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

Inventors are curious, love challenges, want to create something unique, make millions, see their product on stores shelves, but at what cost? I get contacted by Inventors all the time that are severely in debt because they spent thousands of dollars they couldn’t afford to lose. They jump head first into an industry they know nothing about and want to start at a higher level than really necessary to get some of the same answers.
Such as going to manufacturers to have a run of 5,000 units made in China before they even know if it will work properly. Then paying more to have the design modified to work the bugs out. This is being done before they even know if their idea is marketable. Instead you could make a crude prototype at home to see if you can find any bugs or design flaws. You can have CADs done to see your idea in 3D. You can go to local colleges to see if they would take on your product as a project for them to learn from and you get free work and a finished product to show proof of concept.
Paying for booths at trade shows to show a product that is incomplete hoping someone will see the same vision you have for it. When they could have just gone to the show to walk the floor and see what is there, their competition, make contacts, see how others present their products and what seems to work so when they do go and have a finished product to present they have a better understanding of how the shows work and how they might be able to draw more attention to their booth area. Because paying for a booth you have to man and have someone else free to wander the show can get expense.

Paying to have a full advertising campaign done, paying for trademarks, paying for local ads in the newspaper and radio promoting your product when you have no inventory and taking orders from people without knowing how you are going to fill those orders.
Starting KickStarters campaigns and severely under estimating what it will cost to fulfill the contributor rewards and not having a manufacture selected to handle your product.

These are just a few of the issues Inventors have come to me with that they learned a hard lesson that could have been handled better. Granted no one is perfect and mistakes will be made. You just want to lessen them as much as possible. One way to do that is looking at real life experiences of people here in the forums, the mistakes they have made, the lessons they have learned and are still learning, the information available to help you avoid pitfalls and make informed decisions.

Talking with Inventors I am surprised by the lack of information they have on their idea/product so I thought I would start a listing of things every Inventor needs to know about their product and their market. Here are some questions to get you started.

1. What problem does your idea/product solve?

2. List the benefits of your idea/product over what is currently on the market.

3. Who is your target market? (adults, only males, only females, teens, age group, etc)

4. What is your “HOOK”?

5. What price range do your competitors fall into and where do you think yours would fall?

6. Have you proven if your idea/product works?

7. Are you already selling them or under a contract with anyone? ( Many Inventors that are selling online or at craft shows are doing it without having any patent protection and don’t realize the public disclosure)

8. If you have a issued patent when are the next fees due and are you current with those payments? ( This may seem obvious but you would not believe how many Inventors have patents that are lapsed due to non-payment and they don’t seem to know it. Or they want you to pay the fees to get the patent back in good graces.)

9. What would make a consumer pick your idea/product over the others on the shelf?

10. Can your idea/product be used in more than one industry? ( example It can work in the toy and pet industry. Some Inventors don’t look outside their initial focus and realize it has multiple applications)

11. Do you see this selling sitting on a shelf or would it sell better hanging off the shelf on J-Hooks?

12. Is there a learning curve to your idea/product that will need to be addressed before the consumer will understand its benefits?

13. Is your idea/product more of an impulse item, recreational item or a need item?

14. Will your product only sell during a specific season?

15. Is it market ready or do you see a lot more design work needed to make it user friendly?

16. Is this a solution to a problem or a solution looking for a problem?

17. If you filed for a patent did you also file for any international rights? (The reason I ask this is you have a limited window in order to file or lose it. I believe it is a year but not certain. Those with more patent background or a patent attorney can provide that info)

18. Do you have a listing of all the companies you have sent information on your idea/product? (This helps anyone you ask for help to see who has seen it and not duplicate efforts.

19. Do you have any of the feedback a company may have given you? (this can be very helpful if they referenced other products similar or gave you design/engineering advice)

What do I mean by “A Product Does Not Have to Match the Patent”? I have noticed that several Inventors I have dealt with lately had a misconception that I thought would make good information for other Inventors. When you see a company’s product with a Patent number embossed on it that does not mean every aspect of the product is using everything allowed in the patent claims. And every part of the product may not be patented.

The company can have 18 Claims listed in their patent and decide that the product only needs to use 11 of them to be a viable marketable product. So if you see a product and decide your unique difference from the competitors is yours can be used by right and left handed people, or your knife sharpener will do regular blades and serrated blades because you only see regular blade sharpeners on their product it does not mean their patent doesn’t already cover it.

