Common Sense Inventing - Educational articles to help Inventors make informed decisions

I get asked this question quite often “Should Family Members or Business Partners Sign an NDA?” An NDA is best to use no matter who you are discussing your idea/product with. When you say don’t worry about family you can trust them. Consider does your family know as much as you do about how to treat your idea/product and keep it confidential? Do they know about public disclosure and how that can hurt you? Having them sign an NDA pushes the point that you are taking this seriously and they need to respect that and not tell your neighbors about your idea/product unless you agree it is okay to do so.
The same goes for anyone you are in business with and plan on showing them your idea/product. It sets the tone for everyone that you take this seriously and you want to keep it private. I work with a lot of Inventors and can tell you from experience showing your idea/product to family and friends is not a great indication of whether your idea/product is a winner. Most family members will not want to hurt your feelings so you will mostly get positive feedback from them. Which can cause you to spend money needlessly.
You need people that you trust to give you brutally honest opinions of your idea/product. It is not hard to find people that love everything you show them. You want people that give honest opinions and you need to not let those opinions hurt your feelings or take it out on anyone that tells you your idea is not that great.
I have done idea/products reviews for a living for a number of years and the Inventor is quick to want to shoot the messenger instead of taking a hard look at why they got a rejection. I have shown Inventors several products already on the market that are better than the one they are swearing is a million dollar idea and all they can respond with is that doesn’t matter theirs will still be worth millions. You need to make informed decisions based on facts, not what you want to happen.

What do I mean by “Can You Say It Without Saying It?” It’s simple really, but something a number of Inventors struggle with when describing their product/idea. The object is to be able to tell the company Rep you cold call or email about your product with just enough detail to peak their interest without giving away the entire idea/product. I will give you some examples below and if you are interested you can see the Sell Sheet that was sent to the company after they confirmed there was interest in the product here .
The trick is to tell just enough so they can see the value of the product and have a good idea it would fit within their line of products. It also lets you gauge the level of interest and if you feel they are a company you want to deal with.

1. This kitchen utensil allows the user to slice pizza without damaging the pizza pan, serve it as a spatula and comes apart for easy cleaning.

2. This game lets two players play a fast action game of hockey on most tabletops utilizing a boxing action device and a retractable border.

3. This takes the traditional game of Horseshoes and gives it a new twist where the user has to not only ring the opponents’ pole but reach a certain height of the pole to gain extra points.

Now in each example I have told you about the product/idea but did not tell how I achieve it. But based on those statements they can gauge if there is interest to learn more and if it might be a fit for their line if things moved forward.
Think about your product/idea and see if you can describe it without giving away exactly how you would do it.

Here is another example from a device I invented and licensed called the Super Sleever (I know corny name but I did not pick it)
This device eliminates the need for two operators taking 45 minutes to sleeve water hoses, electric cords and breathing air hoses to one operator and less than a minute. This saves millions of dollars a year in manhours and reduced waste.
As you can see that peaked their interest without me giving away how I was going to do this. It ended up saving around 4 million dollars a year in just one facility and was promoted and used throughout 17 other DOE facilities nationwide. You can see the write up here.

It never ceases to amaze me how many Inventors think that just because a company has a set of policies they will change them for the Inventor. Below is an example of what I mean. Without going any deeper into the company you can plainly see that 3M is only looking for PATENTED ideas. They even state they are not looking for patent pending ideas. And below that they state in Bold Print ”


So, my question is why are Inventors griping about how a company treats them when a company spells out their policy and the Inventor still sends them exactly what they said they don’t want to see? And does this add to the perception by many companies that Inventors as a group are crazy?…

Submit Your Idea
Welcome to 3M’s website for the submission of new product ideas. We appreciate your interest in and support of the 3M Company.

Patented Ideas for New Products
Each year 3M assesses thousands of ideas, including many that come from people outside of our organization. We are truly appreciative of these submissions, but for legal and practical reasons we can only accept and assess an idea if it is protected by a granted or issued patent and submitted to us using the following process.

