Common Inventor Mistakes, And How To Avoid Them By April Mitchell
BEING AN INVENTOR as well as coaching new inventors for several years, I have witnessed many mistakes—often repeated ones.
Most of these mistakes can be avoided. Here are some things to know and consider before you start lighting the fireworks and showing everyone your invention.
Not enough research on the front end. Often, inventors do not conduct enough research before they get started on their invention.
You should know which products are on the market that are similar to yours. If your invention solves a problem, know which products exist that solve that same problem, as well as how your product differs.
You should know which patents exist that could interfere with your invention and how you can use those issued patents to learn how to set your invention apart from what has been done.
The fix: Use Google and Google Images to search for products on the market that may be similar to yours. To research patents, I like to go straight to the USPTO website as well as using Google Patents to see what is patented, using several different keywords.
Rushing to file a patent. Many inventors think this is the first thing to do when they
have an idea. I know, because I was one of them!
So many people say “You’d better patent it” that have no experience at all, and inventors listen to them. Patents can be very expensive and should not be the very first thing we should do as inventors.
The fix: I do some patent searches first. I then decide on the parameters for what I think is possible to patent.
For the new concepts that I think may be patentable, I file a provisional patent application. I am not a lawyer and cannot give legal advice, but I have realized that by filing a PPA I buy myself some time to make changes and/or figure out all the details.
The PPA is good for 12 months. When it is close to expiring, I decide whether I should hire help from a patent attorney for the invention. I weigh whether I have interest in a concept, as well as whether IP is important to the licensing company.
Spending too much money. I’ve heard countless stories of inventors depleting their
life savings on their invention and even mortgaging their home before they know whether there is a need, want or demand for their invention.
Stop! There are other things you can do first to help you decide whether to spend a good amount of money on your invention.
The fix: Find out whether there is interest for your product from consumers. You can first make a virtual prototype and sell-sheet to use to start pitching your inventions to potential licensees.
If it is inexpensive to make a looks-like, workslike prototype for which you can easily video the usage and benefits, do that, too. If you get interest from several companies, use that knowledge to decide whether to pay for the necessary and more expensive prototype that a company may want or require to move forward.
Note: It is often possible to license a product by only showing CADs and virtual prototypes, or a looks-like, works-like prototype. Companies have their own design team and may not require a prototype like we tend to think they do. Other companies may need to “test” a prototype.
Quitting your job. Inventors often don’t realize the long timetables the inventing process can take, and quit their job to work on their invention or pitch it. This is a poor decision. I have yet to see it work out in favor of the inventor, because the process most often takes a lot longer than anticipated. For example, if I have a new concept ready and have started pitching, it could take from 6 months to over 2 years to land a licensing deal— and that is if I land one! Once it’s licensed, it can take 12-18 months before it hits store shelves. Then, let’s think about sales: We can hope for big numbers, but we never know how a product is going to sell. The fix: As tempting as it may be to quit your job and work full time on your product(s), I recommend holding on until you are bringing in the same money or more with your royalties. Remember that licensing deals typically are for three years—give or take a year or two—and you do not know if it will be renewed. I made sure I had several deals signed with income for those products, as well as deals signed that were on their way to market and more deals in the works before quitting my job to invent full time. We always have to be working on the next idea because we don’t know how well one will sell—or if the rug can be pulled out from underneath us. I also recommend having some other way to make side income if needed.
Giving up too easily. This is a tough business. We have to grow some thick skin, because we hear “no” a lot. Before quitting your job to focus on your invention, I recommend holding on until you are bringing in the same money or more with your royalties. Remember that all those nos can get us closer to a yes—and it only takes one yes from the right company to make a big difference. The fix: Keep working at it, and believe in yourself and your product. Nonetheless, remember not to spend lots of money so you go broke while trying to live your dream. Take a pause or break if you must, and get back at it. Remember, it needs to be the right product, in the right place at the right time. Some things take longer to align. I believe that avoiding these mistakes will save you time and money, which is always a win!