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Inventors Question and Answers

Have a question? We’re happy to help. Please send your question by email to Jeff at Dobkin dot com.

Answers to other reader questions can be found on this page by scrolling down.
Answers provided by Jeffrey Dobkin, President Emeritus, American Society of Inventors

Inventor Questions — and Answers


1. Does a patent protect me?


No. A patent doesn’t protect you – a patent only gives you the right to protect yourself.
PLUS: I’ve never seen a sheet of paper stop a crook…


I have an invention that is a salable product: manufactured and packaged for retail sales.  Where do I start?


I’d start with the National Directory of Catalogs (Greyhouse Publishing).  There you’ll find about 15,000 catalogs.  Write to the catalogs in your market and ask how to submit your product for possible inclusion.  Eventually you’ll need to send them a sample, so if your product isn’t ready for retail the approach would be different.  If they like it, and you can show you have an inventory and can ship on time, you may be able to get into a few catalogs.  They’ll test to start – with a limited number of catalogs.  But if you product sells well (with few returns), imagine if your product was in 10,000,000 catalogs!  It can happen.  Bass Pro shops mail over 50,000,000 catalogs a year.  L.L. Bean, 60 million!


From Jesse: Hi. I have developed a device that I would like to see if I could get a patent for but I don’t know anything about patents or how to get inventions out there to the right people. I actually contacted invent help and am scheduled to meet with them next week but I’m not sure if this is the right way to go about it. Any advice you can give me would be appreciated.


Thanks, Jesse…  for your questions.  It’s actually 3 questions:  about patents, about getting your idea to the right people, and about Inventhelp.

1. Before applying for a patent, search Amazon for your product or similar.  Then if nothing is close, search the Google database of patents and the USPTO patent site.  If it’s still not close to anything you MAY be able to apply for a patent, but keep in mind a patent is $5,000 to $10,000.  And a patent DOES NOT PROTECT YOU. A patent only gives you the right to protect your self (to sue someone).

Read more…
A patent is usually only valuable if your product is “Commercially feasible” – if you (or someone else) can manufacture it and sell it at a profit, and people will buy it.  If any of those 3 conditions can’t be met, a patent won’t matter.  No one will want it.

Before going to any invention promotion company I would thoroughly investigate them. Look online for reviews – and I don’t mean the bogus great reviews some of the firms hire people to write for them. I mean reviews where people say exactly HOW MUCH MONEY they made from using their services.

Reviews such as “They were really nice,” and “They held my hand step by step through the process,” don’t mean anything. Your friends are nice to you – you need a firm that will make you money – it’s a business, not a yoga-meditation company. If they don’t make you money, I don’t really care how nice they are to you while they are taking your money.

Frankly, I would cancel the meeting for right now.  There’s nothing you need to do in person that you can’t do online or on the phone.

An in-person meeting with any of the invention marketing companies makes it easy for them to high-pressure you into some kind of deal that they won’t be able to do on the phone. They simply can’t get to your wallet directly when on the phone – so the pressure is on to get you into their office.  I have a feeling when you’ll see how hard it is to cancel the meeting, you’ll see just a fraction of the pressure you’re in for in a face to face meeting.

I would NOT go there in person before:

1. Asking on the phone and getting the names and phone numbers of several recent references from people who MADE MONEY from their services. And calling them. If they won’t give you references, this should tell you something. Walk away.

2. Ask them to divulge how many people they have accepted as clients, and how many people made more money in royalties than they spent with them. They have to tell you this by law: it’s in the Inventor’s Protection Act of 1999.  You can find the actual disclosure statement from Davidson – an invention promotion company by clicking this link.

Write down the questions. Then ask. Then write down their answers. If they don’t answer your question with a specific answer – ask the same question again. Say, “That didn’t really answer my question…” then ask again. Get these facts BEFORE going to meet them. If they won’t answer any questions or are evasive with their answers, don’t go there.

You can look up and read the Inventor Protection Act of 1999 law on my website, or elsewhere on the web. Visit the above link to see the statistics of one of the invention marketing companies and notice the tiny fraction of 1% percent of people that actually made money from their service. Yes, it’s that bad.

3. Ask what their average client spends.  I’m sure they’ll say “It varies.” I’m sure it does. But… they should know the average ticket if they have hundreds of clients. At least they’ll have a range.  Again, no answer or they are evasive answer such as “It really depends on the client.” that isn’t any help. Cancel the meeting.

