Today’s post, Y – You Really Want to be an Inventor? – is the last in the A to Z series (Z is just to be a recap of the series). It is a good point to once again look at the big picture of inventing and ask a simple but very important question: Is this something I really want to do?

While I am a proponent of positive thinking, it is instructive and insightful to metaphorically stare the worst case scenario in the face, to examine the most difficult questions. If, after this rather difficult encounter, you elect to move forward, you will be mentally prepared to suffer through the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” that may come your way. Okay, enough metaphors and a nod to Shakespeare!

Below are three key observations on invention:

1. Less than 5% of all patent holders ever make a cent from their invention
2. Most new products fail in the marketplace
3. Inventors are typically excellent innovators, but terrible businesspeople

The above statements are a bit depressing, but it is useful to ask why are the above statements true and what can be done about it.

1. Often people file patents for all the wrong reasons. Many falsely assume that a patent is the key to unlock the riches of their invention. They don’t critically examine and consider all the prior art – existing patents – and whether or not they might obtain a strong patent – or any patent. They just charge forward, plowing time, effort and resources into a patent for a product that may have no chance in the marketplace. This is a formula for failure.

2. Why do most new products fail? There are many reasons, but two key reasons for product failure are: the profit margins are too small; and the product is not clearly superior in measurable ways to competitive products. A successful consumer product must have a 3X to 5X mark up from manufacturing cost to retail to be solidly profitable in the marketplace. A successful new product should also have at least three clear advantages over other similar products. If you have a solid mark up and you can easily articulate advantages clearly and concisely, you have a chance for success.

3. Inventors are innovative thinkers who love the creative process. That is the problem. They continually come up with new ideas, but refuse to critique their ideas and focus on one or two that have the best potential for success. Successful business people, on the other hand, are great at analyzing and critiquing – culling losers and selecting winners – but often are not great innovators. To succeed, an inventor must be good at innovation and critiquing, a rare combination of contradictory skill sets.

Once you have considered 1, 2, and 3 at length, if you still want to be an inventor, then you should!

The next post and last in this series is Z – the Zenith of A to Z.