It’s the best place to meet company executives among other benefits. 

There is no more productive way to find the right licensee for your patent than by meeting the presidents or vice presidents of appropriate companies. And there is no better place to meet them face-to-face than at a trade show. Here’s why:

• The president and vice president of marketing are often the only bold risk-takers in the company. The closer you get to the bottom rung of the marketing hierarchy, the greater your odds of rejection. Rejection is safe. Licensing is risky.
• The president and vice president of marketing are under pressure to develop new products to replace products that are due to be phased out. That pressure isn’t always felt in the subordinate ranks.
• The president and vice president of marketing have a long-range perspective of the company’s market. A product that doesn’t fit neatly into the company’s current product line may turn out to be just what it is looking for.
• Even if the president or vice president delegates the evaluation or your invention to a subordinate, that is far more effective than having it come in through the mail to the same person.

One of the pleasant surprises at trade shows is the availability of top executives. They are typically standing in their booth talking to a potential customer. We are free to walk in, wait our turn, and have their attention. No “gatekeepers” screen you and tell you the boss is in a meeting, as often will happen if we attempt to see them at their offices. And there’s no rerouting us to the director of research and development. The top fellows are surprisingly human.

My first experience with trade shows was at McCormick Place in Chicago. I had gone to the American Booksellers Association show to try to find a publisher for a book I had written. My reasoning was that publishers would be there pitching their books, and I’d be able to pitch my galley copy to them. (A galley is a book’s prototype.) That was a bit presumptuous, but darned if it didn’t work. I was walking the aisles and came upon Enterprise Publishing Company’s booth. I was surprised to see Ted Nicholas, Enterprise’s CEO, standing alone and waiting to do business.

I had known about him for some time and had even used his book about writing and publishing in the process of writing my own. Ted was earning a fortune on his book, “How to Form Your Own Corporation for Under $50 Without a Lawyer.” I had imitated his long title for my own book, “How to Get Hired Faster, For More Money, Whether You Are Presently Working or Not.” We talked for at least 10 minutes; he asked for an autographed copy of my manuscript. A few days later, he phoned me and offered me a tentative deal. But after a thorough analysis of competing books, Ted sadly rejected mine. However, he asked me if I would write a book on another subject for Enterprise. I did, of course, and “Make Money by Moonlighting” was published in 1982.

Buoyed by my success, I wrote “How to Finance Your Invention,” a book for inventors, and again went to McCormick Place to find the acquisitions executives of Nolo and Ten Speed Press. I spoke with each of these executives, gave them a copy of my galley copy, and waited … and waited. Finally, Nolo said it wanted to publish it and sent me a royalty advance of $10,000. A week later, Ten Speed called me and said it wanted it. Nolo published it as “All I Need is Money.” Well, that was in 2005. These days, you can buy a good used copy at for a penny plus $3.99.

Books aren’t invention in the usual sense, of course. But they are a novel product, and the trade show experience is the same whether you’re trying to license a book or a new kitchen tool. I have since advised a number of inventors who have found prospective licensees at trade shows and negotiated royalty deals.

Licensing your patent involves a planned approach and lots of work. But the alternatives are also lots of work, and usually come to nothing. Good luck. And let me know of your success.