The patent is there to protect the product so anything not included in the product but covered by the patent just gives the company a broader scope of protection if another company decides to compete against them in the market.
So, if you see a product on the market and you plan on competing against them with your own idea/product what do you think would be your path forward?

I Have Looked and “There is Nothing Out There Like This” is an excerpt from my Ebook “Common Sense Inventing” http://www.rogerbrown.net/ebook
By Roger Brown

There isn’t a week that goes by without someone sending me an item for review or an item they want to bring to market, and they state in their letter/email the fatal words, “There is nothing out there like this.” Unfortunately, 98% of the time that is a false statement. Most of the time, I don’t even have to go past the title of their product to know it already exists. My first thought is, “have they even taken 30 seconds to type their own title into Google and see if anything shows up?”

It is quickly very apparent that they haven’t done any research at all; otherwise they would have surely seen the numerous items that show up exactly like the product they are describing. The big question is, why haven’t they taken a couple of minutes on the Internet and looked for this so called million/billon dollar idea? Instead, they start looking for someone or a company that can take this brilliant idea and run with it.

Sadly, what comes next is the fact that they are upset and complain people want money to do what they would not do themselves. Inventors will pay hundreds to thousands of dollars having prototypes made, searches conducted, provisional application, utility patent applications filed, design sell sheets created, etc. Yet, they fail to take a few minutes of their time to look for their product or idea and see if, by chance, anything shows up.

I find it very hard to believe that anyone that can get on the internet has not heard of Google. This simple FREE tool can bring you information instantly on almost any topic or product. Clicking on the “images” button is another great tool (again, for FREE). I will agree that everyone is not suited for searching through the patent office database; it is not very user friendly. However, I am talking about doing a basic search a 5th grader can do with one hand tied behind his back.

This lapse in judgment costs inventors money and time they could have used on a product or idea that is actually marketable, and weed out those that are not. The main issue I see that normally pops up is the inventor complaining about all the money they lost working with these various types of companies. They fail to see that they initiated the process themselves, and could have avoided a lot of the problems by taking the first steps themselves (for FREE).

Below is a just a fraction of items people swear, “There is nothing out there like this,” and will be the next big million or billion dollar idea. Take a look at the list and check off how many you recognize without even taking the time to look them up online. For the ones you don’t recognize, time yourself to see how long it takes you to find them online. Was it really that hard to do the search? Would you rather pay someone $100 or more to do that same search for every idea you come up with?

Colored Toothpicks
Toothbrush with toothpaste inside the handle.
A remote or App to find your lost car keys, glasses, TV remote, phone, etc
A tab to use to raise the toilet seat so you don’t have to use your hands
A light for inside your purse to find your keys
Glow in the dark dog leash
A device to alarm if you leave your child in your car
Proximity alarm if your child walks a certain distance away from you
Colored salt so you can see how much you are using
Diapers with wetness indicator
Clip/fastener/snaps/ Velcro to hold your socks together in the washer and dryer so they don’t get lost
Back scrubber wand that holds a lotion/soap inside the handle
Hands-free back scrubber for the shower that attaches to the shower wall with suction cups
Collapsible cup/bowl/box
Automatic feeding/watering bowl for pets
Plastic bags that absorb gases so your fruits and vegetables last longer
Elastic band that goes around your trash can to hold the trash bag in place
A flashlight that has a flexible end you can wrap around things to hold it in place
A twist tie for bread packaging
A device you can put your business cards in and it organizes them for you
An App to remind you of important dates, taking medicine or things you need to do
A device to tell you how much propane gas is left in your grill tank
Dry erase markers that wash out of clothes
A tripod to hold your golf club off the ground as you wait your turn
A spinning device to trim your dogs nails
A hand held device to help you thread a sewing needle
Magnetic tab to hold a paintbrush to the paint can.
Plastic stand to hold open Ziploc bags
Dual bottle dispenser to hold mustard and ketchup
Car seats with warmers
Colander with trap door bottom
Utensil with clip to hold it on the rim of the pot used for cooking
Foldable splatter screen used for cooking
Candle holder that catches the melted wax to form a new candle
Suction cup mat that has bristles on it to scrub the bottom of your feet in shower
Stuffed animal you can record your personal message on to be played later.
Protective sleeve for your credit cards to hamper RFID reader

Every inventor needs to STOP when they get an idea and take 15 minutes to do a preliminary search online before getting excited about their idea. Please take the time to do the things that are free upfront. You can also go to stores that you assume would carry that same type of product and see what is already on the market and who would be your competitors in the market place. You will be surprised how quickly you might find out your million/billion dollar idea already exists. The time you spread upfront doing a little legwork will save you aggravation, rejection and money in the long run.

