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

Okay, let’s face it we all have ideas we think are great and we want to see them get to market. For some reason when an Inventor has a bad idea they think if they explain it to you more and more it will make the idea better. It doesn’t. Just because your family and friends say they love your idea does not mean the rest of the country will want it.

Too often I have Inventors send me products/ideas for review that just will not pass the “Better Than” question. Meaning the idea has either been done to death and they bring nothing new to the market that could interest the consumer, their idea is not giving the consumer any advantage over current products, its cost to bring to market is more than the consumer is willing to pay or the idea is really just plain bad to the point no one will really want it. An example I like to use is “Edible Sneakers”. Sure you could patent it, you could have them made, but would anyone really want to purchase them?

This is why I am always pushing Inventors to do their due diligence on their idea long before they start spending money on it. Unfortunately you have a lot of Inventors that are in love with their idea and will proceed no matter what you tell them. I prefer to avoid learning the hard way, but that is just me. I have been fortunate to get my inventions licensed in the toy, tool, kitchen, eyewear and nuclear industry spending less than $100 on each and some as low as $8. I used a NDA and a sell sheet, no PPA and no patent. So it can be done. You just have to do your homework upfront.

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.