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

When it comes to inventing, bigger isn’t always better. There seems to be a trend with Inventors to put everything including the kitchen sink into their invention. What you need to understand is the more you add the higher the cost of the product. The more parts you add the greater the risk of a part failing rendering the product useless. You want your product to be as user friendly and streamlined as possible. Don’t add features to your product just because you can. You want your product to catch the consumers’ eye as something they need.
We have all seen products on the shelf that do multiple functions that we would either never use or maybe use twice a year. Does it really enhance the product or is it just another thing to go wrong? Some things just shouldn’t go together, like a coffee mug and a hair dryer. Separately they are great products. Together they make no sense.

Unless you are designing the Space Shuttle keep your ideas simple and functional. You need to be as consumer friendly as possible to make significant sales. High tech is great, but can scare a consumer from a purchase if they think it will be complicated to learn to operate, break easily or be extremely costly to repair.
You need to consider your product from the manufacturer’s and consumer’s side of the street. If you add more bells and whistles they have to cut costs somewhere else to maintain the shelf cost to remain competitive. This can mean using an inferior grade of materials versus quality materials to stay within budget. All this does is give you a product that will have a short shelf life once consumers realize the quality is not there.

Some Inventors feel they have to show the world how smart they are by crowding every inch of space with some type of gadget or button. Functionality over practicality is not always the best route to take. Look at the T.V. DVD combo. It is a great product until one of the two components breaks. If you take it to get fixed you are out the use of both items. If you decide to just buy a new one because the repair price is too high, you have another issue. You are throwing out one item that works perfectly fine just because the other doesn’t. You are better off buying each item separately.

You have to look at your product and make sure it meets the consumers’ needs, not what you want the consumer’s needs to be. Make sure your product solves the problem you stated and does it from a user friendly approach. If you do this you will see consumers buy it. Over engineering a product can be the kiss of death for your product if you are not careful. You don’t want to cross that line between a great useful product and a product that costs too much to afford and doesn’t perform as expected. Always look at your product from a consumer’s point of view and you can’t go wrong.

The same issue of over inventing can fall on the manufacturing side as well by your choice of materials and parts. Making a product out of stainless steel versus a high density plastic or other material can make the end product too costly for the market. Adding intricate design where none is needed can add to the cost of molds, amount of material used. All of these add to the final cost.

Having worked with a large number of Inventors over the years I see certain similarities in how they express their idea/product. The first thing I hear from most Inventors when they discuss their product/idea is about how everyone in their family loves the product/idea and would buy it if it was available. Unfortunately you have to take this statement and forget it because it doesn’t really mean anything of value.

It is easy to find a person to say they love your idea or that they would buy one if you sold them. Most of your friends and family don’t want to hurt your feelings so they will say what they think you want to hear. This actually hurts you more because the Inventor is hearing nothing but praise for their idea and will be more willing to get into severe debt based on these comments. Then when the Inventor goes forward with their idea the Inventor is crushed and confused when all they get are rejections from the companies they approach. They tell the company “Everyone I showed it to loves it and would buy one if it was available”. How much weight do you think that really has with any company?

You need a couple of people you can trust to give you the truth no matter what it is and you have to be able to take it and respect their honesty. Let them know no matter what their comments are it will not affect your friendship and then it is up to you to make sure it doesn’t. You will find out the more questions they ask you the more prepared you are to answer questions from companies. Plus, the problems they point out you can fix before you present it to a company. Which saves you time, keeps you from looking unprepared and gives you a better product.

A truthful upfront person is worth their weight in gold to an Inventor. Consider this situation. If you were building a house and someone noticed there were no bathrooms in it. Would you want to be told before or after you finished the construction?
The people you trust to give you their honest opinion should have your respect and listen to them without losing your temper. Because how long do you think they will give you honest opinions if you chew them out if their opinion doesn’t match what you want to hear?

Consider this post from a disgruntled Inventor he sent to a invention company that prompted me to write the article below.
“You claim you don’t steal people’s ideas? I did research my idea and it had NEVER been done before I submitted it to you lying thieves! No sooner
did my idea stall in the selection process, than the FBI announces their new app for missing children. THAT WAS MY IDEA!!! I submitted that. It
was almost word for word my idea, about Amber alerts, and locating missing children, posting alerts on local computers, law enforcement notification, etc…almost WORD FOR WORD!!! You stole my idea and you can deny it all you want. I wouldn’t have been so mad if it showed up a few years later,or even a year later, but not even 3 months after I submitted it to you, all of the sudden, the FBI suddenly has a new app for missing children!!! Coincidence? I dont’ think so! You stole my idea and you sold it. I hope you choke! You lying thieving good for nothing criminal! It will come back on you. Mark my words, Karma is a _itch and she takes prisoners. I hope you get what you have coming to you, because you are nothing but a liar. I want my money back that I PAID you to steal my idea! Give me back that $25! That’s the
least you can do, you sniveling thief!!”

