Have an invention idea you want to patent, or market?
Expectations and reality
The Greek philosopher Plato once said, "necessity is the mother of invention." That was true over two thousand years ago, and it remains so to this day. An invention really needs to fulfill a demand to be successful, and that's how an obstacle can sometimes become an inventor's best friend. If your invention was created to overcome a real world problem, then there's a chance that you may be onto something. Consider the wheel. It has been in use for thousands of years, and is without doubt the single greatest invention of all time. We wouldn't be where we are today without it, and yet it is so simple. In the complex world that we live in today, we often overlook the value of simple solutions.
Keep in mind that an idea and an invention are two different concepts altogether. While the prior can become the latter, it doesn't always happen that way. I can't count the times that I have heard someone say, "this guy became rich just because he had a good idea." While you do need to start with a good idea, it doesn't end there by any means. It's a long road from the drawing board to the market place and longer yet to any riches, if you happen to be that fortunate. The truth is, most inventions, even the ones granted patents, never make the inventor money. In fact, they usually end up becoming debits rather than assets. Remember, you hear about lottery winners and not the multitudes of losers. It's a gamble with inventions as well, only you have more control over the outcome.
Should you build a working prototype?
If you plan on getting a patent, you will need a functioning device. Patents are not granted for ideas. That said, building your invention can be a rewarding experience in ways other than wealth. If your sole purpose is to market the invention and make lots of money, then you should ask yourself a few questions.
1. First of all, will your idea solve any real problems? If so, how often would it be used, and by how many? The more people that it will appeal to, the better it is.
2. Is the invention user friendly? The device shouldn't be cumbersome, or awkward to use.
3. You have to be brutally honest and ask yourself, would I spend my hard earned money on this product?
If the answer to any question is no, then you may want to reconsider. I will usually build a prototype, just to see if it will work. After all, most inventors have this need to appease their curiosity.
Building your invention
Of course I can't tell you how to go about building your invention, but I can give you a few pointers. For instance, I create a project number and folder for each of my inventions. Inside of it I have all of my invention's diagrams, dimensions, schematics, notes, and a parts list. If you should need to rebuild the invention later on, this can save you a lot of time.
While working on your project should be fun, don't blow a lot of money on tools or equipment you don't need. Your first prototype should be built as inexpensively as possible. Keep in mind that you will most likely have to modify it a few times to get the bugs out. After it is working smoothly, you can rebuild it with better materials, or add your bells and whistles. For instance, one day after a long session on the computer, my elbows began to hurt, so I came up with the idea of making elbow pillows. To make a cheap prototype I took a sock, cut the toe off about four inches from the end, stuffed it with cotton, and sewed it up. To make a band to keep it in place on my elbow, I took the top end of the sock, cut off two and a half inches, and sewed it to the pillow. It was simple, and it worked. Another reason to remain frugal, is for the chance that it simply doesn't work, you won't be discouraged to try again one day.
When you begin the actual assembly of your invention, you need to take your time, know your limits, and work safely. If you're getting tired or frazzled, take a break, or put it off until you're feeling refreshed and have a clear mind. Again, building your invention should be fun.
You will also need to keep track of all of your expenditures. If you intend on building the units yourself, keep in mind that there are costs other than just material. You will most likely have tools or tool parts, such as blades or sanding paper, that will wear out and need to be replaced, and then of course you have your labor. The labor part can be as much as fifty percent of the total cost, and many people forget to include this in the initial price. Keep this information in your project folder as well.
When you have worked up a unit price, it's time for another question. Would you honestly be willing to pay that much for this product? Of course you can always find a manufacturer to build it for much less than you can, but you will be talking about large quantities, and that most likely means a lot of money. Before you take that step, you will want to have an idea if people will want to buy your product, and if they remain happy with it.
You can apply for a patent yourself, but know this, it isn't a simple process. The Patent Office has strict guidelines, and you will need to know how to use the claims section to protect your idea. If you don't do a good job with the claims, it's easy for someone to make modifications to your invention, and then apply for their own patent. Also keep in mind, even if you use a patent attorney it can take more than a year to be granted a patent, if they decide to grant you one. Remember, your invention must be a useful device. If you are granted a patent, it is not the Patent Office's job to enforce any laws to protect your idea. They simply keep the records showing that you created your invention by a determined date. While the patent is the first large investment that most inventor's will likely incur, it will not be the last. So this keep this in mind.
I should also add that holding a patent has a perk unrelated to your invention, it does look good on a resume. While I do not condone this, there are some people that will actually go after a patent for this reason alone.
A good place to start with a patent is this link, http://www.uspto.gov/faq/patents.jsp
I think that the majority of us would rather sell the rights of our invention to a big company, make lots of money, and let them deal with the headaches. However, most of the time it isn't quite that easy. Most big companies would rather let you invest your time and money into developing and marketing your idea. Later on, if they see that you have a popular product, they might consider buying the rights to it.
Marketing a product isn't easy, but few things worthwhile ever are. One thing you might consider is giving free examples of your invention to friends. They can give you back feed that might help you make improvements, and give you word of mouth advertising at the same time. Many small inventors start out this way. Of course there are marketing companies that will gladly offer to help you sell your idea. While a marketing company may help get your idea out there, you should keep in mind that they make money off of you, whether you make any money or not. Most legitimate marketing companies will tell you up front that the majority of inventions lose money, but they will also tell you everything you want to hear about your invention. In other words, few inventions are ever turned down. Do a web search for, invention success rates. If you are considering a marketing company, find out how many of their clients have seen a return on their investment. Do not let your ego get in the way of making the right decision. Do not sign anything without thinking over it a few days.
One link for success rates, www.ehow.com/facts_7480719_invention-success-rates.html
The circuit board for my clock
The bottom line, you need to make sure that your odds are better than buying a lottery ticket. Not only do you have to believe in your idea, the consumers have to want to buy it. If your finances prevent you from proceeding with your invention, but you really believe in it, you may want to consider teaming up with a trustworthy friend. Not only will they help with the financial part, but they might have some insightful ideas as well. It's a plus if you work well together. There's that old saying, "it's better to own part of something, than own all of nothing."
As for myself, in the beginning I always consider my invention to be like a hobby. I believe that this is a healthy way of approaching it. You need to keep your expectations real. Don't let one poor idea spoil the chance of a good one down the road. Remember, with any business endeavor, there's almost always some financial risk, and sometimes it's worth it. The invention that you have could be the next great thing, and may warrant all of your effort and finances, just make sure that you evaluate it carefully.
When someone invents, they usually express themselves in the design. Expression is a freedom that mankind did not always have. I believe that America's freedom was the catalyst that spawned so many great inventors, that in turn helped make the United States so strong.
© 2014 Randall Guinn