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How Inventors Really Profit from Inventions

By Jill Welytok

Not all inventions are conceived by scientists in white lab coasts. Some of the most important inventions in the history of the U.S. economy have been devised in basements, garages, retail stores, factories or on assembly lines by ordinary people in the course of doing ordinary work. (Consider the inventors of the shopping cart, the milk shake mixer or the shoe sizer.) We call these inventors "Everyday Edisons" and with the help of our patent system, they have made the U.S. economy the strongest in the world.

You or your small business can bring an idea to market, but it involves time, persistence and a learning curve. Successful inventors often invent many things over the course of their careers, discarding unworkable concepts along the way. (Thomas Edison abandoned his idea for concrete furniture.)

1. Ruthlessly analyze the market before you become emotionally invested in any idea.

The first step in determining if anyone will buy your product is figuring out if competing products already directly or indirectly meet the need. A good way to analyze this is to "shop" for a product as if you were an informed and discriminating consumer, and ask yourself why you should by your product. If you have a very convincing answer to that question, you may be ready to consider patent protection.

2. Pursue a patent strategy that protects your market niche, not just a "good idea".

It's a common mistake to think good ideas should be protected. In reality, profitable patent strategies are directed toward protecting marketable features of products and technologies. People have good ideas everyday, but most aren't profitable to patent.

3. Understand the truth about "licensing" and "getting people to invest."

Small sales lead to big sales, and sometimes to licensing agreements. Approaching small outlet stores to carry your product, or generating Internet sales is a great way to convince larger retailers to place big orders and license your product. Outside investors are few and far between, and most successful inventors bootstrap themselves to success by networking to promote their inventions and create proof of markets.

4. Don't forget branding and trademarking.

Even if your invention does not meet the legal standard for patent protection, if you think there is a market you may still pursue it by making a better product than your competition, and developing a market identity by obtaining a trademark and other branding strategies. A substantial investment which results in recognition of your product, may justify registering your trademark. For example, most successful soft drinks are not patented, but rely on branding.

5. Coordinate your prototyping, manufacturing and patent strategies.

Patent attorneys who work with consumer products understand the importance of revising your patent as design considerations emerge in the prototyping process, and call also suggest design modifications that help differentiate your product from previously patented technologies to avoid potential infringement issues. Attorneys who routinely work with individual inventors can help you avoid costly marketing companies that falsely claim to be able to contact prospective manufacturers and licensors. They can also advise you on foreign sourcing and domestic manufacturing alternatives.

6. Attend Inventors' and Entrepreneurs' Clubs and Forums

These venues, springing up all over the state of Wisconsin, can help you make realistic marketing contacts, learn the law without paying an attorney by the hour and realistically understand the benefits, costs and risks of bringing your product to market.

 

3316 W. Wisconsin Avenue | Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53208 | Phone: 414-223-1670 | Fax: 414-223-1671 | jw@abtechlaw.com