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

Being an Inventor myself I have gone through a number of the same situations every Inventor faces. I have had my products/ideas rejected by multiple companies, products/ideas held for long periods of time as it was reviewed only to be returned, had the company tell me they loved my product/idea but still say No to licensing it (which is completely frustrating). And a host of other situations that can drive you absolutely crazy. So, I wanted to post some of the situations I have gone through to give other Inventors a look into the reality of inventing. Because inventing can be fun, exciting, frustrating, and have you run the gambit of emotions. The first rule of inventing you need to learn is patience. Because without it you will always have a headache.

I have been fortunate to get 11 of my product/ideas licensed in the toy, tool, kitchen, eyewear and nuclear industries and not go into debt during the process. The fastest I have gotten a product/idea licensed from the time I thought of it to the time I was offered a licensing deal from a company was two weeks. The longest I have gotten a product/idea licensed from the time I thought of it to the time I was offered a licensing deal from a company was 4 years and two months. So as you can see that is a wide range from start to finish. This is why I am posting this thread. I want Inventors to understand that every situation is different and how it progresses is not always the same. Because every company is different, their market is different, internal policies are different, how they treat innovation is different. And you will find that companies will turn down products/ideas they agree they love and would make them money if they licensed it.

I have had licensing deals that the company paid me an advance and then later decided they wanted to go in a different direction. The product/idea was returned to me and I got to keep the advance and go back to shopping it around. I have had licensing deals where the company was excited about the product but had to drop it because current manufacturing processes were not able to make the product at a rate that would make it financially beneficial. So it was not the product that stopped the deal, but current technology.

I had a licensing deal for a product that I developed while working for a government contractor company so it fell under the DOE/Contractor policy. It saved the DOE facility I worked at 4 million dollars a year in reduced waste. I received every award my company gave as well as I was the only individual to receive the National DOE Pollution Prevention award that year. Others that won that award were engineering or scientific groups. You can see info on it here Sounds great, doesn’t it? It is until you realize their policy stated that I would receive royalties for every product sold to non-government companies. It was being used throughout the entire DOE complex nationwide,(which is government) so unless I got the commercial nuclear industry interested in it I would not see a dime. Fortunately it was received very well by the commercial nuclear industry.

My point to all this is that inventing is not a one size fits all process that happens the same every time for every company or industry. How you approach the toy industry is entirely different than how you might approach the kitchen industry and so on. As an Inventor you need to learn to do your research, not be married to your product/idea, not be offended by criticism and learn from it to improve your product/idea, understand that companies work on their timetable not yours. Realize, a No is not the end of your life. Don’t just focus on one area, look at the world around you and seek out problems looking for a solution (not a solution looking for a problem). Challenge yourself to think outside the box and realize every idea does not have to be complicated in order to be a good idea.

The reality is sometimes what you invent is just not better than what is currently available. No matter how you want to argue that yours is different it comes down to different does not mean better. I can invent a different type of handle for a shovel, but if it doesn’t help me dig easier, lift the material easier, do more of the work for me, etc is it really better?
You want your difference to actually be a benefit for the user otherwise why would the consumer want it? If my improvement to a shovel handle was that it counted how many times you put the shovel blade into the dirt, is that really a feature you want or would pay extra to have? Is this something the majority of people that buy a shovel would want or need? Is this a feature you could promote in your sales pitch as a shovel manufacturer to retail stores to convince them it will cause the sales of shovels to increase?

When you describe your products benefits and you make a claim like “mine is different from anything else out there.” or “No product has my features” Ask yourself why doesn’t anyone else have this feature? Is it because no one would want it. Does it make the product better than others on the market? Is the cost not worth the return? Or is it because you solved a problem no one has been able to solve or you came up with a solution that is more user friendly than anyone else?
Remember being different just to be different is not always an improvement.

Wanted to give more insight into delays or cancellations that can occur even when you are already on the inside dealing with a company. Many Inventors think that once you are at the point of sealing a deal it is all smooth and quick. That is far from the truth. There are many factors that can slow down or even cancel a deal that looked like it was going to happen that day.
The company licensing the product can have additional legal questions that need to be resolved prior to signing the contract. The quote they estimated is not close to the final quote they received, which affects their profit margin, which can affect whether it is worth going forward. A similar product just came out on the market that would directly compete with your product, so they need to evaluate their market share.

You can be dealing with one company and everything is going smoothly until they are bought out by another company. The two companies are merging which means policy changes, staff changes, job reassignments, products are put on hold as finances are looked at, the new merged company may want to go in a different direction which does not include your product.
Companies sometimes will want to release new products during different times of the year to maximize exposure. Some companies will wait to release your product as part of a new line of products. So even though yours is a finished product and ready to go you can sit on hold for months waiting on another product to be finalized.
Your product is seasonal and due to manufacturing delays it was not ready for shipment to hit that years season. So now you are on hold till the following season. As you can see there are a number of factors that can put your product on hold even when the company loves the product.

