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

PPA’s can be a great tool when used properly, but in a large number of cases the Inventor does not get the full use of the PPA. Why? Because a large majority of Inventors rush to file a PPA without looking at the biggest disadvantage a PPA has, which is time. You have 12 months from the time you file before it expires. (Disclaimer: I am not a patent lawyer so this is not legal advice, just my opinion).

Talking with numerous Inventors over the past 17 years one of the biggest pitfalls Inventors hit was they ran out of time on the PPA and now have to make a decision on filing a Utility patent and don’t have the funds to proceed. Or they decided to refile the PPA and lose the filing date as well as there can be issues with the expired PPA being prior art.
Inventors get an idea and are reluctant to wait to file the PPA for a variety of reasons. Some reasons such as; the fear someone will steal the idea, someone will file before they do, think they will lose millions if they don’t, get pressured by an invention submission company making them feel if they don’t file today all could be lost, friends and family tell the Inventor this is the best idea they have ever seen and everyone will buy one once they get it to market.

These reasons above and others prompt the Inventor to skip a crucial couple of steps such as; doing research to see what is already out there, competition on the market, does their idea answer the Better Than question, is it already patented. Then comes the inevitable question once they have filed the PPA “ What do I do next?”

Once they have filed the PPA the clock is ticking. They have not considered do they want to build a business around the idea or license it to a company. If they do decide to build a business around the idea some realize that they are not ready to build a business due to all the challenges that represents or they realize they don’t have the skill set to do this. Some that decide to license the idea to a company realize they don’t know the first thing about contacting companies, which companies to contact, what type deals they can expect, what questions to ask a company they approach with their idea.By the time some of these Inventors get an understanding of the direction they want to go whether that is building a business around it or licensing 5 to 6 months have gone by leaving them six months on their PPA to utilize.

If they decided to license the idea they are now learning that some companies can take a couple months to review, evaluate, test and respond back to the Inventor if they have interest. Others may ask for a sample which the Inventor may or may not have at the time and will lose more time having this built. They realize their idea needs to be refined due to the feedback they have gotten taking up more time. Contacting multiple companies at the same time can save some time. But if you have a day job keeping up with this can be challenging. These are just some of the issues the Inventor needed to consider before starting the time clock. Same goes for building a business around your idea and working a 40 hour job at the same time can be a challenge they had not considered.

Inventors need to do as much of the legwork, due diligence, research upfront before they file a PPA so they can utilize the entire 12 months and have a plan on what they will do if the PPA is about to expire and they still have not found a company to license it or are still working the bugs out of their product and building a business around it. And don’t forget figuring out any funding you will need along the way and when the PPA expires.
I am not saying you can’t make it work. I am saying the more prepared you are and have an understanding of your strengths and weaknesses the better your chances and the more informed decisions you can make to help you find success.

Excerpt from the Ebook “Common Sense Inventing”

All to often I get contacted by Inventors that are paying a Public Relations firm, Media Specialist or some other company to try and generate buzz about their product to get it noticed. The problem is a number of these companies use the same outlets no matter what your product is. If you have a fishing product you don’t need to pay them to send out your flyer to a baby magazine.

One method these companies do is the shotgun approach where you throw everything you have in all directions and hope something sticks. They send out flyers to companies that are not addressed to a specific person in the company, just to the company’s general mail. Your chances of it getting to the right person are rare. Most just end up in the trash. But, the company you hired can say they sent it to company X and they are not lying. They just didn’t do the next step of getting you a contact within that company. They tell you it will be presented at this years trade show, which it is. They put your pamphlet at their booth so anyone walking by can see it. They don’t normally walk up to every potential company’s booth and hand them your pamphlet. But, they can honestly say you were represented at the Trade show. Hey, what do you expect for your money?

Now, lets look at what you can do for FREE and get results. You can get good free press by contacting your local newspaper, State paper, T.V. News station, and online blogs. They are all looking for stories to fill space. National Public Radio is a great place for interviews and they rerun them often to fill empty slots. I did a spot interview on NPR and they ran it for 7 months at different times of the day and week. If possible when doing interviews don’t mention specific dates unless you really have to. When you have no dates mentioned it is easier for them to rerun the spot because no one knows you did it months earlier.