Whatever happens in your first meeting – and I believe you’ll be told how great your product is, and how you should immediately blah blah blah and protect it, and blah blah blah… . No matter how good it sounds, do NOT give them any money or sign any contract.  Period.

Tell them your wife or your lawyer has to see the deal or any documents before you give them any money or sign anything, and you’ll get back to them.  Your idea has been fine for all these years, and I assure you everything can wait a few more weeks. Your idea should be safe, they signed an NDA. I don’t think they want your idea – it’s a lot of time, dedication, work and expense to market a product correctly; they just want the shortcut: they want your money directly.

If you go to the meeting, I think you will be under intense high pressure to sign-up for something or pay a downpayment for something, some kind of deal, anything. Yes, this is speculation on my part, but they know if you leave without paying, they’ve lost their opportunity to get your money right there on the spot.

If they say what they will do, make sure it’s a concrete plan of action, leading to specific results. Saying “Oh, we’ll introduce your product to the industry.” isn’t an actual plan because… well… that has no meaning. If they offer to do a market “analysis” or “study” it means they are going to give you a big leather book, unfortunately it will contain worthless information that you could have gotten at any library in an afternoon – and it’s going to cost you $500.

You have the right to get up and walk out at any time and say, “I’ll think about it.”  Then, I’ll help you (free): get back to me with exactly what they propose and I’ll give you my best advice. I’m pretty sure if you leave without taking out your wallet you will be well ahead of the game.  If you give them any money it will be difficult to get it back and I won’t be able to help.

You always, always have the opportunity to go back later and give them money;
you don’t always have the opportunity to go back later and get your money back.

Hope this is helpful.  

Jeffrey Dobkin
President, The American Society of Inventors


I have spent a few thousand dollars working with a company to design the CAD drawing and I now have the prototype in my hands – but do NOT have a patent. I need advice on the next step with someone I can trust. I don’t have any connections – I have saved 10K for further investment to get it to market – but not sure what to do next or how far I want to go?
After visiting your Website and getting a bit more educated on all this stuff (I am a Nurse), I am considering a Provisional Patent and I would love to contact a company in Ohio that would have a great need for my design. I do have 2nd CAD design that I am working on and a 3rd further down the road that the Ohio company may want also. But First and Foremost — I need to get this current prototype flowing to the next step – would you mind helping me?
Also, I am so glad I found your website – I read your warning! about to trust someone I shouldn’t have! Thank you in advance for your help and guidance, Mary Lou 


Thanks, Mary Lou… for your email and questions about your invention.

I think a provisional patent may be a good place to start.  You can do this yourself for under a couple hundred dollars.

A provisional patent won’t protect you but it will establish you as the inventor and create a timeline.  You’ll have a year to apply for a regular patent. My actual recommendation is to apply for a provisional patent and don’t use your main claims – or if you don’t apply for a patent within a year, they may invalid your patent as prior art. No one will see your claims as the process is a closed system and private from public view. You can always file again and introduce them as additional elements.

Unfortunately, a regular patent won’t protect you either – it only gives you the right to protect yourself.  You’d have to sue someone if they violate your “claims” as shown in your patent.  They may not care about being sued. Additionally, I’ve never seen a sheet of paper stop a crook.

Read more…

The advantage of a provisional patent or actually applying for a traditional patent (Figure $5,000 to $10,000) is you can now say your product has a patent pending.  This process is shrouded in secrecy – so firms won’t be able to check the validity of this statement or see any claims – if you follow this route.

Next – The cost and difficulty to market your product depends on the product, the industries you are marketing to, and the novelty and design of your invention.  The same goes for licensing.  Here’s what I’d do:

Since you seem to have a target company in mind, get the name of the President.  Write him (or her) a letter saying you are a product developer and have a product that will offer these benefits:  ___________, _______________, _______________.  Don’t actually say what the product is, just the benefits.  This is an introductory letter and you are just seeking information.  Ask what his recommendations are for submitting a new product to his company, and how they would like you to go about this.

Let him (or her) tell you what he wants.  Then, actually feel free to follow – or not follow – his advice.

This first letter is just a test to see how receptive they are to new ideas.  If they outline a good path, by all means take it.  If not, you have the name of the President of the firm and you know you can reach him.

If no response, write a second letter.  Remember, direct mail is a game of numbers, and percentages of response. Make it similar.