An excerpt from my Ebook “Common Sense Inventing: An Inventor’s Guide to Getting Inventions to Market without Going into Debt
By Roger Brown http://www.rogerbrown.net/ebook

There are two questions that come up any time I talk to inventors. The first is “Do you really get your invention ideas licensed for under $100?”
When I say, “Yes,” the second question is “How?” This is the route I take for most of my ideas. I do not pay for a (PPA) provisional application for patent or formal patent. I use a (NDA) non-disclosure agreement and a Sell Sheet when approaching a company with a new product idea.
You don’t need a patent or patent application. There are plenty of large and mid-sized companies that will review non-patented ideas. Companies that are interested in my new products pay for any intellectual property protection, if they desire.
Meanwhile, I get inventions to market spending between $10 and $100 (when no attorneys are involved). Other than the opportunity cost of doing research and other preparation, my first royalty check is pure profit. I am not waiting months or years to earn back the thousands of dollars spent on patents, huge presentations that aren’t needed, professional prototypes, or paying fees to companies for services I don’t need before I break even.

Below is my step-by-step breakdown of how I go from conceiving an idea to closing a deal.

Step 1 – The Idea
Inspiration comes in many forms. You can be walking through a store, see a product and have an idea for a better product right off the top of your head.
Watching TV, reading magazines, driving, or just listening to people complain about their problems with everyday tasks are also great ways to spark ideas.
Seeing an improvement for an existing product or a better and more user-friendly method generates ideas especially if you are the one using the product. Take my sunglass visor clip, for instance. The existing product on the market broke easily, would not hold every size of sunglasses and required two hands to operate.
I had purchased two of those products. Both broke within a couple of months.
My solution was a product that held any size sunglasses and did not require a locking mechanism, so there weren’t extra parts that broke easily. And my version only required one hand to operate.
The best part is I solved all the problems of the first product and was able to sell it at the same price. The consumer gets a better product and does not spend additional money. It’s one of those win/win situations. You can see the visor clip at my Web site www.rogerbrown.net

Step 2 – Research
You must conduct research to see if your product idea is already on the market.
Look in stores that would carry the same type of product. Go to Lowe’s and Home Depot if you have a tool idea and search online. You can also search using the “Images” feature on most browsers.
I do this before looking on the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s site because it gives you a broader view of what’s already on the market. It also gives you a feel for what type of word search you want to do once you get to the USPTO site, www.uspto.gov.
I also suggest using Google Patents at www.google.com/patents.
Most Inventors don’t like the tedious part of researching. But once you start doing it, you will find you get quicker at it. You will find your own shortcuts to get faster results. Research is your money saver. It keeps you from moving forward on a project that is destined to fail.

Step 3 – Is Mine Better?
If I do find a similar product on the market I ask myself whether my product is significantly better and less expensive.
I answer this as a consumer, not as the inventor. You have to be able to step back and look at your idea without emotional attachment or you are doomed.
If my product idea is inferior, I drop it and move on. You are wasting your time pursuing a project that is competing with a superior or less expensive product.

Step 4 – More Research
If I do not find a competing product on the market or I know for a fact (not just wishing) that mine is better and less expensive, I research companies.
This is done through contact information gleaned from products in the store, Web sites and LinkedIn.com, where you can find employees within the company. I also look for articles written about the company and press releases that often have contact information for the person in charge of submissions/new product ideas. Thomasnet.com is a great source for information about companies and what they manufacture.
Make a list of companies you want to approach, starting with the big ones. Collect all your contact information. But DO NOT contact them yet. You are still getting your ducks in a row at this stage.

Step 5 – Sell Sheet
Now it’s time to prepare your presentation or sell sheet – a one-page, bullet-point synopsis of what your product does and why it will generate value for the company.
Think about the blurb you see on the back of a book. This blurb gives the reader an overview of the 300 or more pages of the book. Based on this blurb you make a decision whether to purchase the book.
The same can be said for your pitch. Based on how well you grab the reviewer’s attention and convey the market value of your product determines whether you’ll make the sale. When it comes to sell sheets, less is often more.
If you lack artistic skills you may need to find a designer to help with drawings and illustrations. Consider contacting your local college and ask to speak with an instructor in the graphic design department. Ask if they could recommend a student about doing some freelance work.
If you do hire a designer or any outside help, make sure they sign an NDA first and agree on price in writing. Moreover, make sure your agreement states that this project is WORK FOR HIRE. They do not own any part of the project. You are only hiring them for a flat rate to do this work.
You may be able to pay them a royalty percentage with no money up front, with no payment if you don’t land a licensing agreement. There are a number of variations in deals you can propose. You just need to both agree.
Just remember to make sure everything is in writing and signed.

