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The Big Seven: Or Lessons From the Trenches - Part 1

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

This article is really about success.  It contains some lessons I have learned from independent inventors, United States Patent and Trademark Office staff, attorneys, and businesspersons.  Every successful inventor I have ever talked to has learned something about what not to do when they go about patenting an invention.  The following are what I consider to be the “big seven” lessons all beginning inventors need to know.  The old adage that “nothing comes easy” is a mantra every inventor needs to repeat to themselves from time to time.  

Lesson One: “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?®”

Everyone has heard the stories about inventors that made millions off their ideas.  But in a slice of reality, statistics show only 2 percent of all issued patents make it to the marketplace.  Since the USPTO issues roughly 250,000 patents a year, we are only talking about 5,000 patented products making it to the marketplace.  It is not clear how many of those 2 percent are generated from large manufacturing companies; it can be assumed that it is the majority.  Each year, independent inventors’ inventions make up only a small number of new products introduced into the marketplace.  There is no such thing as “get rich quick,” unless you hit a lottery and we all know the probability of that happening is the same as getting struck by lightning.  But people do get struck by lightning and some inventors do make money from their inventions; but it is more from hard work and preparation than “luck.”  As an independent inventor you will run into brick walls and your frustration level can be overwhelming.  You are not alone; you can bet every other beginning inventor has run into brick walls and their frustration level has made them want to quit.  The best thing you can do is to join your local inventors council and network with other inventors.  Go to a tradeshow and talk with inventors who are marketing their products.  Learn all you can about taking an invention to the marketplace.  Visit a Small Business Development Center (SBDC).   But most of all read everything and anything regarding product development.

Lesson Two: Companies will be Falling All over Themselves to Buy My Idea.

This lesson is about the cart leading the horse.  As a local inventor once told me, “Ideas are like belly buttons, everyone has one.”  Some inventors think merely an idea is worth something.  Ideas are worthless to companies. Companies almost never buy unprotected ideas from independent inventors.  If they do, they most likely have a long working relationship with the inventor. Generally, companies want something tangible, a prototype, something they can see, test, work with, and most importantly, that is protected from their competitors.  Some inventors think once they get a patent all they have to do is sit back and wait for the offers to roll in.  It never happens.  You might get a few invention promotion firms come knocking on your door, but it is in your best interest to avoid them completely (see Lesson Three).  Understand this, applying for a patent is the last thing you do the invention process, not the first.  You have a lot of research to do before you submit a patent application.  You will need to pitch your idea to any prospective licensee.  If you can’t tell a licensee how much profit, other than “bunches”, they will make, you are hopelessly lost.   Being clueless about the marketplace is probably the number one reason for the high failure rate for independent inventor’s patents.  

Lesson Three: The Evil 1-800-“Make-Me-Rich”

Independent inventors get frustrated, aggravated, and downright depressed when confronted with so many road blocks to the marketplace.  They sometimes succumb to what they think is the easy way.  They call the number flashing across the television screen, heard on the radio or found in an internet search.  Invention promotion firms claim they can help you get your idea to the marketplace.  They will also tell you how they love your idea (more about love below).  They will promise you the world, as long as you keep feeding them money.  The 1999 Inventor’s Protection Act requires them to prove to you: how many inventions they actually got into the marketplace; who are the inventors; and, most important, did the inventor actually make any money.  If you only learn one lesson from this handout, is should be this one.  Don’t do it!  At least you will not be throwing your money away for nothing.

Lesson Four: Yes, it will cost you some of your own money.

When new products reach the marketplace they have hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars invested in them.  Professional product developers and marketing people have planned the introduction of a new product in order to increase the odds of its success in the marketplace.  On average a new product that is brought to market takes one-and-a-half years to develop and launch.  Most consumers are unaware of the effort and expense required to put those products on the shelves.  Similarly, independent inventors are unaware or underestimate the effort, risk, money, and other resources required for their product to be a success.  A successful inventor I know spent over a year blowing out light bulbs in Christmas tree light strings.  His invention?  Stay-Lit® Christmas tree lights.  His licensee?  Noma® a company best known for manufacturing Christmas tree lights.  He proved to them that his invention worked by providing the data he collected from a year of blowing out competitors light bulbs.  He also knew how much each light string would cost to manufacture.    Stay-Lit® Christmas tree lights are now available in Home Depot® and Target stores®.   Oh, throughout the process of getting his product to market he spent his own money to get there.

To be continued next week…

2014-2016© Ran Raider

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