If he response and you don’t like the path he outlines, I would say in your response letter hey, thanks for writing me, but I prefer to submit my product directly to you. My innovation does this, this and this.

Feel free to embellish the benefits of what your product does without much detail, but make it sound compelling. Then ask if they have a non-disclosure form they use, of if he would agree to sign one you have taken out of a book. A non-disclosure form can be found in my book, “How To Market a Product for Under $500.” Again, keep in mind I’ve never seen a sheet of paper stop a crook.

While there may be many people who will tell you to send your idea to them in the company – and who doesn’t want to see new ideas – very few will be able to act positively on it.

If you send your innovation to someone down a few rungs down on the company list, he or she may not want to risk their job by moving your platform forward. Once you have someone that says “No” it will be difficult to go above their head on the path to “Yes!” You might have created an enemy within the ranks if you do so.

Ask if they have ever used a product from an outside developer. If they say no, your chances just took a turn for the worse. Not impossible, but this is a huge hurdle.

Suppose everything goes right? Ask for their standard contract with product developers. Then, check it out – and feel free not to use it. If it stinks – and I’ve seen a lot of really stinky contracts out there – ask if they will sign your form that you got from a book.

I like saying you got these forms from a book as that implies fairness. I’d then copy the contract from Harvey Reese’s book, “How To License Your Million Dollar Idea!”, modify it to what is applicable to your own case, and send it. Harvey is very smart and his contract is brilliant: clear to read and proven bulletproof in court.

While I know you said you have one company in mind to use your idea, keep in mind there are more firms that do the same thing, market the same set of products to the same industries. You can find them all in the trade magazines that serve your industry (see Bacon’s Magazine Directory in libraries), and in The Thomas Register of Manufacturers and Distributors – again, found at all large libraries. Their online version sucks, so go to a library with plenty of change for the copy machine.

When you send anything by mail, it’s a direct mail piece. And all direct mail goes by numbers, and percentage of response. With inventors I have worked with I’ve used this same formula you see here and my clients have received a positive response as high as 15% to our mailings – some from the top firms in the industry, and directly from the President of those firms.

Hope this is helpful. Remember to enjoy each step of the inventing process as the trip is more than success of the idea itself. If this one doesn’t work, you’re an inventor – I’m sure you have other inventions.

Hope this is helpful.

Kindly,  Jeffrey Dobkin

President, American Society of Inventors.

  What’s Your Question…?  

I have an invention related to the golf industry. From my own research there is nothing similar in function that solves a practical need. I have made a conceptual prototype utilizing household materials that efficiently serves its purpose in design, however at this point it would require further engineering in addition to utilizing the proper materials in refinement. I believe I have worked out the engineering aspect of invention but not sure who to go to in development of final go to market product. Any insight is greatly appreciated.

Guy L.


Thanks, Guy… For your question. Not really sure what you mean when you say “Conceptual Prototype,” but I’ll take a shot at being helpful.

So you have a prototype that works. This is called a “Proof of Concept” prototype, and as long as it works it doesn’t have to be pretty.

The next two steps are refining the prototype, and how you manage this depends on your invention path. If you are ultimately going to license your invention, you may leave prototype refinement to the licensing firm. This will be the cheapest and easiest for you, and they may be very good at it and have resources far beyond what you have on tap.

Read more…
If you are going to manufacture and market your invention yourself – and the golf industry is very rich and very product intensive – you should make your prototype tighter and better. Make 3 or 4 (or more), and keep refining each model. I recommend this path and have found people can surprise themselves as they get continually closer to the final design.

Here’s the reason: The closer you can get to your final design the less it will cost you to have someone else do it. And the more aligned your product will be to your own personal vision.

If your prototype winds up being really great, you can go directly to manufacturers with it and ask for a “Manufacturing Prototype.”

A manufacturing prototype is the minutia details of how it will be manufactured. Every part, piece, paint, lettering, label, screw and nut will be figured our, spec’ed out and costed out. If you talk big enough numbers of an initial production run, you may escape any charges. All manufacturers go through this step before they can analyze the cost of manufacturing any product.

If your prototype still looks like it came from the scrap pile at Walmart, you may need to go to a professional Prototype Maker. There are prototypists who will be very knowledgable about the full range of material and their specs. Hopefully the ones you interview will additionally have great design recommendations.

