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I have a great idea. What do I need to do to get my invention on the market?

We receive many letters and e-mails which are a variation on this theme. Most often, the message is something like, "I have an idea. Everyone will want one. I don't have the time/money/knowledge to turn this into a product. What do I need to do?" 

To save everyone's time, we've posted this page, which is a composite of several replies to such messages. 

> I don't have time to get a product on the market. Who will do the work for me?

Don't waste time and money looking for someone else to do the work for you. There aren't any, at least not any we would recommend here.

> I am sure my idea is worth millions of dollars, if not billions. All I need to do
> is find someone who will figure out how to make the product and pay me for it.

Sorry to say it, but "ideas" are nearly worthless. "Inventions" have value, but only because someone has taken the time and effort to turn the idea into a workable product or service. You don't necessarily need to build one of your invention, although that might be advisable if it's at all possible, but you should have the idea thought out to the point where someone skilled in the field could build it. In patent law, that's called "enablement", and building the first one (or filing a patent application) is called "reduction to practice". If you haven't done that you don't really have an invention. 

What someone might be willing to pay for your idea is directly related in most cases to how well you've thought it out, and how close the idea is to a finished product. The more a prospective licensee will have to spend in development time and money before the idea becomes reality, the less they will be willing to pay you - and for good reason, because the more they have to spend, the less it's really your idea. 

> So how did something like the "clapper" get out there?

The "Clapper" was a clever idea (albeit one I wouldn't want), which someone spent the money to design and build, and spent a fortune advertising on late-night TV. The concept of a sound-operated switch wasn't all that novel - I had a toy bus that worked the same way back in the mid 50's - but someone had to make it work and fit in a box, and after that it was all in the advertising. The "Clapper" is of the same ilk as the "Chia Pet" and other priceless wonders - all started as ideas, took time and effort to turn into real products, and wound up in marketing, pure and not-at-all-simple.

> All I want to do is make people's lives better...

Then publish your idea in a book and give it away to everyone. Somehow, though, when someone tells me he just wants to make lives better, I tend to discount altruism as a true motive.

If what you really want is to make money off your idea, then you have to be prepared to invest the time and resources to make your invention into a real product, and then sell the product. If you just want to sell the invention, you need to get it in sufficient detail that an ordinary person skilled in the art could make it from your description, then get a patent (or, at least, a patent application), then shop the patent around for licensees.

> how can this be done when people are scamming others with good ideas?

The only ones who really have good ideas who can be scammed are those who are hoping to make a killing without doing any work themselves, and who don't take the time to investigate just what they're buying before they spend the huge sums Invention Marketers demand. ("You can't cheat an honest man" - W.C. Fields) Obviously, you've taken the first step of finding out what these outfits really are, or you'd be writing me that you'd spent the $13K and how do you get it back? A good first step - keep up the good work.

> I wonder how many ideas have been stomped on and
> could have been very helpful to us all.

Nearly none. Ideas are cheap and easy. True inventions are a much rarer breed and take a lot of sweat to bring to fruition - much more than anyone other than the inventor himself can or will invest ("1% inspiration, 99% perspiration" as Thomas Edison put it). The vast majority of ideas that these Invention Marketers "stomp on", as you put it, were never commercially viable in the first place, or not well enough thought-out to become real products without a huge investment in time and expertise. That's how they work - preying upon people by telling them their ideas are more valuable than they really are, then charging them a fortune to publish the idea to companies which have no interest in them and get worthless design patents on the appearance of the invention.

> So, how do I start?

Recognize that the following will NOT happen:

  • You reveal the idea to a wise marketer
  • He is instantly struck by its value, and approaches a manufacturer
  • The manufacturer has never seen anything like it, signs a contract to pay huge royalties, then rushes to the bank and takes out a pot of cash to develop the idea and bring it to market.
  • Everyone who sees the product buys it.
  • You become rich beyond your wildest dreams, to the acclaim of the world at large.

Instead, you will need to:

  • Get your invention down on paper, in as much detail as you can. Our Invention Disclosure Form will help you get your thoughts in order about what your invention is (and is not). Have someone who is not an inventor sign the form as a witness.
  • Read the books - There are a number of books you should look at about commercializing an invention. Several are listed on our "IP Resources" page.

Check Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble.com for other books for first-time inventors.

  • Have an impartial third party look at the invention - preferably someone familiar with the industry, but not a potential licensee (get them to sign a nondisclosure agreement). Ask for a real honest opinion (your wife and brother-in-law are not going to tell you your idea stinks) - and listen to the opinion.

Be sure to ask if the invention is economical (or even possible) to manufacture. Many ideas we see seem very simple and easy to the inventor - because he/she has no idea how the product he/she is improving really works. Someone who knows the industry may know that the idea has been proposed many times, and no one has ever been able to make a go of it for purely technological reasons.

