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There are three reasons why 98%
of patents fail

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By Paul Niemann

[MAY 13, 2004]  "I only want to invent things that will sell," said Thomas Edison, after his electric vote recorder worked but became a commercial failure.

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The number in the headline is correct. Ninety-eight percent of all patented inventions fail in the marketplace. Why do only 2 percent of the patents issued by the U.S. patent office each year produce a profit for the inventor?

We usually examine well-known inventions in this column -- the successful ones that you've heard of -- but this week we take a look at the main reasons why the majority of inventions fail. In the seven years that I've been working with inventors, I've found that there are three main reasons for failure. These three reasons are:

1. There is simply no market for some inventions, even though they were patented. Just because an inventor has been issued a patent for his gadget or gizmo doesn't mean that people are going to buy it. If that were the case, we'd all be buying patented inventions like the automatic pet petter, the Santa Claus detector, the motorized ice cream cone and the toilet seat landing lights. Each of these inventions received a patent, yet, as you can see why, they failed to catch on with the buying public.

Solution: Do your research to find out if a market exists for your invention before rushing off to get a patent.

2. Another main reason why inventions fail is that the inventor doesn't have the marketing skills necessary to get his product off the ground and into the marketplace. Inventing and marketing are two totally different skills; one is a right-brain function while the other is a left-brain function.

The creative aspects of inventing occur in the right side of the brain, while the left side is responsible for logical, analytical thinking that correlates with business skills. The same pattern can be found among artists, which explains why there are so many "starving artists." Artists and inventors tend to be more creative than business-minded.

Solution: Marketing is a skill that can be learned, so spend enough time on the "business end" of your inventions. The most successful inventor in U.S. history, Thomas Edison, succeeded with his inventions because he knew how to market them. (He also said, "To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk," but that's a whole different story.)


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3. The other main reason why inventions fail is that many inventors patent their inventions before determining the likelihood of success. As a result, there are far too many patents issued each year. Some inventors think that their inventions -- like their children -- are perfect.

Solution: Don't fall in love with your invention without first considering whether your potential customers like it too. It's their opinions that really matter.

Just as a patent does not guarantee success, not all successful inventions were patented either. Since this column is about inventions, I know you've been waiting anxiously to read about one certain invention ever since you first discovered this column in your newspaper, so I'll go ahead and mention it now: the Pet Rock! The Pet Rock was a huge success even though it wasn't protected by a patent.

For every invention that succeeds, there are 50 other inventions that fail. People often assume that just because someone has invented something or has received a patent he'll make a fortune from it. Nothing could be further from the truth, though, so if you come up with your own electric vote recorder, remember the words of Thomas Alva Edison when he said, "I only want to invent things that will sell."

[Paul Niemann]

"Invention Mysteries" is written each week by Paul Niemann. He can be reached at niemann7@inventionmysteries.com.

Copyright Paul Niemann 2004




Life Sentence, No Parole

If we tried to invent the cruelest punishment for dogs, we probably couldn't come up with anything worse than "solitary confinement" on a chain or in a kennel.

Dogs are pack animals who crave the companionship of others.  Scratches behind the ears, games of fetch, or even just walks around the block mean the world to them.  Curling up at your feet while you watch TV is their idea of heaven.

Many dogs left to fend for themselves at the end of a chain fall prey to attacks by other animals or cruel people, and many others are injured or hanged or choke as a result of getting entangled or caught in their tether.

If you have a backyard dog, please, bring him or her inside.  They don't want much--just you.

A public service announcement from Lincoln Daily News and helpinganimals.com

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