I did an interview with seven years ago and am still getting emails from people who just saw it. Send samples of your product to various online Try It Before You Buy It type of venues. I sent my Pizza Scissors to an online kitchen product tester and got a great testimonial out of it for free

Contact your local cable network and find out if you have any local shows you can be on as a guest. Local shows are always looking for guests. Contact your Public Radio Station near you. They want on-air guests. The great thing with them is they rerun interviews a lot to fill air time. I did an interview with NPR that they ran every week for 5 months at various times of the day.

Contact your state paper for an interview in the Features section. Try submitting a Press Release to magazines that fit your target market. Let’s not forget all of the social media outlets like Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, specific blogs that fit your product and a host of others that are all free venues to get your product exposure.

Your local T.V. station can be a great asset. Talk with them about using you as a local expert they can contact for a quote when they run stories on inventions or the topic of your product. If you have local small press newspapers that are free giveaways to the public see if they want an interview. Contact your small business group in your area for other exposure opportunities. Send products to national news shows that do spots like “Try it before you buy it” They are always needing material to fill the 24 hour coverage air time especially on slow news days.

Get t-shirts with your website and product on them. Send some to the national radio shows. John Boy and Billy is a nationally syndicated radio show that is popular in my area. I sent them two t-shirts. They talked about my website for 3 minutes on air. They have over 10 million listeners. I got 67,000 hits within 5 minutes of them mentioning me on the air. It cost me two t-shirts. Well worth the investment.

There are numerous ways to get exposure for free. You just have to be creative in your thinking. Use the same energy that helped you create your invention to get it noticed.

All the things I mentioned above are free. Most PR firms I have talked to start at about $2,000 and go up from there. Try the free things first. Who knows you may have a knack for PR and can do it yourself and save a lot of money.

Big Companies Aren’t Always the Best

Everyone wants the big sale. You know the one, the one that is going to make you mega bucks so you can retire to an island somewhere and never have another care in the world. So, to hopefully achieve that goal you want to submit your idea to the biggest company in the land. That’s great, but you may find that the big companies just aren’t as appealing as you thought. Most big companies also mean big hurdles and more levels of bureaucracy to go through and more people that have to say yes to a project.
Since they are the Big Company they also get inundated with large volumes of ideas. These ideas are from professional Inventors and amateurs. A large number of them get turned back because the company doesn’t look at unsolicited ideas, they have a particular submission protocol and you didn’t follow it, or they want you to go through a broker/agent.
That is why I strongly suggest researching the company upfront prior to contacting them to see what their policy is and if any paperwork is required from the company to allow you to submit to them. They will sometimes have it posted on their website. So check that out before you call. That saves you the long distance call and the company from being overrun with calls. And you are not wasting your first contact with them on information they will tell you to check out on their website. It doesn’t look like you know the company you want to do business with very well if you haven’t even taken time to check out their website.

I learned early in my career as a comic book writer that it was great to write for Marvel comics, D.C. Comics and Disney comics. The drawback was that I was competing against hundreds of other comic book writers for a single slot. My odds were slim at best. This also limited the amount of times I got published with them. I was constantly working on ideas for only their characters hoping for an opening. What I neglected, for a time, was to see that there were a large number of medium to small publishers producing great comics.

I started sending submissions to these medium size companies and was surprised to find that they were very open to my submissions and my acceptances went up dramatically. This was not because I am a fantastic Writer, but more due to the fact everyone else was concentrating on the big companies the same as I was. I also started making more money due to the volume of writing. Yes, Marvel and the others paid better, but it isn’t worth anything to you if they don’t use you.
This same rule applies to the inventing industry. Everyone wants a Mattel, Craftsman, or Tupperware type company to license their idea and get filthy rich. It wouldn’t hurt my feelings either. What they don’t realize is they are not alone in this pursuit. That is why a number of the large companies use toy brokers or some other organization to filter through the mass of submissions they receive. You cannot send your idea directly to them.
The down side for this is that these middle people usually charge a fee to just review your idea. Most I have seen charge about $175 to $250 on average. You may find some lower or higher. Some are now doing it for free, but ask a higher percentage on the royalty side if they get you in.
Some of these companies tell you that for another fee they will put your idea in a proper professional format for submission to the company. So, you are paying money to basically try and get in front of the company. If you get a “NO” you are out the review fee, any other money you spent and have to look elsewhere. If you get a “YES” that’s great, but don’t forget you now have to share that royalty with the broker who got you in the door. I am not against anyone making a living you just need to be sure you need certain services before you spend money on them.