While costs will depend on the complexity and materials needed, each prototype maker will have very different charges and I’ve seen the spread from $300 to $3,000 for interpretation of the same invention. The higher charges may not mean better design (as some of the cheaper guys can be very clever) but usually do mean the prototypist will spend more time in the design of your project.

Get quotes – and hourly rates – and inquire about the materials he (or she) will use in the prototype and additionally the materials he recommends for the final product. Prod for insights when you get a quote – this will let you know how smart the prototypist is, indicating the type of job he (yes, or she) will do. Then hire someone you feel comfortable with who you think will do a great job with a clever design.

Cad Cam. Computer aided design and computer aided manufacturing. You’ll be able to see what your product will look like on a computer screen. It’s generally drawn on software that produces 3-D images. You’ll be able to turn the image on several axis onscreen to see all sides.

It may be possible to get a 3-D printer to print the parts in plastic to see if it all fits together and works well. Or have the parts cut out or milled directly from a computer assist from your cad cam rendering.

Whatever design or manufacturing help you need, he first places I’d look for help are area schools and universities. Art schools often have ID (Industrial Design) classes and you may get students (or the entire class) working on your invention inexpensively. Many universities have classes on the computer software and you may get free or low cost help there as well.

Since ultimately you’ll need your product manufactured you should investigate manufacturers who make similar items in a quantity matching in proximity to what you will be ordering. Manufacturers can be found the The Thomas Register of Manufacturers in most large libraries. The online version sucks, but the 30 book set in the reference department of a library will show you a path, and phone numbers to call to get information and quotes. No doubt they’ll make recommendations for design and material so will be easier for them to construct. Hope this is helpful. Jeffrey Dobkin

 What’s your question?

I develop a product. I had a patent search done, the closest design to my design was patented in 1919. But no products ever emerged from the patent. I want to get this product on the market there’s nothing else like it & so no competitors, yet. It could be used by every age group except infants every nationality and every gender. I had a research center (WISC) send me out information and decide a nondisclosure agreement and the also want to check for $900. 00. I don’t know what to do next, do I go with this research center or not, who do I talk to, what steps do I have to do next


Thanks, Gia… for your email, question, and your trust in The American Society of Inventors Team.  Since we’re not trying to sell anything our sole interest is in helping inventors.

If a similar product was patented in 1919, it sounds likely there is “Prior Art” – a term for a patent that is existing, or at least it was.  If the patent hasn’t been kept up, and likely hasn’t been, the good news is everyone is free to use it, including you.  Of course that’s the bad news as well.  So unless your idea has a brand new wrinkle that is patentable in itself, no patent will be available.  But… that’s OK.  You don’t need a patent to market a product.

Target Market:
While it may sound good that “everyone can use it,” you can’t market a product to everyone – it’s too expensive.  There’s a cost associated with reaching someone and delivering your message.  In mass marketing it’s cost per thousand, or CPM.  It’s the cost to reach 1,000 people.  This cost fluctuates according to the market – it’s a lot more expensive to reach 1,000 people who are ready to purchase a Boeing 474 than 1,000 people who are ready to buy a poodle.

To market a product or invention you need to pick out the people or groups that are MOST LIKELY to buy your product, then offer to sell your invention to them.  That’s your “target market” also known as a market segment, or market niche.  The tighter you can define that your niche, the better you can reach them without waisting money on people who are less likely to purchase your product.  The more effective your marketing will be, and it will cost you less to make a sale.  Simply stated: if you target your market correctly, for the amount of marketing dollars you spend you will have more sales.  Marketing is so simple, isn’t it?

While you say, “It can be used by every age group except infants,” there will be some age groups that are more likely to purchase your invention than others.  So first, narrow your sales effort to the tiny fraction of people ready to purchase and standing by the road with their hands up and waving money at you.  If your product sells to that group, you can then expand your marketing.  But if you can’t sell to your highest, most highly-targeted ‘ready-to-buy’ group, it’s not likely anyone else will purchase either.

There may be a reason there is no competition.  There may not be a way to manufacture and market the product at a profit.  Here’s a link to story about a marketing disaster I had for one of my own products.

I believe the WISC center – the Wisconsin Innovation Center is legit – or they were I knew them years ago. They offered a 44-point evaluation and it was $295.  Successful inventions were forwarded to Walmart for consideration.  I don’t know if they still do that, and at $900 it sounds like a lot of money for a limited evaluation.  I’d inquire further – find out exactly what you’re getting for your nine hundred bucks.  Let me know and I’ll alert our readers.