One of the steps in the evolution of your idea is to ask the question ” Is it better than…..?” This is a question that can’t be skipped because any company that has interest in your idea is going to ask that very question. So you need to be prepared to answer that question. Whether it is a submission to an invention submission company or something you are looking at building a business around you need to ask and answer that question truthfully. Because if you can’t the idea has a slim chance of success. To many Inventors think that if they just ignore the other products already on the market they will all go away. It just does not happen like that.

You have to look at your competition seriously because those are the ones you would will facing if your idea gets to a store shelf. What will make you stand out from the crowd? Why would a consumer buy yours over the three other similar items right next to it on the shelf?
Unless your idea is completely the first of its kind in the marketplace there will be competition already in your market space when you get there. So you have to have a “HOOK” that catches the consumers attention to get a piece of that market share.

You can’t just add something different to your product and think that will be enough. It has to be something that improves the use, function, saves time, labor, makes it convenient to use, has a perceived value. For example if you created a TV remote control that can also be used as a hand held drill motor is that really something that a consumer is going to say “That is really useful to have?” Granted it is different from every other TV remote out there, but is it really a selling point?

So, really look at your idea and ask the question ” Is it better than ….?” if it isn’t it may not be worth pursuing.
I started out writing for comic book companies such as Marvel, Disney and DC comics. I learned very quickly it was in my best interest to learn the Editors, as well as the characters they were over if I wanted writing work from them. I learned that the Editor may have Spider-Man as one of his books to promote, but also had other characters he needed to keep active. I knew he was getting hit by every Writer on the planet sending him proposals for Spider-Man, but very few were submitting story ideas for the other characters. I started submitting stories for those other characters and started getting more and more work. He liked what I was writing and gave me a shot at a couple of Spider-Man stories.

What does that have to do with inventing? Everything. I found an area that was not being addressed and because of that I found success. I approach inventing the same way. When I approach a particular company I learn as much about them as possible and look for that void that needs to be filled and go after it. I have also come up with product ideas by listening to people complain about having problems with a particular task and I look for a solution. I wander stores a lot looking at what is already on the shelf which gives me a good indicator of what is not on the shelf. I also challenge myself daily by picking a random topic to think about for the day to see what I can come up with that might be something to work on further. Today’s topic is screwdrivers. Tomorrows may be baby rattles. It helps keeps your mind active.

Normally I will have a company in mind and a list of alternates if they pass on it. But I always used the feedback if I got any from a company that passed on it to see if I can’t improve the idea prior to sending it to the next one. This is a practice I see a number of Inventors fail to do. As soon as they get rejected by a company they immediately send it out to the next company without seeing if it is a fit or take time to evaluate their idea to see if maybe there is room for improvement before going to the next company.
Set yourself up for success by doing your best to improve your product/idea before you send it out for review and present it as professionally as possible.

Having had the opportunity to review a large amount of videos made by Inventors hoping to get a company interested in licensing their idea I wanted to give some advice Inventors may find helpful. Many Inventors have great ideas but allow distractions to hurt their chances of success. They don’t consider how they come across in a video presentation when your audiences focus is not on the actual product but the background you are in, the background sounds, your actions, what you are wearing or your language.

I have seen videos where the Inventor is explaining or demonstrating the product where they had dogs in the room barking as they were describing the product or kids running through the room screaming as they pass by their Mom who is trying to explain the product.

I have seen people do a great job explaining their product in a video but the T-Shirt they were wearing at the time had a number of highly vulgar words in big bold print on it. This is not something you can show to a prospective client looking for a children’s product. Have seen a Dad doing a video of his exercise product and yell off camera for the kids to “Shut the _ _ _ _ up!!!” and then calmly go right back to his presentation. Do you want to show that video to a prospective company for licensing?

Saw a video where the person was shooting it in their den area and all you could do was keep staring at the huge holes in the sheet rock where you could see into the next room and the Police Caution tape in the background. You wanted to know what the heck happened there.

Had another video where the person picked their nose while demonstrating a kitchen utensil. And another where in the background the Mother was helping her child on and off the toilet and wiping their butt as the Dad is demonstrating the product. Granted this is an everyday function when you have small kids, but should it be in your video promoting your product?

Some people like to use music as an overlay as they speak. This is fine unless it is a song with words that would make a sailor blush. Or the volume of the music overrides your talking. And you have to remember just because you like a particular style of music does not mean everyone does.

Superimposing large scrolling words across the video screen as you demonstrate the product may be a distraction especially if they are totally different than what you are saying at the time. The viewer may not know which to focus their attention on and miss an important point you are trying to make. Or the words are so large they can no longer see the product demonstration.