Another thing to keep in mind is that some of the large companies only look at ideas passed through certain brokers they know and feel comfortable dealing with based on a long working relationship. So, if you want to try another company you may have to use a different broker, which means another review fee. Do you see how quickly your money can go out the door?

Another factor that Inventors don’t seem to consider is longevity. Let me use the toy industry as an example. If you get a toy picked up by a big company you are now one of the many toys they carry. Because they are the Big company they command a large area of shelf space in the stores. The next time you are in Wal-Mart or Toys R Us look at who commands the most shelf space. You will also see smaller companies with good quality toys trying to get a foothold on these same shelves.
Now, because they are the Big company they want a large return on their investment from your toy. If your toy is a steady medium seller say selling 500,000 units the chances of you getting dropped off the shelf is high. So, you may get a one year or two year spot on the shelf and then get pulled due to low figures.
These low sales figures that got you dumped by the Big Company would be a huge seller for a medium company. You could even be considered their flagship toy. Your lifespan with them would be years. Obviously, they would also be very open to your next toy idea. Those medium companies want to be the next Mattel and are always looking for that toy that could push them upward and command more shelf space in the stores. You want to build a relationship with the companies that actively look at outside ideas directly from Inventors.

I have contacted large companies to ask if they look at outside ideas and gotten some rather interesting responses. One company promptly told me they didn’t look at outside ideas because they had their own research and development group and if they needed new ideas they would come up with anything the company needed. She was sure any idea I could come up with they could also. That seems a little arrogant to me, but they are in charge of their company. Another large company sends out a pamphlet that gives you two choices.

(A) You want to help the company and are giving the idea completely without benefit or royalty to the company. You no longer have any claim on the idea and it is at their sole discretion what they do with it.

(B) You have patented the idea and are making the product and want this company to distribute it for you through them.

As an Inventor looking for royalties from my ideas (A) wasn’t an option. (B) wasn’t much better. If I had already paid for the patenting, and had the product produced and ready for shipping, I’m done. I would have started my own company selling them. I wouldn’t need them.

The market seems to be turning around as more and more companies are seeing a value in seeking ideas from outside Inventors. You see more Inventor Hunts and Inventor contests popping up. Be careful about joining any of these unless you have read all the rules and are okay with them. Some state that by joining the hunt you give them first shot at your idea and they can hold it for up to a year before deciding yes or no. So, you are stuck with them for that period.

Another thing that can challenge a new Inventor is the old “You can’t get experience without a job and you can’t get the job without the experience.” That is called the Catch-22 syndrome. That is another reason to look at small and medium companies. They are more willing (I AM NOT SAYING EASIER) to let you get your foot in the door.
Once your foot is in the door you still need to have a great idea before they will risk their money. With a smaller company comes a smaller budget. So, they are just as stingy with their money as you would be if you were investing in someone’s idea. They want to and need to see a return on their investment so the company can survive and grow. If you are lucky enough to get your idea picked up you now have something to show when making calls on other companies.

You will find that once you have a couple of ideas on the shelf it is helpful to have a website to display the items. You can get a website hosted for $10 a month or less. There are a number of domain name websites that have pre-made templates you can use to plug-in and edit your website. It doesn’t have to be fancy, just functional.
A website is a useful method to promote yourself and your business. You will find that if you can refer a company to your website to see inventions that made it to market you are showing them someone else took a chance on you and you produced a marketable item. No one wants to be the first to give you a chance, so you really have to sell yourself and your idea to that first company.

Another thing that seems to be trending lately is companies establishing “Wish Lists.” These are great. The company will send you a list of areas they are actively looking for ideas. A toy company may send you a letter saying they are looking for backyard toys or foam products. This does not mean they will buy anything you send them in this area. It will still have to pass reviews and make the cut. You have to also be very aware this is on spec. You are not going to get paid one cent for this work unless they want to license it from you. They are just narrowing the area you should think on before submitting.
They are doing you a big favor by doing this. You could have a great yo-yo idea, but if they are pushing towards flying toys or foam products you would miss their target and get a rejection. This prevents you wasting time thinking in the wrong direction.

So, broaden your scope and don’t just shoot for the big companies. Give them all a fair chance and good luck.