What would the cost be to implement your idea? Don't just look at the incremental cost per unit, but also the cost of doing the work to make the invention into a product and tooling up to make it (this is often called "NRE", or "non-recurring engineering costs.") It's good if the difference in cost of material between your idea and existing designs is only a few cents, but if it requires a million dollars to get to that point, and that cost has to be paid up front and spread over even thousands of units, the cost of NRE can easily exceed the cost of materials. If so, you're probably not going to find a large market for your idea.

  • Investigate the market and see what's actually out there. Is your invention really an improvement? Is it cheaper? Better? Enough better to counteract the added expense? Is there really a market, as opposed to your hopes that "everyone will want one"? Look at trade publications - not just today's, but from ten years ago - was someone else trying to do what you're proposing and failed? Why? 
  • Do a preliminary patent search yourself on the USPTO website or Google Patents. If you find that the exact same invention has been patented before, that will save you a lot of money trying to patent it again (don't give up, though - if the patent's expired, you'd be free to make the product as described in the patent, assuming no other patent covers the product, even if you couldn't patent it). 
  • If you didn't find a "knockout", work with a patent attorney or agent (preferably Brown & Michaels) to see if there's anything about your invention which might be patentable. You might want to have the attorney or agent do a professional patent search - there's more art than science to patent searching. 
  • File at least a provisional application before you sell any of the invention or describe it in a publication, if you have any intention of ever seeking foreign patent protection. Follow up with a utility application within a year (assuming, of course, that there's anything patentable about the invention)
  • Build a prototype and figure out what it would take to make it commercial (you might need to hire someone to help - if so, make sure they agree to assign any inventions they might make to you)
  • Have some made and see how they sell.
  • Improve the product based on what you learn in the last step.
  • Have more made. Sell them.
  • Sit back and enjoy being in business, in your spare time between placing ads, opening orders, packing boxes, shipping product, etc. Or, go back to whoever made the ones you're selling, and ask them if they'd like to buy the rights, now that you've proven there's a market.

You can find more information about invention marketers and also about the patent process on our website. 

> I want to write some companies about my invention - what should I do? 

There's no one way. We've received enough of those letters from inventors who wanted to convince us to purchase, license, invest in, or promote their inventions on a percentage, that we can list a few general tips:

  • First, and most important, your letter has to look like you're professional and serious and qualified to come up with and develop an invention which they might be interested in hearing about. If your message is full of misspellings, grammatical errors, WRITTEN IN ALL CAPS or all lower case, or using abbrev and things like lol, roflmao - u kan rel8 to the sort of stuff ;> you run a very real risk that the recipient will be so turned off by the style (or lack thereof) that they won't give it any consideration at all. Yes, we understand that these internet customs are perfectly normal on Facebook and Twitter and all the other social networks of the moment - but you aren't Facebooking or Tweeting, you're trying to convince a business to give you some of their money.  
  • Don't start out by saying that your invention has a potential in the billions of dollars - everyone says that, it's seldom true, and it marks you as one of the millions of wannabes.
  • Don't start out by telling the person receiving the letter that you don't trust them, so you won't reveal your invention until they sign an NDA or, worse yet, pay a substantial down payment. We actually received one letter saying that the idea was so revolutionary and valuable that the sender wouldn't even hint at what it was unless we returned a signed NDA with a "substantial advance". Most companies won't sign NDA's in the first place, and no one with any sense will sign one without knowing what they're agreeing to keep secret and not to use. No one is going to pay anything just because you say they should.
  • It's a quick turnoff to receive a letter generically written so that it could be (and probably was) sent to everyone under the sun to market any conceivable invention which explains why you need to become rich from your brilliance, and they should help. Be specific about why this company will want to sell your invention - and state it in terms of benefit to them, not to you.
  • Do your homework and only contact companies who would be likely to want to make the invention. Be sure that your letter starts out showing that you have done your homework - we get letters and e-mails all the time saying that this new invention will fit in our product line, which are immediately deleted, since that telegraphs that the sender can't be bothered to notice he's writing a law firm which has no "product line". (Note to e-mail marketers in general - this also applies to you. We're not going to use your service if your e-mail solicitation shows that you have no idea what our service is.)
  • You want to find out who can make decisions on such things, and contact them personally with a letter which will make them interested in investigating your invention. Don't write letters blindly to the company in general.
  • No one is going to license your invention or buy the patent based on your letter, so don't start out offering license terms or talking about how much you want to sell the application for. Offer to meet with them to demonstrate and explain the invention, and if they respond be ready to make a professional looking presentation.
  • If you have a patent application on file, your priority in the patent office is set. The application will be published in a few months, so it's not like you can keep it secret anyway. Give the recipient a good idea of what the invention is in general terms, and offer to send a copy of the application if they want it (that will be even easier after it's published).

Good luck!

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