Much is written about what inventors should do to be successful. But, equally important is what inventors should avoid doing to be successful: inventor no-no's. Below are three no-no's every inventors must avoid to achieve success.
No-No 1: Rushing out to File a Utility Patent
Inventors love their product ideas and vigorously defend them like a mother protecting her children. That is good: inventors must be strong advocates for their products.
Unfortunately, some inventors seem to love their raw invention idea so much that they immediately rush out to file a utility patent on it. This is a bad idea on several levels.
First, a utility patent may easily cost $5,000+ to prosecute to issuance with a patent attorney or agent. That is not pocket change for most of us. Second, after researching the marketplace and US Patent Office for similar items, the idea may not be worth patenting. A product that cannot be clearly differentiated in a crowded field is a product that will not sell. Third, the million dollar idea may have a fatal flaw that only comes to light after meeting with potential licensees of the product.
Don't spend a lot of money before you even know what you have.
Instead, consider filing a provisional patent application (PPA). A PPA is never actually examined by the patent office. But, it receives a filing date, allows you to claim patent pending, and, best of all, it costs very little to file. The PPA allows the inventor one year to assess their invention and test market it. Within that one year period, the inventor must either file a utility patent (if the product looks great) or simply allow the PPA to expire (if no one seems interested in the product).
No-No 2: Developing an Exotic, Expensive Product Idea
I find that inventors are often drawn to exotic product ideas like a new plane that can take off from a runway and fly into space or an auto engine that uses 50% less fuel. These are not products: they are merely lofty aspirations that will never make it into space or your garage.
More particularly, even down to earth products that are somewhat complex and expensive are poor choices for inventors to develop. Product development of any new product is risky at best. Complex, expensive products are simply too risky: the inventor does not have the money or resources and no investor is going to roll the dice on such a risky venture.
Simple, inexpensive products have the best chance for success.
No-No 3: Finding an Expert to Help you with Everything
Almost everyone has seen TV commercials with the iconic caveman chipping away at a stone wheel – sponsored by a company offering to turn your simple idea into a million dollar payday.
It sounds too good to be true because it is.
Many invention marketing companies make outsized promises:
- They have relationships with all the big box retailers
- They license new products every day through our vast network of industry contacts
- No need for a patent, they can file that for you
I have relationships with all the big box retailers too: I buy from PetsMart, Best Buy, Lowe's Walmart, Kroger and many others. Every retailer has unique sets of requirements and legitimate industry reps work with a narrowly defined slice of the market. No rep knows the unique needs and requirements of every retailer.
Licensing is not easy, it is often a long, arduous process that can take months or years to bear fruit. When you ask the company to provide a list of products they have licensed and where they sell, you will be told that is proprietary information. Lastly, you should always work directly with a patent attorney or agent to prosecute your invention if and when it makes sense. Please don't go to a Worldwide Patents or other grandiose named enterprise.
The only guarantee such invention marketing companies offer is is to happily take your money in exchange for vague promises.
Instead of looking for someone who can do it all for you, instead focus on individuals or companies with proven track records to assist you with specific needs. Research to find a good resource to assist you with prototype work. Ask for references. Find a good patent attorney or agent to assist you with patent prosecution.
Lastly, read everything and everywhere about the inventing process: become an educated inventor. You'll find that you can actually do many things yourself better than hiring someone else to assist you.
Good column! Patenting can become a second occupation. It takes a lot of effort.