Short Tips for Inventors Series – 15 Tips – Part 2
By Jeffrey Dobkin
Continued from Part One
7. Our own American Society of Inventors – we review products in person at our board of directors meetings and it’s FREE to area members (membership is $49.95/year). But: you must be in the area to attend the review. (We are kicking around the idea to review inventions from outside our area, and the cost would be a few hundred dollars – let me know if you’re interested. We would record the review for mail-in products, and we’re looking into webinar and Skype reviews.) Products may be in any stage – ideas to finished prototypes. Our mission is to help inventors, and to guide them away from shady invention marketing fraud companies.
Our review panel (our Advisory Board of Directors) is stellar – it’s our own (non-paid) board of directors. I’m the marketing guy (I’ve written 5 marketing books), two patent attorneys, one corporate attorney, one guy with 39 patents, one mechanical/prototyping expert, a materials specialist, a few entrepreneurs… and one guy just keeps showing up and buying us dinner, so we let him attend. We all sign NDAs.
You couldn’t buy this much consulting talent for under a couple of thousand dollars anywhere else. Frank and honest, our in-depth one hour reviews are startlingly clear and a great value from an absolutely non-partisan group who have nothing to gain or lose from a good or bad review. We don’t offer inventors any additional services other than the reviews stated here.
The American Society of Inventors offers speaker presentations free to members and their guests, and $5 to all others who wish to attend.
Outside of the American Society of Inventors I offer reviews and it’s strictly for the more serious inventors. From concepts and go/no-go positions to products that are further down the line I can be pretty helpful. The value inventors receive is simply amazing ranging from confidential design help, prototyping advice, materials review, marketing analysis and marketing strategy, and patent assessment just to name a few areas. I’ve been doing this a long time and have gained a certain amount of expertise.
Here are a few more tips for Inventors just starting out. To get past the idea stage:
8. You need to be able to tell people about your idea.
If you never tell anyone… your invention won’t be a successful and profitable venture because no one will know about it. Which is OK, too. Some people are just great idea people, and have fun generating new ideas.
To commercialize your product, eventually you’ll tell someone about your invention. This is generally considered “disclosure” by the patent office – which is only important if you intend to file for a patent – because technically you have one year from this public disclosure date to file for a patent.
If you tell a limited number of people and each agrees not to disclose disclose your idea to anyone else (best to get a non-disclosure statement in writing) it is NOT considered disclosure.
9. There are lots of GREAT ideas that would NOT be great products. One reason is the product would be too costly to manufacture for the price you need to sell it for (retail price is usually 5 times the manufacturing cost! Yikes, 5 times!). So if you invented a new golf ball that went twice as far as other balls, but it costs $500 to manufacture and sell – it would have a list price of $2,500! It would be a great idea but not a great commercial product.
10. Some ideas are just not “commercially feasible.”
When I review an inventors invention I see a lot of ideas and inventions that are great, but not necessarily “commercially feasible.”
If the manufacturing cost or the marketing cost is too expensive and you wouldn’t be able to make money on a sale (yes, you do need to make money – or there won’t be any other products from you), the product is not a viable commercial product. This doesn’t mean it’s not a great idea, it just means it’s not a commercial product you can successfully bring to market. For example it might cost you $100 to create a sale of a $50 product.
11. You need to keep an inventor’s note book.
An inventor’s notebook is a composition binder (like you had in grade school) with dates of your inventions. I say this because if you have one invention, you probably have more. Write them all down in chronological order, don’t skip any lines or pages, and keep everything dated. Occasionally have the book date stamped by a notary. You never know when this will come in handy.
12. Licensing: Sending inquiry letters.
If you are thinking about licensing your great idea, send a letter of inquiry to a firm most likely to purchase or license it.
Don’t disclose your idea, but write what it does better, faster, cheaper (the benefits) – and send that in a letter to the president of the firm you think could use the innovation. Ask them how they would prefer that you to submit your idea to their firm. Then you can follow their recommendations – or alternatively you can send a non-disclosure agreement for them to sign first.
Just because they want you to submit your idea in a particular way does not mean you have to do it that way. Some firms are honest, some are honest to a point, and some are just unscrupulously crooked. You won’t find this out till later. All firms look good up front.
13. When you pitch an idea to a company for licensing or manufacturing/co-op consideration, make sure the person reviewing your idea is at the highest corporate level – a president or vice president. The reason? Here’s why:
When you call to find out who to send your innovation to, beware the gatekeeper! Everyone will say “Yes!” they are the person you should send your idea (product) to. Everyone will want to see your new idea and tell you to send it right to them. Everyone likes new products! Everyone wants to feel important! Everyone wants to be involved in the fun: selection of a new product! How exciting!
But… very few will actually be able to accept your product and pay you for it. Most people can’t write a check to you – for any reason. Most will not be able to move a new product forward and champion your idea by themselves. It will be a great risk for them – because if the idea fails, their job may be on the line.
Most people will really only have the power to say “no”. They’ll nix your product and they’ll certainly find reasons they can’t possibly manufacture and market it. What are you going to do then?
Others will say, oh – they’ve been working on this idea for several months/years now. Some will send you a letter from their lawyer saying they’ve been working on this for years.
If the gatekeeper doesn’t want to champion it, or deal with it for any reason – you just got your first refusal from someone who had no authority to say yes! And now you’ll have to go around them if you want the firm to accept your product. This can be a very nasty project, and you’ll likely make an enemy by going over someone’s head who just said no.
If the gatekeeper likes it, still they’ll have to send it to someone upstairs — like the VP or President.
By not flushing this out on the phone in the first meeting, you’ve just doubled your chance of having the product license nixed: once by a self-appointed gatekeeper, and once by the president. The gatekeeper may simply be a blocker, when the president may have been looking for your exact idea, and ready and willing to license it from you.
14. Because you have a great invention, this doesn’t mean you will be able to start and run a small business marketing it. The skill sets are very, very different.
15. Invention is the road, not the destination. I believe it’s not so much a single invention, but the process of invention and hard work that ensures success. You should enjoy the whole trip, not just the outcome. If your one big invention isn’t commercial, as an inventor… you probably have more inventions – look at those for commercial success.
Hope this is helpful.
After serving on the board of directors for 14 years, and serving 4 years as President, Jeffrey Dobkin is the President Emeritus of the American Society of Inventors, a 501c3 nonprofit that helps inventors free of charge.
Jeffrey Dobkin is a fun speaker and a specialist in direct response. Jeff is the senior writer at The Danielle Adams Publishing Company. His firm offers product development and counseling, marketing strategy, and marketing plans, along with creative creative services: writing and design of direct mail, letters, brochures and booklets, corporate collateral material; and website design content and article writing. He also writes press releases, and offers PR planning and campaign strategy. Jeffrey Dobkin has written 5 books on effective marketing methods. Call 610-642-1000 to order his books or for a free 20 minute consultation.