I would look to the INSPIRE conference presented by the Minnesota Inventors Group.  Each year this inventor conference offers the top names in the invention community presenting speeches and seminars.  Their presentations on invention, and the inventing and commercialization process are priceless!  The presenters are not only the highest levels in their fields, they are also honest and at the highest levels of integrity.  For $900 bucks, get on a plane and go for a couple of days – I think that would pay off way better.  This conference is held very year, in Minnesota.  Here’s the link to Inspire.

You can also present your product to the board of directors at the American Society of Inventors.  It’s a free service we’ve offered to area inventors for the past 25 years.  We’ve traditionally held invention reviews monthly, and we are starting this up again in September (one of our board members passed away and the group was set back quite a bit by this loss of a good friend).

If you’re not in the Philadelphia area, we’re thinking of offering invention reviews nationally.  We’d charge for long distance full board evaluations but it would give you a fair and honest assessment of what to do next.  First, we’d do a preliminary evaluation (Level One) and the cost is $25, pass or fail. From this we’d assess if it’s commercially feasible (if it can be manufactured and marketed at a profit).  If we don’t think your product has commercial feasibility we’ll let you know and not move forward.  This doesn’t mean it’s not a great idea, but in our opinion it would be difficult to 1. create a commercial version of your product 2. manufacture it at a reasonable cost, 3. then sell it at a profit, and 4. and make realistic amount of money from it. If your product passes to Level Two, the full board of directors reviews and evaluates your idea or invention.  It’s $295, and you can use this assessment in your further marketing.  Contact me and I’ll send details as they become available:

Thanks again for your inquiry.  Hope this is helpful.  Jeffrey Dobkin

What’s your question?

I have invented an idea and have an angel investor who is also a great friend for over 20 years. I would like to bring him in to see you, so he can have an independant evaluation on my product. I have no experience in product developement or marketing and would also like your expertise in these fields if product is deemed marketable. I have used an invention marketing company and have a hard cover book on their independant


G’day, Victor…
Thank you for your email.
I would be happy to meet with you and your investor regarding your invention. I’m so glad you didn’t spend a lot of money on independent invention marketing companies, most provide little for the money you spend with them, others are just scams that fleece inventors.  The average spend is $9,000 and we’ve had  members of the American Society of Inventors that have spent in excess of $20,000, receiving nothing worthwhile in return.  I’ll bet 2 to 1 that your hardcover book was $400 to $500 and it doesn’t contain relevant material or information you can actually use.  I have warnings on my website about unscrupulous invention marketing companies.

Please call me and we can pick a time and set up a meeting.  No charge for this, and I am not selling anything.  Call 610-642-1000.
I’d be happy to sign a non-disclosure – I do it all the time. Regarding your patent efforts:  It is not too late to proceed with commercialization of your invention, you don’t need a patent to market a product.  I generally don’t recommend a patent to most inventors – but this is on a case by case basis.  Utility patents usually cost between $5,000 and $10,000.  Keep in mind a patent doesn’t protect you – a patent gives you the right to protect yourself.  So if someone infringes on your patent, you can sue them – an often expensive, long and drawn out process where the real winners are the attorneys.  Are you going to travel there to sue someone in Oregon or Wyoming for infringing on your patent? For the past 15 years I have been on the board of directors of the American Society of Inventors, a Phila non-profit organization that helps inventors free of charge and reviews and evaluations inventions.  I’m quite knowledgable about inventing, invention development, patents, retail packaging, distribution, commercialization, licensing and marketing.  I’ve written 5 books on marketing. Call anytime.  Hope this is helpful. Jeffrey Dobkin
President, American Society of Inventors


Glad to hear from you Michael… Thanks for your phone call!

Happy to help:

First, your website needs to say “These are photos of our Freeze Dried Foods” or “Survival Foods never looked this good – until now!”  Or something like that because I didn’t get that from the top of your webpage.  You just looked like a supermarket.  Your site doesn’t actually sell anything – so driving traffic there won’t be profitable.  You need to tune this up before any mailings.

Read more
You said your first mailing will be to firemen.  Why do you think firemen should be your first mailing?

