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Invention – 14 secret tips for inventors

Short tips on Invention you’ve never heard anywhere else.
For independent inventors.

By Jeffrey Dobkin

1.  Don’t get a patent so fast.  A patent is $5,000 to $10,000! Wow! And keep this in mind: A patent doesn’t protect you. That’s Right! It only gives you the right to protect yourself (you can sue someone). BIG difference!  You do NOT need a patent to market or sell your product.

Consider a cheaper way – a special provisional patent (it offers no protection, but does establish proof of claim and date) which is good for 1 year, and costs only a few hundred dollars – if you feel you must get something.  You DO NOT need a patent to successfully market a product.

2. Don’t trust invention marketing companies.  Most are really really very very bad guys who DO NOT want to steal your idea – but they WILL take all your money.  By law (The inventor protection act of 1999), any invention marketing company must give you the percentage of people that have made more money than they have spent with the firm.  If they are reluctant to give you this figure up front, run away. Don’t walk away, run away. Also ask for REFERRALS of people WHO HAVE MADE MONEY from the company. Write down names and addresses.  See our article on 27  Questions to Ask an Invention Marketing Company.

3. Don’t count on making money for 2 years.  Yes, it takes that long from when you are standing there holding a fairly well finished prototype in your hands to bringing a product to a marketplace. You can shorten this time by having additional people work on it besides yourself, or by investing more money in it to make it happen quicker. But working out of your home, garage, or small office – everything takes way more time than you think it will.

4. The idea – the flashbulb going off, that Eureka moment – is the EASY PART.  It’s the time you invest after that moment that creates success, and that’s the hard part.

5. There are companies (and people) that can definitely help inventors, depending on where you are in the invention process and what help you are looking for.  It’s best to join a local inventors club – some are just awesome.

6. Here are just a couple of people I trust —

Jack lander, the Inventor Mentor (and all around good guy) wrote a book on financing your invention (How to Finance Your Invention or Great Idea; $19.95, ISBN 0935722246-7,, 203-264-1130)  Jack is great with early stage inventors.

Paul Niemann is a product scout., 800-337-5758.  He’s an all around good guy and very knowledgeable about the marketplace and inventions.  He scouts all the hardware and automotive shows looking for products for his clients.  His specialty is licensing.

Harvey Reese’s book, “How to License your Million Dollar Idea” is great reading, and also has the best contract I’ve ever seen.  I recommend reading this and using his contract (it’s printed in the book).  I use this myself.  Harvey will review your idea to see if he will represent you (The cost is about $150), but he doesn’t take on too many projects.

My own cult classic book, “How To Market a Product for Under $500”, is the best book if you are thinking about marketing a product yourself (not licensing).  Available on Amazon and directly from us – 800-234-4332, or 610-642-1000.  I usually answer this phone and am happy to field quick questions from inventors.  I assist inventors who are in the later stages of having a product ready to bring to market.

7. At our own Philadelphia Inventors Alliance – we review products in person and it’s FREE to area members, but you must be in the area and attend the review.  Reviews for inventors from outside our area are $295. We record the review for mail-in evaluations.  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 scam companies.

You couldn’t buy this much consulting talent for under a couple of thousand dollars anywhere else. Frank and honest, our in-depth one-half to one hour reviews are startling 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 market inventors products or sell additional services.

One-hour reviews from the board are $295 – and the money goes to our non-profit bring in better speakers to present to our group. We present these speaker presentations at low cost to members and their guests, and to others who wish to attend.

Full written reviews – which we also offer for lots more money as they take much longer to research and write and are more in depth. Strictly for the more serious inventors with products that are further down the line. The value inventors receive is simply amazing: design help, prototyping help, materials review, marketing and marketing analysis, and patent reviews just to name a few areas you may request.  All review are custom written to your specifications… or what we think will be the most help to you.  Let us know what you need.

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… I’m sure 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.

So 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 disclosure date to file for a patent.

If you tell a limited number of people and each agrees not to disclose it 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 commercial products.  This can be for several reasons. for example:  1. it would be too costly to manufacture for the price you need to sell it for (retail price is usually 5 times the manufacturing cost!).  So if you invented a new golf ball that went twice as far as other balls, but cost $2,000 to manufacture – it would have a list price of $10,000! It would be a great idea but not a great commercial product.  2. You can’t define the market.  You can’t separate the people who will buy one from everyone else.  Without being able to do this, you couldn’t afford to advertise to everyone – it’s too expensive.

10. Some ideas are just not “commercially feasible” – the manufacturing cost or the marketing cost would be too great 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).  For example it might cost you $100 to make a sale of a $50 product.

11. You need to keep an inventor’s note book: a composition binder 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 stamped by a notary.  It shows a record and date of invention.

12. Send inquiry letters.  If you are thinking about licensing your great idea, send a letter of inquiry to a firm most likely to purchase or licensing it. Don’t disclose your idea, but write about what it does better, faster, cheaper – and send that in a letter to the president of a firm you think could use the idea in the industry you both serve.  Ask them how they would prefer that you to submit your idea to their firm.  Then you can follow their recommendations or not.  Alternatively you can send a non-disclosure agreement for them to sign first.

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:

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 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 it 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 finally say “no,” to marketing or manufacturing your product and come up with reasons they don’t like it.

If they don’t like it, 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. That can be a nasty project, and you’ll likely make an enemy by going over some’s head who just said no.

If the gatekeeper likes it, 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 nixed: once by a self-appointed gatekeeper, and once by the president. You may have run into a blocker like this when the president may have been looking for your exact idea, and ready and willing to license it from you.

14. Invention is the road, not the destination. We believe it’s not so much a single invention, but the process of invention that ensures success. You should enjoy the whole trip, not just the outcome. Happy inventing! Eww. Did I just say that corny ending to this article? Yeeesh.

Hope this is helpful.

Jeff Dobkin Selfie

Jeff Dobkin Selfie

Jeffrey Dobkin

After serving on the board of directors of the American Society of Inventors for 14 years, Jeffrey Dobkin is the now the President of the Philadelphia Inventors Alliance, a Philadelphia nonprofit that helps inventors.