My article

Everyone likes to think they are the only person on the planet with their million dollar idea, but the reality is that may not be true. In fact, there could be hundreds of people thinking along the same lines as you are right now. To put things into perspective, consider how many times you have walked into a store or watched TV and seen a similar idea you had months or years ago now on the market.
Did that person, whom you have never met, creep into your house while you were asleep and using alien technology pull it from your mind? No. Is it possible that your trusted friend shared your idea? Likely not. Rather, it is very possible that someone had the same idea you did, and actually did something with it.

Inventors and entrepreneurs need to realize that if you have an idea, it is almost a certainty someone else has had or is having that same idea. The question is which one of you is going to do something with it? Before you get started, you should do everything you can for free to confirm that someone else hasn’t already acted on the same idea and it isn’t already on the market. Many Inventors spend money on patent searches before they even make an attempt to find what is already out there. Market validation and patent research are simple ways to help determine whether or not an idea is unique and worth pursuing, you can do a lot of this research without spending any money just your time.

First, use a search engine to look for similar products. Search for different variations of the product title, function and benefit to ensure you’re considering not only products that look the same, but also fulfill the same need. Do image searches. Go to stores that you feel would carry this type of product and see what is out there. In many cases it can help you see if your idea is unique and marketable and can spark different ideas you may not have considered.

Next, conduct a patent search yourself. Google Patents is a search engine that indexes all patents and patent applications from the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) dating back to 1790. Google Patents can give insight as to what already exists in the space and what about your idea, if any, is patentable. Check out the Claims section of any patent you find similar to help you see if your idea has already been claimed in a patent even if it has not been utilized in a product. Many Inventors don’t realize you don’t have to use everything in your issued patent to make a marketable product.

These simple tasks can help confirm whether or not someone else has had the same great idea or if there is even a need in the market. Conducting research early on in this process can help you save time and money in the long run.
Ultimately, a conceptual idea locked inside your head has no value. As Thomas Edison once said, “the value of an Idea lies in the using in it,” and I couldn’t agree more. If you have an idea, do your research for free first. Stop spending money making everyone else rich on things you can do yourself.

Wanted to make a couple of points about the use of magnets, Velcro and suction cups in your ideas. As a rule, magnet’s run the cost of goods up. And I know your first comment will be how can they be expensive, I see them in all sorts of products. It all comes down to the product, its profit margin and the return on investment. There is no problem using magnets if it is the best fit and not just a quick fix. Also, if you choose to work with magnets do your research to find the right type of magnets that make sense for your application.
Velcro is a very versatile product and great to use in many applications. But you need to think past your use of it and what happens after the purchase. How many times have you put a piece of clothing in the washer or dryer that contains Velcro and seen it stuck to your favorite shirt or skirt? Or it catches all the lint in the dryer and you must clean it out for it to work right again. You have the same issue with Velcro catching outdoor debris on the straps of your shoes. Velcro would be fantastic to hold turkey legs together for cooking but how will it hold up in the hot oven or microwave oven?
Another material that is used a lot in ideas, but not always effective is suction cups. Yes, they are cheap, but they don’t stick to every surface. And they do not hold up well with weight loads that exceed the object they are connected too. Think about how you are attaching the suction cup to the object. If you look at most items that have suction cups they may have a small piece of metal running through the tip that is connected to the object, be inserted into a groove or slot and many other methods.
A suction cup sitting flat on your desk or table has a better holding strength than a suction cup adhered to a mirror in your steamy bathroom as you take a shower. Which is why the device using a suction holding a dry towel in your garage can do a better job than the one in your bathroom holding a wet towel. It comes down to application and environment.
When choosing a material for your idea always try and consider where it will be used the most. Don’t just use a material because it is cheaper; make sure it is effective and proper for the workload you plan on using it. Remember just because it works doesn’t mean it is the best choice of materials. So, when you rush to use magnets, Velcro or suctions cups in your ideas I would challenge you to also include alternatives that could do the same function, so you have a back-up solution in case your first choice is cost prohibitive or impractical.

Many Inventors trying to bring their product ideas to market are totally crushed by rejection. So, I thought I would provide a list of some of the reasons you could have gotten rejected. It does not cover every reason you could get rejected, but hopefully it will give you something to think about.