The Math:

Yea, I’d love to write a letter for you, but not sure if a traditional mailing will work.  The simple math = letters are 50¢ each.  So the cost of  1,000 letters = $500.  At a 25% profit, are you going to generate $2000 in sales to get that $500 cost back?  Not likely.  What is your average order?  Average profit?  Lifetime value of a customer?

If you generate a 2% response (which again is very unlikely as this response rate is really quite high) it’s only 20 sales.  At $100 per order it’s $2,000 – a break even point at a 25% markup.  At $50 per order your gross sales are $1,000 – not enough to break even.  If you get less orders – which is very likely – or if your average order is say $25, the stats again don’t work well or in your favor.  My guess the response to your mailing – more realistically – would be around 1/4 of 1%.  Ugh…

My letters are $850/ page: it takes me 8 hours to research, write, edit and design a letter.
But I kinda want to make sure it will work first – before spending your money on, well… me.  If the letter fails, I take the hit for writing the letter that didn’t work, when in reality the letter is a small part of the creative. The mailing response can go wrong in a lot of other ways: the offer could suck, the market could be wrong, the list could be old and stale.  Lots of ways to fail in direct mail.

Email would probably work better for you.  But if you think finding your list in traditional mail was hard… just wait…

For your question about post cards –  There are a ton of post card houses out there, and post cards can be easy to work with and pretty cheap to print and mail.  Design is another matter and leaves the door open for a range of charges, and a range of quality of work.  I write and design post cards, but I’m expensive ($1,500 and up) for 5-1/2″ x 8-1/2″ oversize card, two sides.  It takes me 15 hours.

Printing for post cards:
You might try Mitchell Graphics – they’re honest but not the cheapest.  231-347-5650

Vista Print – try it all yourself.  Talk about upselling… whew, but it’s all online, just pick what you need.

Zazzle (another do-it-yourself shop),

and my favorite –  Send them your art and graphics. I use them all the time.  Fast and less expensive. – been around for a while.

Hope this is helpful.  Jeffrey



What’s your question?

I do not consider myself an inventor, but I came up with an invention that I believe has chances of commercial success. It is small, probably manufacturable for less than $1, and I have spoken with two professionals (family members) in the field where this invention would be used, both have said it is a good idea. I’m not certain of the exact materials it would use, and I do not have the technical expertise to figure it out.

My question is this: What should I do 1st!? My current plan is something like this: Find a non-disclosure agreement to have handy, then, I would like to figure out what materials could be used to make it, then, have an engineer or architecture friend draw it, then, file a provisional patent as a micro-entity, then, figure out how to license it so a company (or companies) can manufacture it (really lost as to how to do this).

I am not interested (nor financially capable) of marketing this product myself. I have close to zero disposable income, so neither could I afford to make a prototype, but I want to get the ball rolling in this process and, even after reading a bunch online, really don’t know what to do 1st. Thanks for any help!
Manny C.


Thanks, Manny…

For your questions.

Your plan is actually very good.  And pretty darn close to what I would recommend.  Here are some additional ideas.

The place to start is making a prototype to see if it works and how well – called a “proof of concept” prototype.

Find material at home depot, Michaels Art stores, plumbing supply outlets – anywhere that offers items that fit.  It doesn’t have to be pretty, it just has to work.  Even is it’s a lousy prototype you still need to see if it works like you thought.

Read More…

Sure, you can hire a prototypist, but they can be expensive.  Before that I’d go to an art school and see if they have an industrial design department and ask if the instructor would make one or assign it to one of the students.

So as not to initiate the one year window you have to file a patent after you disclose your invention, have these people sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA).

It would be handy to have several prototypes made.  This will give you an idea of what you are working with, the good and bad points, costs, drawbacks and great things about your invention.

Jeffrey Dobkin’s Instant Market Research… on the fly:

See if you can sell one.

Well, not exactly sell one, but see if someone would buy one.

Tell an acquaintance or stranger you have a invention.  Ask them to keep it confidential so it is not a public disclosure.  Tell them vaguely what it is, quote the cost, say you have one in the car and ask if they’d like to buy one.  If they take out their wallet and hand you money it’s a sale.  If they don’t, it isn’t.

If they say it’s a great idea, or they’ll buy one next time — it’s not a sale.

As they take out their wallet, tell them it was actually a test to see if your product would sell — and you aren’t actually selling them one.  And don’t take their money.  It was a test.  If you do this to 50 people, and they all take out their wallet and pay you, Success: you have a successful “commercially feasible” product.

