How to Start an Invention

I Have an Invention; Now What Do I do?

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A Motivational Word on Getting Started

So how do you start an invention? Or more plainly put; how do you start the process? I think the most common phrase I hear from first time clients is along the lines of; “I have an idea for an invention; now what?”

Having a great idea with a particular physical prototype in mind, but not knowing where to start, is more common than you may think.

Taking an idea for an invention from a mere thought and getting it to market is a process that has quite a few steps. But each step, if taken separately, is not so bad. So think of the process as individual steps instead of a perpetually difficult journey.

I’ll try not to sound too much like a motivational speaker and get you some actual information to work with; however, I do want to be encouraging. No one got anywhere listening to skeptics. It’s one thing to listen to good advice and quite another to let others influence you with their stories of failure. If you’re going to be an inventor you’ll have to learn to brush off the negative comments. Henry Ford was known to have once said; “If you think you can, or think you can’t, you’re probably right.”

The Other Side of the Coin

Then, of course,there’s the other side of the coin as well; an inventor who thinks that the only idea they’ll ever have is the one they have right now and it’s their only chance at success. In spite of every road they come to that tells them that the product they’re choosing to pursue will not fly, they carry on and jump right off the proverbial cliff into financial ruin. A sage once said;

“If someone tells you that you’re a horse, ignore them. If two people tell you you’re a horse, consider it. If three people tell you you’re a horse….. buy a saddle.”

The key is in identifying the professional skeptic from the experienced, objective adviser. Sometimes, it’s a tough call. Staying objective yourself, is key. You already have the type of mind that’s needed to create and improve things; if you didn’t, chances are you wouldn’t be reading this page.

Don’t throw in the proverbial towel because one idea didn’t fly or, you found that it was “already out there.”  It’s reported that Deca Recording Studios said of the Beatles; “We don’t like their sound. They have no future in show business.” What if the Beatles has listened to that bit evaluation?

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It May Seem Like You'll Never Get There

There’s focus, determination and then, of course, your invention. That pretty much sums it up. There will always be alternatives to this “sagely advice” but I’m here to give you “my two cents” worth. I want to help you to get started on your invention and I want to see you succeed. It’s that simple. However, if you have a product that’s already out there, or there are reasons I feel you should alter your approach, I’ll tell you. I’m not here just to take your money and tell you what you want to hear. If you succeed, I will have succeeded. I have no intention of leading you down a path that will take you no where.

Start with staying focused. Realize that, in the beginning,  it will seem difficult or maybe even impossible to learn the steps or carry them out. You’re not alone. Remember, taking it one step at a time is how you finish. Focus will bring forth the determination you’ll need to see it through. So how do you get your invention to market or get it licensed? Okay, let’s get started with step one.

Quick Outline of Steps to Take

Before you read down through the text, if you’d like a quick outline of the steps that are typically taken by inventors, I’ve listed them here. These steps are typically what’s done. Of course, like anything else, there are always exceptions. There are also, realistically speaking, sometimes additional steps taken on each of these steps.

  1. You have an idea for a new invention.
  2. Make a preliminary search using Google images to see if it’s already out there.
  3. Depending on what you found in your search, decide whether to move forward.
  4. If you couldn’t find it on Google images, and you want to move forward, hire a professional for a final search; a patent agent or patent attorney.
  5. Patent search reveals it’s not out there.
  6. Determine whether your idea is marketable and who your demographic is. If it appears marketable, or is determined to be marketable, go to step 7.
  7. Make an initial determination of the cost to manufacture this idea. It’s hard to have a definitive cost at this point, but try to get a “ball park” cost at the very least.
  8. If it appears affordable where the cost to produce it, will allow for a profit (1/3 to 1/5 cost to produce against cost to the consumer…roughly at this stage) then go to step 9.
  9. Move to make a virtual or physical prototype. We make you a model and show you how it will look and function. We supply manufacturing files and arrange prototype production if you want.
  10. Decide whether you want to license the invention, manufacture it yourself, or sell the idea outright. I give considerations below.
  11. Possibly, depending on how you plan to bring this to market, make a presentation video for showing potential licensee’s or buyers.
  12. Get a final price for manufacturing depending on your product and who you plan to present it to. You can have this information as preliminary considerations for the buyer of your idea. Usually they won’t need your pricing, they have their own sources.

Step 1: You Have an Idea; What Type of Product is it?

