Reality of Inventing

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.

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