Some days I would have to say “Yes” to the question above. It is just dumb luck sometimes. If you think about it a lot has to do with luck, timing, being in the right place at the right time. Of course you hope it is really about you having a great idea or product, but that is not always the case.
You can have a great idea, but your pitch is off and they just don’t get it. Your package arrived the day they are discussing budget cuts. The person you sent it to no longer works in that department or they are having a horrible day, so nothing looks good to them. Your prototype was handled rough in shipping and doesn’t work right for the person doing the reviewing.
I had a case where the reviewer I sent my toy prototype to did not have any sense of eye/hand coordination and could not make the toy work. So he did not understand its play factor until I sent him a video of a kid enjoying the toy and showing how easy it was to operate. My chances would have been higher had I sent the video first, but I made the mistake of assuming it was so easy anyone could do it. Instead I get the one person in the company with zero eye hand coordination. Lol

Many possible opportunities are killed in the first 30 seconds over the phone because you are nervous and stammering over your words. Then there are those moments when you and the other person just click and they are open to anything you mention. They get your pitch as concisely as if they had the idea themselves. They call that “Finding the Zone”. You live for those moments.
On the other side of the coin I have had times where the contact person changed 4 times in 2 months because they were doing a reorganization. My material was given the okay by one reviewer, turned down by the next one, but wasn’t sent back to me before it was left for the next reviewer. That person liked the idea and routed it to the next person higher in the food chain for approval. Two days later that person quit and moved to another state. I did not hear anything for 2 weeks at which time they informed me they were no longer looking at outside ideas. That was definitely a bad run of luck. But as I have always said “inventing is a fluid business and constantly changing.”

The dumb luck syndrome isn’t just targeting inventing, it happens in all industries. While writing for comic book companies I called an Editor I hadn’t talked to in months to see if he had any openings on his books. He laughed and said my timing was great the Writer for one of his books was sick and he had just gotten off the phone with him prior to my call. So, I got the job, not because I was a better Writer. I got it because I called at the right time and saved the editor the hassle of finding another Writer.
On another occasion I contacted a toy company for the first time and expected to just get my name in front of them and start the ball rolling, instead he said I caught him in a bind, they needed some toy ideas for a presentation they were putting together for upper management and he needed them by the next day. The person they were using didn’t deliver their products on time so he had nothing to show. We signed NDA’s via email, I sent 10 ideas I had in stock. And the next day they told me they loved 2 of them and a licensing deal was signed. I was paid a nice advance. The product didn’t make it to market, but was released back to me and I got to keep the advance. So, it was a strange but profitable venture.
You will find that for no reason you can explain some ideas you think have the most potential will not get a second look. While others, which you think are okay will get a rave review.
I have sent the same story to the same editor two weeks apart. The first time he hated it. The next time he loved it and bought it. I never told him he had already turned it down.
The longest time for a sale after first contact was over a year. I saw the company’s product in a store and got their contact info off the package. A couple of days later I contacted them asking if they looked at outside ideas. They said no, they do all their design work in house. The owner and myself hit it off and she liked the products I had already licensed that were posted on my website. She said to keep in touch and let her know of anything new I had come out. So over a year’s time we exchanged maybe 4 or 5 emails. A year later she told me they were starting a new line and would look at ideas if I had any. I sent 5 ideas and they picked two to license. I am the first inventor on the outside they have worked with.
Was that dumb luck, genius on my part, great product ideas, salesmanship, right time right place? I may never know, but I have two products coming out because of it! So, I may not want to know. You can do the same.

There is a huge misunderstanding when it comes to having a patent. Inventors think once they get that piece of paper companies will be beating down their door wanting their product. It does not work that way. Talk to most people that get a patent and the first calls or emails they get are from companies wanting them to buy a coffee mug or plaque with their patent embossed on it. Or they want to sell the Inventor services to bring their product to market.

It all comes down to what I have always said “Just because it is patentable does not make it marketable”. It only means you got a patent. What you do with it is what matters. I could possibly patent Edible Sneakers. Would anyone really want to buy them, and would you consider them a mass market item? Would you expect to see them being sold on QVC, HSN or as an ASOTV item? I don’t think so.

Some people are happy to have that piece of paper, so they can say “I have a patent”. Others do not have the necessary business skills and funding to sustain a product long enough for it to get a good foothold in the market to see if it would.

Most Inventors cannot afford to quit their regular job to pursue their venture full time to try and build a business around it. So, they have an issued patent and don’t know what to do next. These are obstacles you needed to consider before you spent the first dime on a patent.

Before you spend any money, you need to understand your options, and which one best fits your situation. Learn as much as you can about building a business around your idea, licensing your idea, your competition and your place within that market, so you are making informed decisions not blind guesses.

In the end it comes down to only the strong willed, well prepared, and very lucky survive.