1. Brainstorm ideas
The first step in coming up with a truly unique and useful product is to brainstorm ideas. Consider your area of expertise — what are you most interested in and know the most about? In order to invent something from start to finish, you will need to stay within your realm of knowledge. Otherwise, you may have a great idea but no understanding of how to implement it.
- Try making a list of all the things that interest you. These could be hobbies, jobs, or products that you use on a regular basis.
- For each activity or item of interest to you, make a list of possible improvements that could be made in the form of an invention. This could include variations of the product or activity or useful add-ons.
- Make a hefty list. It is better to have too many ideas than too few, so continue listing until you can think of absolutely nothing else to add.
- Keep a journal with you at all times, to constantly add new items to your possible-invention list. Keeping your ideas all organized in one place, a journal, will also help you to remain mentally clutter-free and allow you to review your ideas at a later date.
- Don’t rush the brainstorming process. Inspiration may not hit you like lightning, and could require a few weeks or months of listing ideas before your epiphany strikes.
2. Decide on an idea.
Once you’ve spent some time considering all possible options, choose your best idea for an invention. Now you’ll have to spend time considering the details of the project. Draw a few sketches of what you imagine your invention will look like, and then consider some important questions.
- What could you add to improve this product? What about your invention is so special that people will feel compelled to bring it into their lives? Why is your invention so great?
- Think about changes that might need to be made. What parts of your invention are superfluous or unnecessary? Is there any way to make it more efficient or cheaper to produce?
- Consider all aspects of your invention including all the required parts, and important details about how it works or what it will do. Keep these answers and ideas in your journal so you can refer back to them.
3. Document It
Simply having an “idea” is worthless — you need to have proof of when you came up with the invention ideas. Write down everything you can think of that relates to your invention, from what it is and how it works to how you’ll make and market it. This is the first step to patenting your idea and keeping it from being stolen. You’ve probably heard about the “poor man’s patent” — writing your idea down and mailing it to yourself in a sealed envelope so you have dated proof of your invention’s conception. This is unreliable and unlikely to hold up in court. Write your idea down in an inventor’s journal and have it signed by a witness. This journal will become your bible throughout the patent process. An inventor’s journal can by any bound notebook whose pages are numbered consecutively and can’t be removed or reinserted. You can find specially designed inventor’s journals at bookstores (try Nolo Pressor the Book Factoryto start), or you can save money and purchase a generic notebook anywhere they’re sold, such as the grocery store, office supply store, stationary store, etc. Just make sure it meets the requirements above.
4. Research It
You will need to research your idea from a legal and business standpoint. Before you file a patent, you should:
- Complete an initial patent search. Just because you haven’t seen your invention doesn’t mean it doesn’t already exist. Before you hire a patent attorney or agent, complete a rudimentary search for free at www.uspto.govto make sure no one else has patented your idea. You should also complete a non-patent “prior art” search. If you find any sort of artwork or design related to your idea, you cannot patent it — regardless of whether a prior patent has been filed.
- Research your market. Sure, your brother thinks your idea for a new lawn sprinkler is a great idea, but that doesn’t mean your neighbor would buy one. More than 95 percent of all patents never make money for the inventor. Before you invest too much time and money into patenting your invention, do some preliminary research of your target market. Is this something people will actually buy? Once you know there’s a market, make sure your product can be manufactured and distributed at a low enough cost so that your retail price is reasonable. You can determine these costs by comparing those of similar products currently on the market. This will also help you size up your competition — which you will have, no matter how unique you think your invention is.
5. Make a Prototype
A prototype is a model of your invention that puts into practice all of the things you have written in your inventor’s journal. This will demonstrate the design of your invention when you present it to potential lenders and licensees. Do not file a patent before you have made a prototype. You will almost always discover a flaw in your original design or think of a new feature you would like to add. If you patent your idea before you work out these kinks, it will be too late to include them in the patent and you will risk losing the patent rights of the new design to someone else.
Here are some general rules of thumb when prototyping your invention:
- Begin with a drawing. Before you begin the prototyping phase, sketch out all of your ideas into your inventor’s journal.
- Create a concept mockup out of any material that will allow you to create a 3-D model of your design.
- Once you’re satisfied with the mockup, create a full-working model of your idea. There are many books and kits that can help you create prototypes. If your invention is something that will cost a lot of money or is unreasonable to prototype (like an oil refinery process or a new pharmaceutical drug), consider using a computer-animated virtual prototype.
6. File a Patent
Now that you have all of the kinks worked out of your design, it’s finally time to file a patent. There are two main patents you will have to choose from: a utility patent (for new processes or machines) or a design patent (for manufacturing new, nonobvious ornamental designs). You can write the patent and fill out the application yourself, but do not file it yourself until you have had a skilled patent professional look it over first. If the invention is really valuable, someone will infringe on it. If you do not have a strong patent written by a patent attorney or agent, you will be pulling your hair out later when a competitor finds a loophole that allows them to copy your idea. It’s best to get the legal help now to avoid any legal problems in the future.
When searching for a patent attorney or agent, remember one thing: If you see them advertised on TV, run away! Once you are far, far away, follow these steps to choosing the best patent professional:
- Do your homework. Have your inventor’s journal, prototype and notes with you. This will save them time, and you money. This will also help persuade them to work with you.
- Make sure they are registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
- Ask them what their technical background is. If your invention is electronic, find a patent professional who is also an electrical engineer.
- Discuss fees. Keep your focus on smaller patent firms. They are less expensive and will work more closely with you. Agree to the estimated total cost before hiring your patent professional.
7. Create a presentation.
With your patent and prototype in hand, you are on the road to success! The next step is making a presentation that completely covers the bases of your invention. You can use this to show to both potential manufacturers and buyers, although you may create slightly different versions of your presentation for each purpose.
- Make sure that your presentation is very professional, no matter what way you create it. You can make a powerpoint, video, or physical presentation-board to show.
- Use lots of useful information, diagrams, and images. Be sure to cover the specs of your product, uses, and long-term results or benefits.
- Although it is optional, you could opt to hire a graphic designer to put together a spectacular presentation for your invention. Making it as visually appealing as possible will encourage the interest of manufacturers and buyers alike.
- Be sure to have your speaking worked out for the presentation as well. It’s not enough to have great diagrams and images, you need to be good at public speaking. Don’t memorize notecards, but have an idea (with the aid of notes if necessary) of everything you want to say and answers to common questions that may be asked.
8. Market Your Invention
Now it’s time to figure out how you’re going to bring your product to market. Create a business plan: How will you get money? Where will you manufacture the product? How will you sell it? Now is a good time to decide if you will manufacture and sell the product yourself, or license it for sale through another company. When you license your product you will probably only receive two percent to five percent in royalty fees. This often scares away inventors who feel they deserve more. But consider the upside: You will not have the financial burden associated with maintaining a business. This could end up making you more money in the long run.
Following these five steps will ensure an easy road to patenting your invention. Just remember that an easy road doesn’t necessarily mean a short one. From the time you conceive your idea to the time you see your product on the shelf is a very long process. Most inventions take years to come to fruition. Have patience and follow due diligence in your steps to patenting your invention and your years of hard work will finally pay off.
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