Brown & Michaels

I have a great idea. What do I need to do to get my invention on the market?

We receive many letters and e-mails which are a variation on this theme. Most often, the message is something like, "I have an idea. Everyone will want one. I don't have the time/money/knowledge to turn this into a product. What do I need to do?" 

To save everyone's time, we've posted this page, which is a composite of several replies to such messages. 

> I don't have time to get a product on the market. Who will do the work for me?

Don't waste time and money looking for someone else to do the work for you. There aren't any, at least not any we would recommend here.

> I am sure my idea is worth millions of dollars, if not billions. All I need to do
> is find someone who will figure out how to make the product and pay me for it.

Sorry to say it, but "ideas" are nearly worthless. "Inventions" have value, but only because someone has taken the time and effort to turn the idea into a workable product or service. You don't necessarily need to build one of your invention, although that might be advisable if it's at all possible, but you should have the idea thought out to the point where someone skilled in the field could build it. In patent law, that's called "enablement", and building the first one (or filing a patent application) is called "reduction to practice". If you haven't done that you don't really have an invention. 

What someone might be willing to pay for your idea is directly related in most cases to how well you've thought it out, and how close the idea is to a finished product. The more a prospective licensee will have to spend in development time and money before the idea becomes reality, the less they will be willing to pay you - and for good reason, because the more they have to spend, the less it's really your idea. 

> So how did something like the "clapper" get out there?

The "Clapper" was a clever idea (albeit one I wouldn't want), which someone spent the money to design and build, and spent a fortune advertising on late-night TV. The concept of a sound-operated switch wasn't all that novel - I had a toy bus that worked the same way back in the mid 50's - but someone had to make it work and fit in a box, and after that it was all in the advertising. The "Clapper" is of the same ilk as the "Chia Pet" and other priceless wonders - all started as ideas, took time and effort to turn into real products, and wound up in marketing, pure and not-at-all-simple.

> All I want to do is make people's lives better...

Then publish your idea in a book and give it away to everyone. Somehow, though, when someone tells me he just wants to make lives better, I tend to discount altruism as a true motive.

If what you really want is to make money off your idea, then you have to be prepared to invest the time and resources to make your invention into a real product, and then sell the product. If you just want to sell the invention, you need to get it in sufficient detail that an ordinary person skilled in the art could make it from your description, then get a patent (or, at least, a patent application), then shop the patent around for licensees.

> how can this be done when people are scamming others with good ideas?

The only ones who really have good ideas who can be scammed are those who are hoping to make a killing without doing any work themselves, and who don't take the time to investigate just what they're buying before they spend the huge sums Invention Marketers demand. ("You can't cheat an honest man" - W.C. Fields) Obviously, you've taken the first step of finding out what these outfits really are, or you'd be writing me that you'd spent the $13K and how do you get it back? A good first step - keep up the good work.

> I wonder how many ideas have been stomped on and
> could have been very helpful to us all.

Nearly none. Ideas are cheap and easy. True inventions are a much rarer breed and take a lot of sweat to bring to fruition - much more than anyone other than the inventor himself can or will invest ("1% inspiration, 99% perspiration" as Thomas Edison put it). The vast majority of ideas that these Invention Marketers "stomp on", as you put it, were never commercially viable in the first place, or not well enough thought-out to become real products without a huge investment in time and expertise. That's how they work - preying upon people by telling them their ideas are more valuable than they really are, then charging them a fortune to publish the idea to companies which have no interest in them and get worthless design patents on the appearance of the invention.

> So, how do I start?

Recognize that the following will NOT happen:

Instead, you will need to:

Check or Barnes & for other books for first-time inventors.

Be sure to ask if the invention is economical (or even possible) to manufacture. Many ideas we see seem very simple and easy to the inventor - because he/she has no idea how the product he/she is improving really works. Someone who knows the industry may know that the idea has been proposed many times, and no one has ever been able to make a go of it for purely technological reasons.

What would the cost be to implement your idea? Don't just look at the incremental cost per unit, but also the cost of doing the work to make the invention into a product and tooling up to make it (this is often called "NRE", or "non-recurring engineering costs.") It's good if the difference in cost of material between your idea and existing designs is only a few cents, but if it requires a million dollars to get to that point, and that cost has to be paid up front and spread over even thousands of units, the cost of NRE can easily exceed the cost of materials. If so, you're probably not going to find a large market for your idea.

You can find more information about invention marketers and also about the patent process on our website. 

> I want to write some companies about my invention - what should I do? 

There's no one way. We've received enough of those letters from inventors who wanted to convince us to purchase, license, invest in, or promote their inventions on a percentage, that we can list a few general tips:

Good luck!

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Last updated: Tue, 13 Oct 2020