THE ONLINE INVENTOR -- December 1999
(c) 1999 Market Launchers, Inc.
Publisher: Paul Niemann
I'd like to thank each of you who have recommended either this newsletter or our web
site to inventors. We've had a huge increase in both the number of new subscribers AND the
number of inventors who have listed their invention on our web site this past month.
Our first article is one of the best we've had since we began publishing this newsletter over a year ago. It was written by Jack Lander. Jack is well-known for his work with inventors, and is also a writer for Inventors' Digest. His article lays out a gameplan for what is considered by many to be the most important part of the invention process - commercializing your invention. This part is what separates the successful inventors from the unsuccessful ones.
Due to the size of this newsletter, it's divided into 2 parts. It just would not fit into one e-mail. As a reminder, back issues of "The Online Inventor" can be found at our web site by clicking on the "archives" button. Our "Invention Tip of the Week" is a relatively new weekly feature that is found on our main page.
If you have any questions or comments, or would like to request a topic for an upcoming issue of this newsletter, just send me an e-mail or call me at (800) 337-5758. Thanks, and have a Happy New Year!!
"Imagination is more important than knowledge, for knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world." -- Einstein
Article # 1: "The 6-Point Master Plan for Converting Your Ideas
into Profit," by Jack Lander
Article #2: "Make a Plan for 2000," by Paul Niemann
Article #3: "Prototyping Stories," by Ken Tarlow
Article # 1: "The 6-Point Master Plan for Converting Your Ideas
into Profit," by Jack Lander
Most inventors want to invent. They would prefer to delegate the tasks essential to the conversion of their ideas into money -- at least those tasks that fall under the category of "marketing."
This plan should be carried out in the sequence indicated. No steps should be omitted. The inventor who has not successfully marketed an invention may not recognize immediately the essential nature of these steps; but they are based on the success pattern of experienced independent inventors, many of whom have made very substantial sums of money licensing or producing and marketing their inventions.
Here are the six steps:
1. Define your invention on paper.
2. Search prior art.
3. Evaluate the market potential.
4. Plan and produce a prototype (and/or a pilot run).
5. Apply for a patent.
6. Locate and contact potential licensees.
These six steps are listed in the order in which we think. But these steps should overlap if you wish to minimize the time between concept and cash. It takes about 18 months.
1. Define your invention on paper:
You can't have a search of prior art made until you have defined your invention in words and perhaps drawings or sketches. You should define your invention at least in words that are witnessed and understood by two persons who are not closely related to you, and who will not profit from your invention, such as wife or husband, brother or sister, business partner, co-inventor, etc. (Imagine yourself in court, and the witness of your invention is on the stand. Is this person credible?)
The most convenient title for your definition on paper is "Confidential Disclosure." By reducing your ideas to writing and sketches, you establish the date of invention. But be sure to provide the details of your invention. This is not the time or place to be secretive! If your witnesses do not truly understand what it is that you believe you have invented, they cannot put forth an adequate testimony later if need be.
Even if you do your own search, and your Confidential Disclosure is not needed at that point, it still should be prepared in order to establish your date of invention, and to clarify in your own mind exactly what you believe you have invented. In doing your own search you will be asking yourself, in effect, "Is this prior art patent in conflict with what I have invented?" And you will ask that same question every time you review a patent in the class and subclass under which your invention falls. This is an unconscious process, of course. But it is immensely helped by having a precise, written definition of your invention.
To conclude: Define your invention in detail, in writing, and with sketches if possible, and title your paper "Confidential Disclosure." Have this witnessed by two persons who would be credible in court. And have each witness sign a statement on the first page of the disclosure that reads: "I have read and I understand this disclosure," or words to that effect. Have your witnesses initial each page, too.
2. Search prior art:
You have virtually no chance of licensing or selling your invention without patent protection. Potential licensees won't risk the possible legal entanglements.
To obtain a patent you must be able to claim at least one novel feature of the thing you believe you have invented. For example, if you have invented the proverbial "better mousetrap," you must have at least one feature, such as a safer trigger, that is truly novel. Obviously, you did not invent the mousetrap itself, which is an old invention. And your patent claims will speak only to the trigger, not the whole trap.
To determine if your new trigger mechanism is truly novel, a search of "prior art" must be made. A perfect search would include all patents -- U.S., Canadian, and foreign from the beginning of time -- all magazines and newspaper articles etc., and any other evidence of public disclosure, such as old photos, drawings, notebooks, etc.
