By John Rau
Ultra-Research, Inc.

When you have an invention idea, you need to do your homework before moving forward. It’s cortical to conduct research to find out if there are any other invention ideas like or similar to yours that may have already entered the marketplace and, furthermore, who makes them and how do they compare with your idea. Just because you didn’t find any other product ideas like or similar to yours at Wal-Mart or other big-box type retail stores, don’t assume that they don’t exist. That’s why further research is necessary to more thoroughly investigate the potential competitive marketplace. If this type of research is done and the conclusion is that there is nothing out there like your invention idea, you still need to address the question “Why not?”

The point here is that others may have had similar invention ideas and concluded that there really wasn’t a potentially significant market; hence they abandoned commercialization of their invention idea. Unfortunately, you most likely will never know this. That is why you need to do your own market assessment and decide for yourself whether or not your idea is worth pursuing and, if so, how.

Market research, and in particular competitive analysis, is generally an on-going effort for existing businesses but it also plays a role in the early stages of the invention development process. To get you started, you need to ask yourself some basic questions. A brief suggested list is provided by the Edward Lowe Foundation through its Business Builder Program (see is as follows:

  • Is your market clearly identifiable?
  • What is the size of the market?
  • How fast is the market growing?
  • What types of people buy this product/service?
  • What do customers appear to like about potentially competing products/services?
  • What are current buyers paying for comparable products/services?
  • What makes your invention idea unique relative to other existing products or services in the marketplace?
  • How many competitors will you be competing against and who are they?
  • What are the current trends within the industry you are pursuing?
  • Are there regulations that affect your industry?
  • Does there appear to be customer loyalty within the industry?
  • Is the industry sensitive to economic fluctuations and/or is it seasonal in behavior?
  • What are the financial characteristics of the industry-annual sales, profits, etc.?

What you are attempting to do by answering questions of the types listed above is to get some insight into whether or not your invention idea is worth pursuing and commercializing. Your objective here is find out as much as you can about products/services of the type related to your invention idea and who currently provides them to your potential competitors. You need to gather enough information about these similar products/services to enable you to do a “comparative analysis” of “yours versus theirs.” Specifically, how are they different, better, not as good as, and so on. You need to find some potential discriminators for your invention idea versus what’s already available in the marketplace that might compete with your product/service idea. Remember the real challenge deals with if yours is better, then is it “better enough” to entice customers to switch to your new product/service idea?

Without having performed adequate market research to give you some direction as to where you should be going with your invention idea in the marketplace, you’ll be like Alice when she came to a fork in the road. “Which road do I take?” she asked. “Where do you want to go?” responded the Cheshire Cat. “I don’t know,” Alice answered. “Then,” said the Cat, “it doesn’t matter.”

The above list of questions is intended to give you a starting point relative to your market research efforts. You need to get answers to these types of questions in order to give you the basis and direction as to how you should proceed with your invention idea. Don’t be an “Alice” who had no idea where she was going!