So what kind of product do you have? By that I mean; why would someone want it? If you can find a need, and fill it, you got it made. You can do this, even with an existing product. You just have to do it better than the last guy. You can do this either by making it more affordable, easier to use, or just plain better looking with maybe less parts. So first, determine that you have a unique idea or invention, and that it will meet a need, or at least, improve on meeting a need. If you have that, you’re off to a good start.

Step 2 : Preliminary Search to See if it's Already Out There

Searching is the key to the eventual success of your product. It’s probably the most important thing you’ll do in the process. After all, if your (exact) invention is already out there, you’re wasting your time. Now this doesn’t mean that you can’t change your direction and try to figure out a way to do “what’s-out-there”, better, but it does mean that if you’re bent on producing a product that already exists, you’re doomed to failure.

Let’s say you find your invention and it appears that it’s already on the market. Don’t give up quite yet. Take a closer look at it. Does your invention work better? Would it be cheaper to make? Does it have more options? Is it easier or safer to use?

There are some inventors out there, that all they do is improve on what’s already existing. Their minds work such that when they see something, they immediately go into “improve upon mode”. It’s done every day and there’s nothing wrong with that.

search the patents for your product

Search Using a Variety of Keywords

So do a quick, preliminary search on Google Images. It’s fast, easy, and most of the common words used while searching are filled in for you as you search using your main words.  You can pull up images of what might be your idea. Try to use a variety of different key words. Imagine what else your invention could be used for. A tool might be used in the kitchen or on a truck. Think it through. If you don’t find it, you’ve passed the first, easiest test for your product.

NOTE: This does not replace a professional search by an attorney or patent agent. It’s simply the first preliminary step to decide whether to employ a professional, or do a diligent search through the USPTO by yourself. There are books to help you learn to patent search if you want to try this on your own. If you haven’t found your product via Step 2, go to Step 3. 

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Step 2-1/2; You found it in Google Images?

Don't Give Up Yet !

“Defeat is not the worst of failures. Not to have tried is the true failure.”

George E. Woodberry

If you think you found your idea and what you found looks awfully close, maybe even exactly what you have, there may still be hope. But the first thing to do is to not deny what you have found. Ignoring that fact that there’s a product out there just like yours just kicks the can of denial down the road for a bit. Your denial will come back to haunt you if you don’t deal with it effectively.

Okay, so if it’s looking right back at you. Here are a couple of choices: One, you can move on, drop your idea and come up with another one. Or two, you could take what you found and find a way to improve on it and make it better. What you don’t want to do is act like it’s not there, go spend a bunch of money on something that, when you go to get a patent, the patent office tells you what you already know; that you can’t get a patent on it…. because it’s already out there!

Now here’s a thought. Maybe the product you’re looking at doesn’t have a patent. Maybe the inventor didn’t want to get a patent because he wanted everyone to be able to duplicate it. You’re probably saying, “What!?”

Here’s an example; if you invented the toaster, you’d want to also invent bread but not get a patent on the bread, only the toaster. Then, you’d want to put the bread into the public domain so no one could get a patent on the bread, but everyone could produce it. Now, if everyone is manufacturing bread out there and there’s only one toaster patent (yours), all of a sudden, by not getting a patent on bread, you’ve created more customers for your toaster.  There ya go. Pretty sly marketing. That’s what the guy did who invented the cassette player. He put the cassettes into the public domain while patenting the player. Genius.

If it’s already been exposed in the public domain without a patent, no one can get a patent and you’re free to produce the product and compete with the existing ones. Now keep in mind that I’m not an attorney and am not trying to give you legal advice. I’m trying to get you to investigate the possibilities. You can check this out for yourself or contact an attorney to do it for you. The point is, all hope may not be lost. Your attitude may need a reboot, but hope is not lost.

Kickstarter.com is full of examples of people crowd funding projects without a patent and marketing them. You can check that out as well. Now, if you haven’t found your product, or anything that looks close, move on to Step 3.

Step 3 : Going Forward With Your Invention or Pulling the Rip Cord

Do you see your product everywhere? Is it like “the wheel”? Then it’s time to pull the ripcord and move on to a place where new ideas are born. If you haven’t found your invention yet, then you’re at the right place. Here’s where you want to look as hard as possible for something you hope you’ll never find. You can do this yourself with some instruction (I’m getting to the reference material in a second) or you can hire a patent agent or patent attorney to complete the search for you. Now keep in mind that the agent or attorney has no liability for saying “your product’s not out there”, and then you find out later, after spending a bunch of resources that your product “is indeed out there.” You’d hire them in hopes that they will do a better job than you believe you could.

