1.) 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.

2.) Read all you can about new-product development. Go to your local book store or library and dig through the Web … 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.

3.) 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 scores of nonprofit inventor organizations around the country. 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. See Inventors Digest for a list of groups.

4.) Do your own patent search. If it looked promising, make an appointment with a patent attorney, patent agent or professional patent searcher. Show them the results of your search and follow their 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. Fees for preparing and filing a patent application are 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.

5.) Do what you do well and hire pros to do the rest.

This seems obvious, 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. Product development is a team sport.