• Submit a Patented Product Idea
• Request the Status of a Previously Submitted Patented Idea
• Frequently Asked Questions

New product ideas associated with pending patent applications, provisional patent applications, and/or patent applications that are otherwise in prosecution will not be accepted in this process.

Your Thoughts Regarding Existing 3M Products
3M also welcomes comments or suggestions that you may have for improvements or new uses of existing 3M products. PLEASE NOTE: YOU WILL NOT RECEIVE A REPLY TO ANY COMMUNICATION YOU SUBMIT CONCERNING EXISTING 3M PRODUCTS

• Submit Your Thoughts Regarding an Existing 3M Product

To often I get contacted by Inventors that have paid for a patent search long before they should have spent any money. They either contacted a Patent Lawyer or an Invention Submission company and were told the first thing they need to do is conduct a patent search. Which of course costs a fee.
The correct action should have been for the Inventor to do their research first which only costs them their time. With free access to the patent office website and other search engines such as you can do a lot of your own research for free.

I am amazed at how many Inventors don’t even do a word or image search in Google to see what shows up… again free. Go to any store and look at how many products you see that are not covered by a patent. These will not show up in a patent search and neither will the PPA’s that could already be filed on your same product idea. Look at the amount of posts/ads you see in any Inventor related sites that push spending your money on patents and patent searches. Why? Because they have nothing to lose. They are not going in debt, you are, so it is easy for them to say go for it. Plus, you are making them richer. Not yourself.

You will find out that in a lot of cases the idea you first come up with and the final product may not even be close to each other by the time you get the final version and is not covered by the patent you filed. Keep in mind your patent is only as good as the Claims you are able to get granted. And most companies prefer utility patents over design patents because design patents are easier to go around.

Ask patent lawyers what percentage of patented items actually make it to market? You will find that the success rate is extremely low. The former head of the USPTO had said in one of his presentations that the rate was around 4% that actually made it to store shelves. So that means 96% wasted their money. Granted some people don’t care if their product makes it to market. They just want to be able to say they have a patent. Which is fine. But If you want to see a return on your investment, not just a piece of paper you can hang on the wall, you will want to do your best to research your idea first.

Stop buying into the hype and fear someone will steal your idea if you don’t pay for a patent search and file for protection right away. Do as much of your due diligence up front for free and make informed decisions.

When they first get started many Inventors have a lack of Focus and Direction due to everything being new and unknown. This is why things can take a turn for the good or bad depending on their next steps and how they proceed.  Unfortunately below is how it happens for a large portion of new Inventors. I am writing this so you can avoid these pitfalls and not learn the hard way.

The Inventor gets an idea and then doesn’t seriously consider their options before they run head first towards any goal. They see a contact for an infomercial company and throw their idea that way. They don’t consider whether their idea fits that market, It is just somewhere to go. They don’t understand why they get a rejection from the infomercial company.
Then they see a contact for a toy company and send them a bicycle idea never looking to see they don’t deal in bicycles. They find a website online that says we look at outside ideas. They slap any unorganized information they can gather in an envelope or email and send it to whatever address they can find for the company, assuming once it gets there a kind hearted person will open their package/email and direct it to the right person in the company. Oh, and by the way they didn’t finish reading the boring section on rules for submitting that state they only look at patented ideas or finished products. 

Many Inventors don’t do the due diligence homework required and don’t realize they need to stay focused and pick a direction they want to target. Direction such as do you want to license, manufacture, start a business around it, give it to a company to distribute it for you, sell online only, sell through retailers; the list goes on and on. You need to know what you want the end goal to be so you have a goal line to move towards. 
If you have a toy idea you need to study the toy industry, not the auto industry, you need to know what they sell, who sells the most of a particular type product line that your idea fits into. Do they have requirements for submitting? Do they even look at ideas/products? You are wasting your energy and money not doing research before contacting the first company. Don’t randomly pick something, make an informed decision.

You don’t go through the gas tank to change your car tire. Take the time to get the right information and use it wisely. It may take a little longer to do it this way, but it will increase your chances of success.