Step 6 – Practice
Practice, practice, practice your pitch. You should know your sell sheet without having to look at it. The botched presentation is where many inventors drop the ball and lose the deal.
Before you call any company you need to be able to talk clearly and concisely about your product. You don’t want to tell the person on the phone you will have to get back to them with information they request. You need to have your pitch down to under 30 seconds. Who wants to hear you ramble for five minutes and still not have a clue what you are talking about?
You are supposed to be the expert on your product. Make sure you are completely knowledgeable of your product and can give your pitch on a moment’s notice.
You want it to sound natural, not forced when you talk about your product. You don’t want to come across as an auctioneer or extremely nervous. Practice will give you confidence and with confidence comes poise – even when the butterflies are flocking in your stomach.

Step 7 – Knocking on Doors
Now that you have your sell sheet completed and your pitch down, start approaching companies to see if they are interested in ideas from inventors. Ask what their protocol is for submissions and read over any paperwork they give you carefully.
Make sure the NDA you are signing covers you and the company. Make sure it does not state that you are sending in your idea freely and giving the company your idea for no compensation.
You would be surprised how many people get excited that a company shows an interest in their idea and completely forget to read the terms.

Step 8 – Fine Print
Once you have received the NDA, read it thoroughly or get an attorney to read and approve it.
Know that hiring an attorney likely will cost you more than $100.
Do not send presentation or sell sheets or any other materials until the NDA is signed by all parties. Make sure you keep copies of the NDA and all emails you have sent and received by the company contact.
Some companies have not dealt with ideas from outside the company and do not have a nondisclosure form. Offer to send them your own to review and sign. You can find NDA forms at various inventor Web sites, including mine.

Step 9 – It’s in the Mail
After the NDAs are signed and delivered, it’s time to send your presentation or sell sheet.
Make sure you keep the originals and have them handy in case the company wants to discuss any aspects of them over the phone. Make sure your contact information is on every page of the materials and any prototypes/samples you may be asked to send along with the sell sheets.
Do not send prototypes unless the company requests them. They do not want to be responsible for items they do not request.
You want to make sure that if any of your materials get separated from the others that they still know who they belong to. Unless your product is extremely complicated you should be able to describe your product within two pages, preferably one.
If not, boil it down to your best pitch and include the statement, “Additional information is available upon request.” If you can’t grab their interest in two pages, your idea – or more likely your sell sheet – may be too complicated and needs work.

Step 10 – Patience
Wait for the company to review your sell sheet. I usually ask the company what its typical turnaround time is for a response.
I wait a week past that time to hear a response. If no response, I follow up with a call or e-mail.
It also helps to ask if there is a better time to send them the materials.
A kitchen company I contacted told me it only reviews submissions the first week of every month. Sending something in the middle of the month meant it would be collecting dust.
Each company has its own system. You need to find out what it is and follow it if you want to succeed.

Step 11 – No Means Move on
If a company declines to go with your idea, go to the next company on your list and start the process all over.
Get used to no. No is a part of doing business. It is not an insult to you and generations of your family. Companies decline offers based on business decisions. If you have a hard time with the word “No,” you need to find a different field.
If the response is yes, ask for a licensing contract for review. Jump for joy and shout a lot … but wait until you hang up the phone first.

Step 12 – Sealing the Deal
Once I receive a contract I make a copy of it. This way I can use a highlighter on it without damaging the original.
I use this copy to mark any areas where I have questions. I read it several times to make sure I truly understand it. If the contract is fine, I sign it and make copies of the signed version for my records. I always keep a copy in another location in case of fire or act of God.
If the company and I cannot agree to mutual terms, I thank them for their consideration and say I have to take my idea elsewhere. Companies understand the word “no,” and that sometimes deals just don’t work out.
That is part of doing business. I have never had a company I told “No” to tell me never to submit anything else.
You have the power to agree or disagree with any clause in a contract and walk away. You are not obligated to agree to anything that is not in your best interest. The company wouldn’t. Why should you?

As always if you feel you are not qualified to read and make a decision on the contract, consult a lawyer.

And finally, there’s this: Dreams are accomplished by those who do, not by those who wish.
Visit http://www.rogerbrown.net/ebook