Write down the number of “Sales” to the number of non-sales. If the number is awesome – ie. 48 people out of 50 took out their wallet to buy, you can use this as a selling point in your package to sell a licensing deal.  If you had an actual sales record, even better.

I recommend this Jeff Dobkin Mini-Market Research test to EVERYONE who has an invention they think has commercial possibilities.  You don’t need a physical product to do it, you just need to convince people you have one (in your car at home or anywhere off-site).  It’s the ONLY way to know if your product will really sell: to sell one.

The cost to manufacture will go up from the $1 you quoted.  So leave yourself some room in your pricing.  The cost to consumers at retail will be 5-7 times your cost.  Yes, 5 to 7 times!  This allows room for your profit, retailers, distributors and catalog houses if your product is successful.  If you can sell it for more, raise your own level of profit first.  Some products and some markets are not price sensitive.

If it’s feasible, get a short run made.  I’ve seen people become widely successful selling out of the trunk of their cars.  For this marketing strategy, see some of my other posts.

File a provisional patent AFTER you do all this.  Keep in mind you have ONE YEAR once you have filed a provisional patent to file a regular patent, or you lose the right to file.  So get all your ducks in a row… first.

Keep in mind a patent doesn’t protect you – it only gives you the right to protect yourself (to sue someone).  Also keep in mind – I’ve never seen a sheet of paper stop a crook.

If all is going well, you’re ready for a more advanced prototype.  This one will be better designed as you spend the work out the design elements, or at least someone else does.

You won’t need a “Manufacturing” prototype until your product is ready for manufacturing.  This is a final stage and will most likely be done by the manufacturer.  Different manufacturers will have different standards and different manufacturing requirements for their own processes.

Two other points, then I’ll go get dinner:  Licensing is tough, and licensing to the correct firm is tougher.  Finding the right one is difficult at best or at least a lot of work.  Striking a reasonable deal is difficult as well.  I recommend Harvey Reese’s book, “How To License Your Million Dollar Idea” – and use his contract as found in the text.  It’s bulletproof, and awesome.

Finally, because you have a great idea, it doesn’t mean you will be able to manufacture and sell it.  The next logical step for an inventor is not to start and run a small business, or even license and sell the idea.  The next logical step for an inventor is to invent something else.  You are an inventor, and that what they do.

Hope this is helpful.  Let us know what happens.  Thanks.

Jeffrey Dobkin
President, American Society of Inventors.

What’s your question?

Hello, I have an invention that I believe will save lives. However, I can not afford a patent, my cousin told me to do a poor mans patent which is mailing it back to myself. My question is, will a poor mans patent hold up in court if someone tries to steal my invention from me? Thank you for your time and help. Karen


Thanks, Karen…

For your question. I hope you pursue your invention if it will indeed save lives. I have spent 30 year researching my own technique that I think will save lives. It can be found at

Unfortunately, your cousins idea won’t protect you. It will only prove that you invented your invention by the day it was mailed. It won’t stop anyone from doing it – at all: it offers no protection. Sorry.

You could take out a “provisional patent”. The cost is about $300, and you file this yourself with the USPTO. It’s not really a patent, but it puts them on notice that you are going to file a utility or design patent and establishes the initial date of invention. You then have a year after the provisional patent was filed or you lose the right to file for your traditional patent. Again, this doesn’t protect you but establishes a date of discovery. It can be used as a placeholder date your patent takes effect. Jeffrey Dobkin

What’s your question?


I have a few inventions that I’ve been sitting on.

Can you tell me how your services can help me and what fees may look like?



Sorry, Andre…

Usually I don’t answer this a question like this.  Your question is too broad for any cohesive answer.

Your question is like saying how do you manufacture a car.  Or how much does an airplane cost.

If you’re Tim Cook (Apple), your airplane costs about $45 million.  If you’re a regular guy, you’re plane can cost $7,500 – $25,000.

Or… more closely to home: your question is like how much does it cost to market a product?  Which is a question I actually get all the time.

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The answer is: if you’re Green Giant and you’re marketing a new line of frozen peas, it costs about $2 million.

If you’re a guy with $10,000 to invest in marketing… it costs $10,000. In which case it’s up to the marketing person to figure out how to be the most effective within that budget.

The costs of services depend on your goals, what you need, and what you can afford.

