Note from Ann: Hello, blog readers. I’m off on extended medical leave for a few weeks so I’ve turned my blog over to some of my colleagues who are business experts and community leaders in their own ways. Enjoy their thoughts, words and ideas. I’ll be back on duty after the first of the year.
Ran Raider, Patent and Trademark Resource Center Representative
Paul Laurence Dunbar Library, Wright State University
Successful inventors have done a lot of hard work. They have networked with other successful inventors, learned about product development, researched the market and the potential sales, determined manufacturers who may be interested in their “protected” product, and worked with a SBDC to come up with a business plan. Talk with a business specialist at your local library for market research help. Most inventors don’t realize that the inventing part is the easy part of the process. The business side is the hard part. There is help out there for those business questions you may have. Professionals, for example, in SBDCs and retired executives (SCORE) can offer advice and help you to develop a strategy and business plan for your invention. Inventors can conduct a preliminary patent search with the help of their local Patent and Trademark Resource Center staff. One of those professionals who makes inventors cringe is the registered patent attorney. Yes, they usually are expensive, and yes, your money and your invention are inseparably linked. But if you have done all of the business research, you know the marketplace and how much you will make; the registered patent attorney will just be part of your overall business plan. There is another option, the USPTO has established a pro bono program for independent inventors. There are income level and other criteria constraints on who qualifies. Look on the USPTO web site for more independent inventor information.
The US patent law changed in March 2013. We are now a “First Inventor to File” country. Inventors get excited, really excited, and want to tell the world about their unprotected idea. I have met over 8,000 inventors in the last 15 years, and every single one of them wanted to tell me something about their “invention.” According to John Calvert, former director of the Office of Innovation Development, USPTO, if there is no obligation of secrecy between you and the person you are telling, you may be putting your “idea” into the public domain. You want to call that evil 1-800 number now? Who can you trust then? Patent attorneys, SBDCs, SCORE and PTRC staff. The point is, be careful who you spill your guts to because they might really like your idea and decide it’s theirs now.
Independent inventors are vulnerable to the human tendency of “hearing what we want to hear.” Asking your friends, relatives, or co-workers whether or not your invention is a good one is foolish (unless they are product developers). No one is going to tell you that your invention is a crappy idea. People are generally kind to each other and don’t want to hurt another person’s feelings. New independent inventors always fall in love with their invention. They believe that it is the best thing since slice bread. But this heartfelt assumption is really never based on any outside research; merely the “I never saw it before” or “everyone will want one” syndrome that accompanies many “get rich quick” schemes. This may sound harsh, but it is true. The very beginning inventor is also vulnerable to “love.” Successful inventors, patent attorneys, business executives, and marketers will all tell you the same thing: “Don’t fall in love with your invention.” There may be a valid reason that you never saw a similar product in the marketplace, or that you never heard of it before. The consumer may not want that type of product or very few people have a need for it. If an invention was special, as most beginning inventors believe, the large manufacturers would have already produced it. They spend millions of dollars on researching exactly what consumers want. But as an inventor, you will not know the truth until you do the research, the hard work, and talk with professionals – and just maybe you might develop the next best thing since sliced bread! And besides, I have never met an inventor with just one idea. If one idea doesn’t seem to be panning out or working, maybe it is time to move on to your next idea!
What these lessons provide is more a “how not to get ripped-off”, knowing what you are up against, what help is available, and finally, a word of encouragement in the guise of the truth. Careful planning and understanding the risks of the invention process will help you in determining what energies you are ready to expend in order to make your dream come true.
2014-2016© Ran Raider
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