7 Steps to Selling Your Invention
A FREE Practical Guide to Licensing Your Invention
- Step 1 - Product: Pick a problem
- How can I protect and monetize the rights to my idea?
- How can I get my invention to market?
Every day, people just like you come up with solutions to everyday problems: inventions that would make life easier or even improve society. Not every invention is going to result in a financial windfall, and, truthfully, many ideas are not worth pursuing at all. But, for every inventor that earns substantial money from inventing, there is another who lets a great idea fall to the wayside because the inventor simply doesn’t know how to sell it. Don’t be this second kind of inventor!
Inventing for Money - Step 1
Product: Pick a problem
As an inventor, you already know that great inventions start with solving real-life problems; after all, only poets get paid for answering questions not asked. Keep your eyes open for problems to solve; they are all around us, everyday. Here are some examples, and for the sake of expediency we’ll focus on common kitchen problems.
- Chop an onion without wasting any pieces
- Compost leftovers indoors
- Keep bananas perfectly ripe
- Take the stems off strawberries without wasting half the berry
- Keep ants out of the cupboard
- Remember how long ago condiments in the fridge were first opened
Most people deal with these little problems without giving them much thought. The trick is to train your inventor brain to recognize when little problems occur and remember them. Everybody experiences the same problems; because you are an inventor, you stop and take note and then take action.
Of course, some inventions are complex and require a team effort. Often these inventions are composed of many incremental inventions and patents. The principle of solving small problems remains true, but small problems are batched together to help solve bigger problems.
For example, a quick search of patents for which Microsoft is the assignee reveals over 16,000 examples. These range from “Slide out interface bar” (US 5914716, granted in 1997), which “reduce[s] the occasions in which a user clicks a mouse to gain access to, or activate, a computer resource,” to “Generational global name table” (US7454436, granted in 2008), which “permits efficient management of the growth of the generational global name table.” Each of these 16,000-plus patents solves some incremental computer-related problem. Put them together and they comprise a $200-billion business.
When identifying the problem, five points are key:
A. Are You Interested in the Problem?
Inventing can be hard work, and most successful inventors have a personal passion for solving the problems that they encounter every day. If you experience a problem, think about what it would mean if you could find a solution. It’s difficult for most people to dedicate themselves to finding solutions for challenges that are abstract.
Often the more “everyday” an invention is, the more people will need it and be willing to pay for it. It is wonderfully fortunate for inventors that many of us will suffer the same kinds of daily problems. Nagging inconveniences discomfort and inefficiencies are all of the kinds of things that people will pay to eliminate from their lives.
B. Can You Prototype a Solution?
We all have ideas. Anyone would love to create a machine like the transporter on Star Trek that will beam someone to the office and then back home every day. The chances of building a prototype? Probably zero.
Your idea will only have commercial value if you have the resources to make it a reality. You don’t need a working prototype to receive a patent, but you definitely need one to produce it yourself or license it to a manufacturer. If you are convinced that your gizmo will work and you don’t have the resources to make it yourself, hire a professional fabricator
C. Are There Enough People Who Will Buy It?
- To be successful, your invention needs to be ubiquitous. The more people who can benefit from it or use it, the better. If you are not sure, try to answer these questions.
- Does your gadget sufficiently reduce effort, solve a problem, or fulfill a desire in such a way that you would part with your hard-earned dollars to have the device?
- Ask a friend to write you a check for the gadget. What is their response?
- Is it something that they would come to you to buy, or would you have to do some arm-twisting?
- Would you recommend the purchase if a stranger had invented it?
- Is there a niche or gap in the marketplace that your product will fill?
D. Can the Product Be Sold for Four Times the Cost to Build it?
Being able to build a prototype is not enough to ensure commercial viability. For example, let’s say you designed a kitchen gadget that automatically peeled potatoes. You build your prototype. The cost of manufacturing is $275 each. All the other costs, shipping, marketing, overhead, returns, profit will be four times as much, or $1,100. You need to ask yourself if YOU would pay $1,100 to have your potatoes peeled. If you were a homeowner, you probably would not. But how about a large commercial food processor? Could your automatic potato peeler be sold to businesses? These are questions for which you need the answers.
E. Is the Invention Protectable Against Better-Funded Competitors?
It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there. You may very well need to defend your patent against a big company claiming that your patented gizmo is no different from their gizmo, or is not unique, or even infringes on one or more of their patents.