Here’s the way I look at it. Costs are dependent on several things:

Your budget.  What’s your overall budget? I’d be remiss to write a $100,000 marketing plan for a client that has a $10,000 marketing budget.  Conversely, I’d be totally out of whack to write a $10,000 marketing plan for a client that has $100,000 in his marketing budget. So… what’s in your budget?

Your sales goal. If you want to reach sales of $5 million in year two, your marketing budget will be substantially higher than if your sales goal is $50,000.  So what’s your sales goal?

What is your invention goal? Is it an idea you just want to show family and friends?  Is it something you want to develop into a commercial product? Are you manufacturing and marketing it yourself? Or are you planning on licensing it out to someone else or another firm?

Or… or are you going to start and run a business based on your invention?  If so, what’s your business experience in starting up and running a company? And what are the entrance barriers in the industry?  What is the competition? What are the manufacturing costs… and difficulties?  In your proposed pricing schedule – can you make a profit?  Are you already in business and you are going to add it to your existing product line? Because it would cost so, so much less in cost – with a business that’s running and has distribution established.

If you’re planning to license it (no easy task here) you don’t have to establish a business, invest in machinery, look for manufacturing space.  But you do have to find the right licensing partner which can be pretty tough (translate that into “time consuming”). Then it can be tough to negotiate a fair contract.

About my fees?  No quote.  I don’t know what you need, your budget, or your goals.  Based on your question, I don’t even know what I’d be quoting.  I can say as a senior marketing expert with over 25 years experience I’m not cheap, but I am effective and provide an excellent value for the spend ratio.  If you’re serious and want to discuss anything seriously, I think a call would be the best way to start.


Jeff Dobkin, President
American Society of Inventors


What’s your question?

Hello, I see that you have been giving sound advice to inventors, I am encouraged by that and hope I will be benefited by your piece of
advise. I developed door/window screen mesh which when damaged can be fixed seamlessly and with absolutely no traces of it being repaired. I
have myself applied for non-provisional patent few months ago which, of course, is in progress. Being completely a layman, I do not know
how to proceed further to sell it to home improvement stores. I do not have a prototype of the screen as I want to sell the concept so
the stores could have it manufactured and sell it in their stores. If I could get a direction from you showing which way to go, I will
highly appreciate that. Thank you in advance for your help and guidance.



Thanks, Sukhjit, for your good review of this column.  I’ll try to help…

I think you’ll need a “Proof of Concept” prototype.  The box stores are going to want to make sure it’s a real products and performs like you say it will before they offer it for sale.

Bad news on them buying the concept:  I don’t think the home improvement stores are in the business of buying concepts and manufacturing the products themselves.  They have thousands and thousands of products to pick from, and an army of salespeople showing up at their door every day with samples of manufactured goods, completely priced out and packaged for retail – and ready to be shipped to each of their stores that day.  The larger manufacturers have retail ads and co-op money to drive people into the stores to purchase their products.

If you want to license your product out, there are manufacturers who are looking for new products all the time to put in their pipeline. I’d look for screen and window manufactures who already have the eyes and ears – and the distribution – of the home improvement stores buyers.   There are other – probably better – manufacturers who would handle it.  The screen manufacturers might feel it’s a threat and will slow sales of new screens when someone gets a hole in theirs.

If you want to take a shot at the home improvement stores yourself, here’s what to do and what will happen…

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You’ll still need to get a working prototype.  No one in their right mind will buy it based on a few drawings and you saying how great it will work.  So you’ll need samples, and probably some installed samples — so you’ll need to make a small display of products and results so people will know what your product is and how it looks when used in a repair. You’ll also need to get a UPC code so the store can scan it at the register when they sell one.

When you have all this in hand I’d approach a local store manager and ask if he’ll place your display in the store.  Some managers have that option if you tell them you’re a local inventor.  If it sells well, take the sales figures and go to the home center headquarters armed with this data. Ask them to put it in all their stores, which they won’t – but feel free to ask, you never know.  Most likely they’ll place it in 4 or 5 stores to start.  They’ll chart the sales themselves and if it sells well, they’ll keep increasing the number of stores it can be purchased in.  That’s the way it happens.  Voila – instant success.  It just takes a few years.  Turns out inventing the product was the easy part.


Your question

I’ll figure out a great answer…


I’ve been on the Board of Directors of the American Society of Inventors and evaluating inventions for the past 14 years. Some of the same questions keep coming up.