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

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

There seems to be a trend with many inventors today to put “everything, but the kitchen sink” into their inventions. When it comes to products, however, less is sometimes (and oftentimes) more. You want your product to be as user-friendly and as streamlined as possible, and you want it to catch the consumer’s eye as something they need – without tons of features that they don’t. Every item does not need to be a Swiss Army knife.
Not only does simplicity enhance usability, but it also makes your product more marketable. Many inventors don’t realize that cost is a huge factor to succeeding in the marketplace, and the more elements you add, the higher the cost of production and the higher the cost of the product. If you’re thinking of adding additional features, start by asking yourself if it will really enhances the product and if it will be useful. For instance, if you create a vacuum cleaner that is only going to be used in homes, does it really need to also work underwater?

The more parts you add also increases the risk of a part failing, which may render the product useless. A great example is the TV/DVD combo. This is a great item… until one of them breaks. If you need to take it in for repair, you are now out of both items. If you decide to purchase a new one instead of having it repaired, aren’t you throwing out one of them that was working just fine? Just because two products are great separately does not mean they will be great together.

When it comes to creating your product, you should think about the end-user first. Just because you can invent something doesn’t mean there is a market for it. Ninety-five percent of patented items never make it to market because “patentable does not equal marketable.” What good is a product if it’s a hassle to own? For example, if purchasing a hand-operated can opener, most people keep it in a drawer in the kitchen. If it’s so large that it can’t fit into a drawer, will they still purchase it?

Rather than adding features to your initial product, consider creating a line of accessories to go with it instead. This way you are allowing the user to tailor the product to their needs, instead of forcing them to take everything that comes with. The same tactic applies when submitting your idea/product to a potential licensor; show them your product in its most “basic model,” followed by what could be sold separately or used to create a premium model.

Inventing a product is meant to be a creative process, but it’s important to remember that the number one goal is to serve the consumer. To be successful, follow the “less is more” principle and be willing to accept change and adapt as needed. Don’t get stuck in the It’s my way or the highway mentality – unless you want to be on the highway a lot.

I have gotten a number of email questions about royalties so I would like to point out a misconception by many Inventors pertaining to how they are calculated. The actual portion of your royalty if you are licensing a product is NOT based on the price of the product in the store. Your royalty is based on the sale price the company manufacturing it sells it to the distributor or stores.

That item you see in the store for $12 might have been sold to the store for $4 or less. Your royalty is based on the $4 NOT the $12. This also plays into the other statement I hear from many Inventors when an Inventor states their idea/product is a million dollar idea.
Let me say up front yes there have been million dollar ideas. But, I want everyone to have realistic expectations of what that takes. Using the $4 sale price above and your royalty is on average between 3% and 5% of that $4. So you can be making 20 cents per item sold on the high side. Using that royalty return think about how many items do you need to sell in order to reach the 1(one) million dollar mark in take home royalties? And don’t forget to add to your calculation as if it is after your taxes are taken out? This will give you your true ending profit. For this example let’s say your tax percentage is typically another 33%.

Another thing to keep in mind about royalties is they generally do not start as soon as you sign the licensing deal. You have the wait time from when they say yes to the licensing deal for it to be manufactured, which can be a year or more. Then they have to get purchase orders, fulfill those orders, get paid and then pay you 30 days after that. Once you get the first royalty check they normally show up every 4 months after that.
That is why I always stress having patience and don’t rush out and buy a new car as soon as you sign a licensing deal.
Based on the example above if you are getting $0.20US royalty per unit it would take 6,650,000 units to return $1,330,000US. One third of which goes for taxes. $1,330,000US – $330,000US = $1,000,000US.

So you can see it is possible to make a million dollars from your idea if the unit volume is high enough. The question you need to ask is your market large enough to meet that demand? Where I see Inventors having unrealistic expectations is in their expectation of their market. For example if your market is 10 million consumers of a particular type item you cannot expect that all 10 million will purchase your product. It will be a percentage of that 10 million. Will it be 1%,10%, 50% or higher?

A problem most Inventors neglect to take into consideration is the fact that if the majority of consumers that have a product similar to yours are not likely to throw out the current working item just to purchase yours. Consider if Bridgestone came out with a new advanced tire that will last longer than your current tires you have had for 6 months. Would you run down to the tire store and get rid of the four tires on your car that still have 50,000 miles left on them? That is what you are expecting consumers to do when you think an entire market will 100% buy your product. What really happens is the consumer will wait until those tires are worn out then when it is time to replace them they will compare yours to their other options and make a decision.

So, when you consider your possible earnings from royalties it is better to wait for the check to be in the bank before you spend it.
Check out my Ebook “Common Sense Inventing” http://www,rogerbrown.net/ebook

I get asked this question quite often “Should Family Members or Business Partners Sign an NDA?” An NDA is best to use no matter who you are discussing your idea/product with. When you say don’t worry about family you can trust them. Consider does your family know as much as you do about how to treat your idea/product and keep it confidential? Do they know about public disclosure and how that can hurt you? Having them sign an NDA pushes the point that you are taking this seriously and they need to respect that and not tell your neighbors about your idea/product unless you agree it is okay to do so.
The same goes for anyone you are in business with and plan on showing them your idea/product. It sets the tone for everyone that you take this seriously and you want to keep it private. I work with a lot of Inventors and can tell you from experience showing your idea/product to family and friends is not a great indication of whether your idea/product is a winner. Most family members will not want to hurt your feelings so you will mostly get positive feedback from them. Which can cause you to spend money needlessly.
You need people that you trust to give you brutally honest opinions of your idea/product. It is not hard to find people that love everything you show them. You want people that give honest opinions and you need to not let those opinions hurt your feelings or take it out on anyone that tells you your idea is not that great.
I have done idea/products reviews for a living for a number of years and the Inventor is quick to want to shoot the messenger instead of taking a hard look at why they got a rejection. I have shown Inventors several products already on the market that are better than the one they are swearing is a million dollar idea and all they can respond with is that doesn’t matter theirs will still be worth millions. You need to make informed decisions based on facts, not what you want to happen.