The Most Common Queries From Fledgling Inventors, And Responses From My Experience By April Mitchell

  I AM ASKED a lot of questions on LinkedIn from inventors with an invention idea who want help. The three most common ones: • Where do I start? • To whom should I license my product, and how do I find this person or company? • Do I need a patent? These are great questions—and if you ask multiple people, you will get multiple answers. So, these answers are just my opinion from my experience, from coaching many inventors through the process of idea to pitching, to signing a licensing contract. I hope you find these answers helpful.


Where do I start? Research. First, know your product inside and out. Know what your goal is with your product, and why you think it is necessary and beneficial to move forward with it. Think about these things as well: Does it solve a problem? Is it fun? Do you think it will make life better or easier for people? Think about things like material, size, weight, and where it might need to be manufactured. Where do you envision your product selling, and for how much money? Do you have any ideas on how to market this product? Why is it important for you to continue on this inventing journey? You should also know which products are currently on the market that are similar to your new product. Along those lines: Which products exist that solve the same problem or are in the same category? What is selling online? What is in the physical retail spaces? What is the price of these products? How good/bad is the quality of these products? What are people saying in the reviews of these products? Would your new product fill a gap in this category or offer a new solution? Know how your product differs from these others on the market. What separates your product? It is important to know your competition and what your unique selling point is, so you can market it better or pitch it better if wanting to license to a company. If your product is not different or does not have a unique selling point, I suggest thinking about what you can do to make it that way. How can your product stand out and be, or look, superior to similar products?


To whom should I license my product, and how do I find this person or company? This can seem tricky when starting out. What I like to say is, when you did or do your research and you find companies making similar products or products in the same industry and category, take note of them. Write down those companies. Make a spread- sheet or keep them listed in a notebook, as you will want to come back to them later in your journey. Consider the manufacturing aspect. If you were to manufacture your product on your own, who would be your competition? Which companies are making a similar product, or one that could potentially compete with yours? Write them down. These companies, these manufacturers, become your potential licensees. These are companies to which you will present your concepts. Another great way to find companies is to go to industry trade show sites and review the exhibitor list. Companies at shows actively sell products. They may be open to outside innovation, so you can contact them via email, phone call or LinkedIn. Most often they have a company website address linked to their name on the exhibitor list. Go to their website and see if they are selling products for which your product will be a fit. If so, contact them.


Do I need a patent? First, I am not a lawyer and do not give legal advice. But here is what I do: I hold a couple of patents and am in the process of trying to get a few more— although I do not patent all my concepts. I have found that not all my products are patentable. I also do not want to spend the money trying to patent everything I invent. What I typically do is file an affordable Provisional Patent Application on an invention before starting to pitch it to companies. This allows me 12 months to find out if any companies are interested in the concept, as well as work out any roadblocks with the invention, before I go full speed ahead and hire a patent attorney to write a full patent for my invention. If no companies are interested in the concept and I do not plan on taking it to market myself, I typically let the PPA run out and concentrate on other products. I feel that if no one is going to manufacture my concept, I don’t want to pay for a patent just to have it sitting there not in use. A very large majority of patents are just that: patents that were never made into an actual product for retail. I do not spend my time on those. A note on best practices People contact me because I have licensed products and because of my social media presence, LinkedIn profile, writing this monthly column in Inventors Digest, and being a guest on podcasts or inventing groups. I had help from others along my journey, and I like to give back and share my knowledge and try to answer messages from new inventors—though I can’t always get to them all. There are so many who have gone before you on this inventing journey who are happy to answer a few questions for you. Please remember to be mindful when contacting others for help. It is a good practice to never send attachments or links to things without permission. As a practice, I don’t open those; I am always working on several products and may be working on something similar. It puts us all in a sticky situation. With that in mind, sometimes I get questions that I just don’t answer: “How much money do you make?” “Can you give me the contact information for X company?” “Can you evaluate my product?” If you ask appropriate questions to others, I am sure you will find that so many successful inventors are happy to lend a helping hand.