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

PPA’s (Provisional Patent Application) 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 come 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.

Here is a response I have had Inventors give when you ask them “What makes your product unique to stand out in the market?” And their response is ” Mines better.” They fail to elaborate any further as if that statement covers the question. It doesn’t. When asked that question you need to be able to give actual facts why yours is better. Not “Everyone in my family loves it and would buy one if it was on the market.”

You have to look at your product and your competitors products and understand that if yours was to come to market you will be competing for the shelf space of the products already there before you. And you need to think about it from two different perspectives, the company you want to license and manufacture it. And the consumer who is going to see it on the shelf and make a decision to buy yours or the competitors.

Because you need the company to see the product as something they can produce for a reasonable cost, put in front of store chain Buyers and get purchase orders and sell at a margin that makes them money.

The store needs the consumer to see enough value in your product to purchase it so they make their investment back and a profit. Which prompts the store to order more and the circle starts all over. Every time that happens, YOU the Inventor, are making money.

None of these things happen if you don’t first get your foot in the door of the company by giving them a reason to see the potential of your product. So, you can see that just saying “Mine’s better” is not the preferred response. You need to explain yours is better because…………..and fill in the blanks. Your response should show you know your competition, their strengths and weaknesses, your strengths and weaknesses and why yours will come out on top.

Many Inventors come up with their idea and don’t research to see who is their competition and if their idea is actually Better Than those competitors. Then when confronted with the realization there are others out there they seem to push aside all common sense and still argue that there is a mass market for their idea.

Consider the corded phone versus the cordless/wireless phone. If you came up with the corded phone today do you think it would have mass appeal? When shown the cordless/wireless phone would you argue consumers will still want your corded phone more? That is the stance a number of Inventors take.

Better Than can also have to deal with educating the consumer. There are a number of products companies look at that they will agree are better than what is currently on the market yet they will turn it down because they can’t educate the consumer of its value on a blister card unless the consumer stops picks up the product and takes the tine to read the package and learn the benefits. Look at the MainStay line of products you find in Walmart. They are a basic flat piece of cardboard with MainStay written on it and the product attached to the cardboard. There is nothing on the cardboard explaining anything about the product. If you don’t recognize its value or use you will probably pass it by.

If you go to Bed Bath and Beyond you will see displays with a video unit running in a loop demonstrating the product. They are trying to get your attention and educate you on the products value. Hoping this will create product and brand awareness, increasing sales. These displays are limited in the store.

Look at HSN and QVC they are all about educating the consumer to create sales and buzz around the product. They take their time showing you the product and making sure you see all its benefits and value. They can do that because they are on 24 hours a day 365 days a year.

Same goes for ASOTV products; they spend huge amounts of money to do the infomercials showing you how it is quicker, easier, etc and generate mass sales quickly. If they skipped the infomercial and just put the product on a store shelf you would not see the same sales because most consumers would not know the benefits of the product.

So you can see Better Than can be affected by the market it is targeting.

Have you met an Inventor that has an excuse for everything? Or at least a double standard. The rules only apply to you, not to them, because they are somehow special. No matter what the truth is about their product it is always someone or something else that caused them to not get licensed, not get the funding, not start that business, not get the deal they had in hand, not get calls returned from companies, not get it in front of the right person, not get the opportunity to pitch their product, not win the product search and on and on.

These same Inventors think every company is out to get them or steal their idea, because the company knows their idea is worth millions, even though the company hasn’t seen it. I see this attitude daily in a number of Inventors. You can show them in black and white that there are better products on the market than their idea. You can send the Inventor links to products that are exactly like theirs on the market now and they deny they are the same.

They tell you there is nothing out there like this and they have had a professional search done, yet within a couple of minutes of searching the internet there it is on your computer scene. I have had an Inventor send me a product for review that they have said did not exist anywhere and I had that exact item in my house bought from Target.

What causes an Inventor to have that type of tunnel vision and denial? You would think they would want to know if their idea/product is out there so they don’t waste their time and money on a product they have no chance of bringing to market. I feel that it is the hope of becoming a millionaire that blinds them to the truth. As far as they are concerned if they believe it hard enough and say it over and over that will make it true. Unfortunately it does not work that way in the real world, but because of their unrealistic expectations of how the inventing industry works they have conned themselves into believing their own hype.

Unfortunately no matter how hard you try you can’t get the point across to these Inventors. They are so far gone you can only stand back and watch them crash and burn? Inventors need to learn inventing is a business and they need to treat it like one if they plan to succeed. You can have a passion for your idea/product but being obsessed with your idea/product blinds you to the truth and can keep you from finding success.

Keep in mind when a company says they have “interest” in your idea/product that does not mean go out and buy a new car, plan your Hawaiian vacation or quit your job. It means they are going to take a harder look at your idea/product and do their due diligence to see if your idea/product makes sense for them to consider for their product line.
A lot of things still have to fall in place for you to move to the next step of negotiating a licensing contract. If all you had to do was get interest I would have about 45 products on the market right now. It is fine to get excited that you found a company that sees value in your idea/product and wants to take a closer look. Just don’t let that emotion make you do something that can harm you financially.
Companies will want the chance to gather information on a new product they are interested in along with estimating the cost per unit, molds, and (ROI) return on investment. Some will want to show it to buyers to gain interest so they can gauge potential sales. They may want to do a focus group and a myriad of other tests.
So, when a company says they have interest you are just starting to get the ball rolling. I have seen a number of Inventors post online that company X is interested in their idea/product only to have that interest quickly fade once they got further into their due diligence.
Also seen interest drop when the company found out the Inventor was all over the internet posting about their companies interest without their permission. Inventors forget companies like to have any advantage possible when they release a new product on the market. Having an Inventor telling about the new product can give their competition time to develop their own product to compete with the new one, which cuts into their sales. And if the other companies’ product is better than what the first company planned to release it can kill the first one before it even gets on store shelves.
I tell Inventors to hold off the excitement until they receive that first royalty check and it clears the bank.

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.