Having your video showing your product in action and seeing your product fail to perform as you described is not the time to look at the camera and say “I’m sure you guys can fix that problem”. Or filming your product so far away from the camera that it is hard to make out what is happening as you describe it.

Had one Inventor show himself in a video just talking about the product for 4 minutes and then at the end tell the viewer if they wanted to see the product in action they would need to do it in person and fly him and his wife to their location and pay for a hotel and all their expenses. This was on a product that had no patent, no PPA and a prototype he stated was in need of repairs.

Having a video that is 18 minutes long and the first 12 minutes are you talking about how you came up with the idea, the ones that didn’t work, how you used your cousins garage because your wife kept complaining about how much space your project took up in your garage are all things the viewer does not care to hear.

All any company wants to know is if the product will make them money. Make your presentation short, concise and to the point. You want it to grab their attention so they “GET” the idea and can see its market value. Inventing is a business, treat it like one.

Excerpt from the successful Ebook “Common Sense Inventing” at

There seems to be a myth out there that all you need is a patent for the riches to come pouring in like a river. The next myth is that once your patent issues doors will open and companies will be begging you to let them produce your product. Nothing could be further from the truth. All a patent proves is that no one else has been granted your specific patent claims.
I need to correct myself; once your patent is approved you will be contacted by companies. There will be companies wanting to send you your approved patent on a plaque, coffee mug, mouse pad, t-shirt, etc, for a fee. Then another group of companies will want you to purchase their services to get your patented idea to market. No matter what your idea is some of these companies will claim that it WILL get to market. Have you noticed all of these companies are getting you to do what?…….spend more of your money?

In the real world a patent does not automatically mean you will get a licensing deal or have success manufacturing it yourself and make millions. Less than 3% of patented inventions make it to market, so your chances are high you will be in that 97%. The way to minimize your chance of failure is through proper research prior to attempting to get a patent. You may even determine that you don’t need a patent due to the size of your market or the length of time your product will be on the market.
An example would be if your product dealt with a certain event such as the 2016 Olympics. Once the 2016 Olympics are done for that time period would there still be the same high demand you had prior to or during the event? The answer is…. No. So, why spend thousands on a patent that will only be useful for a year or two? The patent you are ready to spend thousands on may not even be approved before the event is over.

You also have to consider that even though your idea is patentable is it an idea that the general public would purchase in mass. Let’s say you have developed a device that can change the texture of a toilet seat from slick to rough with the touch of a remote. While this is a neat effect how many people are going to remove their current toilet seat to purchase yours? You can’t assume that if there are 100 million toilet seats in the U.S. all 100 million of them will purchase your product. If you make that assumption you will be sorely disappointed and stuck with a huge amount of inventory.

Now, let’s imagine you have a device that will fit any model car, is less than $20 to purchase and allows the consumer to get 100 MPG and they can install it themselves in a couple of minutes with basic tools. This would be worth the time and financial expense to get it patented. You could also assume that the percentage of customers to buy your product would be higher due to the return on their investment for the consumer. You are saving them money on a reoccurring weekly expense which would prompt their purchase.

Many Inventors allow their emotions to get involved when they come up with their potential million ideas and forget that inventing is just like any other business. You need to make sound choices based on fact, not fantasy. Just because you want a product to sell does not make it happen. It has to be something the public wants, solves a problem, saves them time, makes something that is normally labor intensive easy, is enjoyable to the consumer or they have the perceived notion that it is something they have to have because everyone else has one. The more of these requirements you can match up the higher your chances of it being a success.

Stop throwing your hard earned money away. Do as much research as possible first and look at your idea as a consumer, not the Inventor before proceeding. Make sure you understand your target market, know your competitors product and know why yours is better. Because if your product isn’t better you are wasting your money, your time and need to stop before you even get started.

Go to any forum involving Inventors seeking help and you will see plenty of people/companies offering to help by selling Inventors services. Everyone is quick to tell you that you need to do patent searches, make a prototype, do design work, etc. What you don’t see is these people posting their success rate getting the Inventors product on the market and the Inventor making more money than they paid for all those services. The main reason for that in my opinion is because the number is very low.
What you do see is they only offer to speak to most Inventors offline. Why can’t they tell more of what they have to offer in front of the rest of the people on the forum? That should be a red flag and make you suspicious of what they have to hide. And do they push the hard sell when they have you alone? Don’t allow companies to pressure you into thinking this is your only option and you have to take the offer today or it might not be available in the future. That is just part of the hard sell. If their service is that great it should still be great if you decide to wait a couple of months to see if you REALLY need their service.