So here’s one fork in the road where you have to decide.  If you’d like to learn to do it yourself there’s a great book by Patent Attorney David Pressman called “Patent it Yourself – Your Step-by-Step Guide to Filing at the U.S. Patent Office”. The book is by Nolo Press and currently I believe, it’s the 16th edition. There could be a newer version by the time you read this.  He’s also got another book he wrote with another attorney called “Patent Pending in 24 Hours” by David Pressman and Richard Stim. Both of these books explain the provisional, utility, and design patents along with their differences.

If you’re going to be an inventor, or already are one, it’s a must read. You need to familiarize yourself with the patent process. He further explains how to register on-line with the USPTO (United States Patent and Trademark Office) and submit your patents via email. All this can be done without an attorney, however; I’m not necessarily recommending that, I’m simply parroting what David Pressman articulates himself. It’s your decision.

If you’ve done your due diligence and you believe you have a unique idea that’s capable of receiving a patent, then move on to Step 4.  One note worth mentioning; if you need a 3D model to explain your search to an attorney, so as to show him or her how it works, then I can help you with a preliminary model. I could produce a model that’s not so exacting but just gives a better visual aid than something you could draw on paper. The better an attorney or agent understands your idea, the less of their time you’ll waste. We all know that time equals money.

Pulling the Rip Cord

Step 4: Moving Forward

If you’ve reached Step 4 then …..

1) You’ve completed your search and are fairly confident your product isn’t out there.  OR …

2) You’re going to hire a professional searcher (patent agent or attorney) to do the search for you.

3) You need a 3D model to better explain your product to your patent attorney or agent.

At this point, you may or may not, depending on the product, need a 3D model with some pics and/or drawings to better explain your product to your searcher. If you’re still in the process of verifying that “it’s not out there”, you don’t have to make a full blown detailed and engineered model in order to show your searcher what it is you’ve invented. It may be that a model of what you’re thinking, without all the inner workings, would be enough. I can help you with that, whether you need a detailed model or simply one to present to your searcher.

So either way, this is where I come in. But wait! One more thing! Before you decide to hire me, you should have an idea of  “in what capacity”.  That’s to say, in what capacity do you need me to work for you? What can I produce for you that you can use? Well the first thing to do is decide who you’re going to try and market this to. Here are some examples:

1) Are you going to crowd-fund this and take a zillion orders yourself and then hire a manufacturer to produce them for you? You’ll do all the shipping and stocking of products, will pay the manufacturing costs, and take the remainder for profit. Or…..

2) Are you going to bring your idea to a company who could use your idea and then license them to produce it while you take a 2-5% of the retail costs as your profit? In this scenario they would be responsible (if you write it into the agreement) for protecting your patent and going after infringing parties. Or….

3) Are you going to sell your idea completely, in one lump sum to a company? (Not likely) You’ll probably run into the “Not Invented Here” syndrome. But if it were the case that a company wanted to buy you outright, it would be a very unique idea for the demographic you’re pursuing.

However that you envision your product hitting the market, and in what capacity, will play a pivotal role in what type of files or products I produce for you. If you’re not sure what to do you can always contact me. If you’re going to build a working prototype from the files I make, then design and stress testing will be imperative. You’ll want your design to work. So we’ll have to set it up with clearances and materials used etc. If it’s simply an idea that is workable, but you think the company you’re selling to will want to tweak it to fit their own product, then I would not spend as much time on the finer points of the design but rather leave that for your buyer. They are going to want to have their own designers and engineers verify your design if they’re going to be investing their capital into it.

It may seem that your project is bigger than anticipated, but taking it one step at a time can make it manageable. 

is your project a good fit for the market?

Is your product a good fit for the market, for your demographic? Do some research. There are even companies that plug in the parameters and tell you the likely hood of success. 

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So don’t sit around letting your idea pass you by. I can help you get off the curb.

At This Point, Maybe We Should Talk

At this point, we should talk. Every job is different as well as every need. The patent books I recommended will get you a long way in understanding the process; far further than what I can explain here. David Pressman is a former patent agent for the USPTO as well as a patent attorney. His books explain well all the processes you need to be familiar with in order to get a firm grip on making good decisions. Here’s a link to an interview with David Pressman.

I’m the “CAD guy”. I can help you design your product and get you a virtual prototype or files to take to a 3D printer or CNC machine for a physical prototype. This is the point where you need to decide if you need a 3D model and to what extent depending on how you’ve decided to approach the market.

If it still seems daunting and confusing, give me a call or drop me an email. I’ll try to help you get started. Thanks for checking this section out.

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A Thought
“No clever arrangement of rotten eggs will make an omelet.”

C.S. Lewis