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
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
> 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
> 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
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
If you're not sure who to ask, there are several services who will evaluate
inventions, for a small fee. One of the best known is the Innovation
Institute (formerly WIN).
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
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
- 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
- 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
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