upon submittal of your patent application, will address this issue further.
You’ll usually need lots of help
As a first-time inventor, you generally won’t be able to do it by yourself. You will need help! You should assemble a team of people to help you through the process. Exploiting a new business idea usually demands a range of skills that few first-time inventors possess. Getting legal help from a patent attorney or patent agent is important. You most likely will need people on your team with design experience, prototype developers, various types of engineers with experience in the applicable technology areas, individuals with finance expertise, marketing professionals and others. Having talked with other inventors will give you the guidance as to which types of skills and expertise your team members should have.
Recognize the potential need for prototype development, depending on the nature of your new invention idea and what you would like to do with it. You will need to prove to yourself—and perhaps later to investors and/or companies to whom you might want to license or sell your new product—that it works. This is called a “reduction to practice.” Your team members can help you with this.
You or a third party should also perform an invention assessment focusing on the market worthiness of your invention, where you investigate whether it is worthwhile to continue to put money into the development of your invention idea. Having a third-party opinion is more valuable than that of family and friends. If there is enough evidence to justify taking your idea further, move ahead. If not, go back and explore some new ideas.
Experienced inventors have been through the aforementioned efforts and have a good understanding of the steps involved. Professional inventors have mastered this process. They understand the marketplace, the competitive environment and what it takes to get a new product “out there.” Invention manufacturers have built a business developing ideas and converting them into new products that can be sold in the marketplace. They are the ultimate commercial developers, whereas professional inventors most likely have found licensees to develop and manufacture their new invention products for them.
Regardless of the type of inventor you are, think of inventors as providing value to society as evidenced by Johnny Carson’s quote: “If it weren’t for Philo T. Farnsworth, inventor of television, we’d still be eating frozen radio dinners.”