You need to realize that inventing is fundamentally a numbers game! Yes, you still need to have a good idea, but you will find that no matter how good an idea you may think it is you can still get rejected. Many marketable ideas are rejected all the time. Even if it does not make sense to you that they would reject an idea that they agree would be profitable. Here are some common reasons why even marketable ideas are rejected.

1. The company may already have a full line of products and not wanting to add more.

2. The product is outside their target market.

3. You sent your submission to the wrong person in the company – don’t assume they’ll automatically send it to the right one.

4. You sent the idea unsolicited without contacting the company first to find out their submission policy, and they rejected it solely on that basis.

5. You did not have proper contact information on your submission. (That is one of the highest mistakes Inventors make. The company will not bother to track you down.)

6. They have too many similar products and that market is flooded enough.

7. Your idea appeals to a very small niche market and they want mass market items.

8. The cost to manufacture versus the return on investment is too high.

9. Your sales sheet did not WOW them and lacked consumer benefits information or was overloaded with too much information to sort through.

10. Your product has already been patented by someone else and they don’t want to see if they can go around it or risk infringement issues.

11. Your product or idea isn’t better than what is already on the market. This tells them you did not research your idea very well and don’t have a clue who your competition is in the market.

12. You sent a product that is exactly like their current product and that current product is a marginal seller. So yours will not fare any better.

13. Your idea is outdated or is on the downswing compared to what is coming out the following year.

14. They already have a better solution than yours in the works for release that coming year. (This is also where Inventors may scream the company stole their idea even when the company has already invested in molds, engineering, samples, etc prior to the Inventor contacting the company about their idea. This happens a lot. Inventors forget that they are not the only ones inventing.)

15. They have already received a similar idea from another Inventor and are in negotiations with that Inventor.

16. You have posted your idea unprotected online in one of those invention posting sites where others vote on your product to see if there is interest. Your public disclosure makes the company concerned whether any patent protection would be allowed and turns it down based on that issue.

17. You posted your unprotected idea and video of the working prototype on YouTube and have a significant number of hits. This again raises the concern whether any patent would be possible due to your public disclosure.

18. You stated that you have an issued patent, but when they do a quick search on your patent they see that it has lapsed due to non-payment of fees and it has been lapsed significantly past the due date. Making the chances of it being reinstated unlikely.

19. You have a patent, but it was poorly written and does not cover the actual product. (This happens a lot)

20. You have a design patent and designing around your patent is a simple task, which means they can expect very little protection in the marketplace.

21. Sometimes the company you have approached just doesn’t look at outside ideas and does not publicize that fact. So you get a rejection letter, but it doesn’t explain they just don’t look outside the company.

22. You sent them your product but they have already decided on their line for that year or the following year and are not open to taking on anything else at that time.

23. They only consider items with a sales history they can review and your item has never been in production or sold stores or online. So they do not want to take the risk of being the first company to market it.

24. You decided you had nothing to lose and cussed out the Reviewer for being to dumb to understand a million dollar idea when it is right in front of them. (This happened recently. Not a good move)

25. You sent your idea to a company who came back showing interest. In order to try and get a better deal you lied to the company saying you had multiple offers on the table and you wanted them to make a better offer or you would go to one of the other companies. They said they could not go higher so you would be better off going with one of the other companies. Unfortunately since there were no other companies you lost the deal.

26. You tell the company their current product is stupid, yours is better and they should pull theirs off the market and replace it with yours if they are smart. (Had an inventor do that and was surprised when they turned him down)

27. You send your ideas to a toy company the week before ToyFair in New York, don’t hear anything for a week and decide they are ignoring you and you leave several unprofessional comments on their answering machine, not realizing they have been out of town for a week at the convention and busy.

28. The company feels they can not generate enough sales to warrant the expense of getting the item to market.

29. The factory being used in China does not pass quality control inspection by the retail chain representative. Happens more than you think as they sometimes try and use substandard materials or cut corners to lower their cost and the product suffers for it.

30. If the company considering licensing the idea puts it in front of Buyers and gets weak feedback indicating orders would be small or nonexistent they will most likely pass on it.

31. If your product/idea is seasonal and they are in the middle of that season’s run they may not want to see it until later that year. Example, you don’t send them a Halloween idea two weeks before Halloween. In most cases they are busy dealing with that season and have already picked what they plan on selling that season.

As I stated above these are just a few of the reasons you can have your idea/product rejected by a company. Really take the time to do your research and understand your market, your place in that market and do your part to make yourself as marketable as possible.