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Are you an inventor?
If so, these tips will help you    
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By Paul Niemann

[APRIL 29, 2004]  Since I began working with inventors six years ago, I noticed that there are two types of people in the world:

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1. Those who have ideas for new inventions (50 percent of the population).

2. Those who know someone who has ideas for new inventions (the other 50 percent of the population).

OK, this may be a little oversimplified, but the point is that roughly half of the adults I talk to tell me that they've had at least one "invention idea" themselves.

Most inventors have one thing in common: They don't know how to market their inventions. We're going to do something a little different today and deviate from our usual format and make this article a how-to guide, in case you belong to the 50 percent that has ideas for new inventions. If you're part of the other half, then please make your newspaper editor (and me, your humble scribe) happy by passing this article on to an inventor after you read it.

It would be impossible to tell you all that you need to know in just one article. We'll cover some of the most important points, though, in order to increase your chances of success.

OK, so you've just thought of the next big thing that everyone has to have. Before you rush off to the patent office, you'll want to do a little research to find out if potential users of your invention would be likely to buy it. Which people do you talk to first? You can get a pretty good indication of whether you might have a winner on your hands by talking to the managers of stores where your invention would likely be sold, as well as potential users. Be sure to not give away all the details, though.

Patents are expensive, and if you find there's no market for your invention, then there's no reason to get a patent for it. Besides, if there's no market for your invention, isn't it better to find out now so you can move on to your next great idea?

If you find that there is a market for your invention, then the next step is to decide how to bring it to market. There are two main ways: You can either manufacture and market the invention yourself, or you can license it.


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Licensing your invention means that you sell the rights to an established company, usually in your industry. It is riskier and more expensive to manufacture and market an invention yourself, but it could pay off better in the long run.

You'll also want to create a prototype, also known as a working model, of your invention. It's important to determine the cost to manufacture it and the price at which you expect it to sell at retail (even if you plan to license it). The manufacturing cost should be no more than 20 percent to 25 percent of the retail cost, because each link in the distribution channel -- wholesaler, distributor, retailer -- will mark it up along the way.

If you're considering applying for a patent, you can begin by doing a quick search at the U.S. patent office website and then consulting with a patent attorney or agent. If you decide to apply for a patent, the cost of the entire process is usually between $3,000 and $5,000, and it generally takes 18 months to receive a patent. You can claim "patent pending" status after you've applied for a patent.

It's important for you to become an expert in your industry. Regardless of which industry your invention falls into, there are three sources you can turn to for help: your industry's trade association, your industry's trade publication, and your industry's trade show or annual convention. Nearly every industry has each, and your library's reference section has a book called the Encyclopedia of Associations that has a complete list of industries. Using these three sources will help you become an expert in your industry.

This is just a brief overview. I've posted a list of "how-to" invention books at InventionMysteries.com. Good luck!

[Paul Niemann]

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

Copyright Paul Niemann 2004

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