First let me say I have nothing against Davison as a company, they seem to deliver the services you ask them to provide. I am using their own posted information to prove a point. Plus they are one of the few I could find that post their information. Go to their webpage and you will find the below information. Read it carefully and pay attention to the last couple of sentences and look at the percentage rate of success they achieve.
They state “The number of consumers who obtained a written license with a company that is not affiliated with Davison is one hundred seventy eight (178). The total number of consumers in the last five years who made more money in royalties than they paid, in total, under any and all agreements with Davison, is six (6). The percentage of Davison’s income that came from royalties paid on licenses of consumers’ products is .001%.” I applaud them for posting their actual numbers when a lot of other companies don’t. The truth is, even with these facts posted I doubt most Inventors will even take the time to read it.
As I have said before, everyone is happy to help you with some form of service you pay for. What the Inventor has to do is make sure it is a service you REALLY need. Don’t let your emotion override your common sense and just blindly start throwing money at it because you love your idea.

To many Inventors get caught up in the trap of well I have already sunk X amount of dollars into the idea I can’t stop now. That in my opinion is exactly what the people selling you services count on to keep you coming back for more services.
Think about it. If you come to a company and say I want you to do a patent search on exploding cereal they will be happy to do it. Because they know if they told you that your idea is not marketable and a waste of your time they know you will just go find another company to do the search, so why lose the money.

Same goes if you told a design firm to work you up a portfolio on this same product. They will be happy to do it because they are in the business of doing designs. They don’t care if it makes it to market. They are just delivering what you asked for. It is up to you what happens after you get the design drawings.

You could probably get a patent on it and spend thousands for the piece of paper saying you have a patent. The question then is what do you do next? Who is going to buy this? Is there even a market for it? Those are questions you could answer long before you spent any money. But in most cases the Inventor will not do the boring work of research first and goes right to spending money.
So who is to blame?

Licensing vs. Manufacturing

Which do you think is the better route for you as an inventor – licensing or manufacturing?
The answer is complex because it begs more questions.

You need to decide which route to take early in the process. To do this, you have to take an honest look at your idea and yourself. Do you have the ability, resources and business savvy to manufacture and build a company around your product? Or are you better suited to license it?

Building a business around a product reaps you a larger share of the profits, as well as greater control over sales and marketing strategies. But you’ll also have the lion’s share of the risk, including inventory expenses, personnel hiring, quality control, returns, late shipments, contract breaches, knockoffs, patent-infringement issues, long hours and a large monetary investment. And it all could end in financial ruin if your product doesn’t sell. Or it could be an enormous success beyond your dreams.

Another thing to ponder: Are you willing to work your current job while getting the business off the ground or quit your job and put it all on the line? Likewise, if you have investors, you’ll have to decide what equity the investors get in the company for their funds. This now means you have shareholders to answer to since they want to ensure they will get a return on their investment. Investors expect to have a say in how the business is run.

Licensing means you’ll receive a smaller proportion of the profits, normally 2 percent to 8 percent, depending on the company’s policies and what you bring to the table. What do I mean, what you bring to the table? Things such as, do you have a finished product they can run with? Do you have an issued patent? Are they going to have to start from scratch and have a large upfront investment? A lot of factors go into what a company will offer you based on what you bring to the table. Yes, they get the lion’s share of the profit, but you have the least amount of risk and monetary investment.

Licensing requires you to find a company willing to license your product and fund it. Or you pay someone else to do the legwork for you. They will most likely charge a fee and want a percentage of the deal they get you.
Depending on your resourcefulness you’ll more than likely have to pay for a patent search, patent, prototype, presentation and legal fees. You’ll have to do this if go the manufacturing route, to in order to protect your product.

If you hire a licensing agent, whose duties include making calls to companies and negotiating contracts, you’ll have to pay her or him a percentage of the license and upfront fee in most cases. If you go to an Invention submission company to find a company to license your product be prepared for them to offer all sorts of services for a fee. Because in my opinion they make most of their money selling services versus getting products to market.

If you do get a licensing deal keep in mind companies often change the product’s design to fit their vision of what’s marketable. Your baby may not look like what you envisioned once it reaches the store shelf.
You will have to wait 30 days after each quarter to see if your royalty will be what you hoped. All the while you may be wondering if the company is pushing your product as hard as you would if you ran the company.

Despite all the caveats with licensing, I have personally favored this route. It works for me because I have numerous products in sell-sheet form, ranging from kitchen, toys, tools, pet, eyewear, lawn and garden and more. And I realized I do not want to start a business around every one of them. Each of these categories has its own set of rules and structure for getting to market. Just learning how to navigate each industry is a challenge on its own.
For someone else building a business around their idea is a dream come true and the best option for them. You have to go with what works best for you and your situation.

Manufacturing it yourself and licensing each has its rewards and pitfalls. Regardless the route you take, be as informed as possible, set realistic expectations and minimize your risks. You may be able to fool yourself about your product’s chances. But in the end, the consumer and market will be the final judge.