Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Want to sell your idea? Two cents' worth of advice before you proceed.

Want to sell your idea?  What is an idea worth?  If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.  Please be very cautious of product promotion companies that offer to take your idea to market, file for a provisional patent, locate interested buyers or get your product into a trade show.  The representatives for these companies can be very persuasive and aggressive, and there is usually an urgency to getting you to sign up or send funds.

An inventor with a new and unique idea/product/service needs to approach this the same way they would start any business.  Here are four recommendations if you are exploring ways to sell or patent your idea:

1.  Do a business plan.

Writing a business plan can help with many planning questions on how to take your idea to market.  Such as:
  • Who will buy your product? Is there even a market? 
  • What competition is out there?
  • How much does it cost to make?  Get to market?
  • How will you make money?
  • Should you patent your idea?  

2.  Meet with an IP attorney.  

You may think it is too expensive, but in the long run, you could save thousands by meeting with an IP attorney before you sign a contract with an Invent-assistance company. For example, in one typical contract, the company will bind you to a percentage of profits for the life of the patent or product. Another recent example is a company pressuring an inventor to send $20,000 to ensure a spot in an upcoming trade show.  $20,000!

One old myth is that you can write down your idea, sign and date it and then mail it to yourself and it provides a level of protection similar to a provisional patent.  This is no longer the case.

Not ready for an attorney yet? Here's a cool site that has a free Risk Quiz to determine your IP risk.

3.  Read the reviews and complaints.  

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has pages of complaints filed against invention promotion companies. You can also review Ripoff Reports, online complaints, ConsumerAfffairs.com, and others.  Do not go strictly off a Better Business Bureau report. Check lists of reputable resources and read about scam prevention on the USPTO website.

According to the Minnesota Inventor's Congress (MIC), invention marketing scammers bilk over $200 million a year out of hopeful inventors.

4.  Do your homework.  

If it sounds too good to be true,
it probably is!
Read about the invention process, visit the USPTO website, join a local inventors group or tap into resources by other reputable inventor's associations like the Minnesota Inventor's Congress.  Find out about prototypes and test if your invention is really viable.  Prepare a detailed market assessment.

One helpful resource is to download the Inventor's Toolkit from the Minnesota Inventor's Congress.  This guide is loaded with information for inventors.  Download for free, simple registration required.  Make sure to read: Spotting Sweet Sounding Promises of Fraudulent Invention Promotion Firms.  The MIC is a Non-Profit Organization, 501(c)(3), dedicated to serving inventors across the U.S., not just in Minnesota.

Planning ahead before you run out and spend your life savings to develop a prototype or initial product only to find out that they do not sell could save you time, money and heartbreak down the road.