Typical searches done by professional searchers cover mainly patents, and are often referred to as "patent searches." And most patent applications are based on pertinent patents uncovered in their searches. However, a patent examiner (a person who works for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office) almost always comes up with more prior art than the searcher because the examiner is working against the detailed claims written into your application, and thus has a much more specific definition of your invention than the original searcher. (This is the main reason why your "Disclosure" should be very specific and detailed -- to reduce the number of surprises when you receive the patent examiner's first "office action" -- first response. )
There is no legal requirement that you must search prior art before drafting your patent application. But any responsible patent agent or attorney will do so, and write around the search results. A patent application written as though no prior art exists is a waste of time and money, and an irritation to the patent examiner, who may develop a grudge that is reflected negatively in his or her handling of your application.
Searches can be obtained in three basic ways:
1. Do it yourself.
2. Hire your own searcher.
3. Have your patent agent or patent attorney subcontract your search.
If you do it yourself, you can use either your state's patent depository library or the main search room in Washington, DC. This can be found on the Internet at www.uspto.gov.
The main search room in Washington, DC is the best place to search because the patents are filed by subject matter (by class and subclass), whereas the state libraries file by patent number, assigned chronologically, not by subject, which means that you must spend a lot of time "hop scotching" around from file to file, or microfilm to microfilm. If you can do your own search in Washington, I urge you to do it. It is a valuable experience even if you only do it once in your lifetime. Don't worry about not knowing how to proceed. Just tell the person at the desk when you enter that you have never before done a search, and you need to be guided through the process.
A professional searcher will usually charge you from $200 to $300 for a competent search. The results will not usually include a patentability opinion, however. And such an opinion is essential to your decision as to whether to proceed and file your patent application, or abandon your project. If you understand patent claims, you can arrive at your own patentability opinion, of course. But don't assume just because one of the patents that is uncovered in a search looks exactly like your invention that all is lost; you must look to the details of the patent, especially the claims, to see what is really covered by the patent.
Searchers can be found in issues of the magazine, Inventors' Digest. If you are relatively new to the inventing process, you should invest in a subscription to Inventors' Digest It is loaded with useful information and guidance that may save you hundreds or even thousands of dollars. How to subscribe is covered at the end of this report.
The easiest way to get a search done is to have your patent agent or attorney handle the matter. He or she will mark up the cost, and will add a fee for rendering his or her patentability opinion. Such opinion is somewhat self-serving, however, so be sure you sense high ethics in your agent or attorney. A search plus patentability opinion will generally cost from $500 to $1000 if handled by a patent agent or patent attorney.
3. Evaluate market potential:
Depending on which expert you believe, from 95 to 99 plus percent of patents granted to independent inventors never earn more than their cost. Four main reasons account for these poor odds:
1. The inventor does not persist; he or she gets discouraged by early
rejections, and stops trying to find a licensee.
2. The inventor lacks or fails to employ an effective marketing plan.
3. Something is basically wrong with the invention, its market, or its timing,
or it is perceived as wrong by prospective licensees.
4. The invention, or something very similar, has been tried without success.
No marketability evaluation, favorable or unfavorable, will help you on the first point. Only you, yourself, can resolve to persist.
The second point, likewise, requires your initiative. You must study several viewpoints on invention marketing in order to develop an effective marketing overview. An objective market-potential evaluation will steer you around roadblocks, and help point you in the most productive direction.
On the third point, your invention may perform perfectly, but something may be wrong with the larger picture. For example, Southwest Missouri State University evaluates 41 standard criteria, among which are Environmental impact, Payback period, Trend of demand, Customer learning requirements, Dependence on complementary products, Service needs, and Competition. These seven criteria are typical of those that we inventors often overlook in our zeal for our ideas and inventions, or that we, ourselves, have no effective way of evaluating.
As for the fourth and last reason (our invention, or something similar, has already been tried, and has not succeeded): Your prior art search will reveal patents on inventions that are similar to your own. If these patents do not indicate that the patent was "assigned" at the time it was issued, this means that the inventor holds the patent himself or herself. In this case, the inventor's street address is given. (If the invention is assigned to a corporation, the name of the corporation and its town and state are given.) This information appears in the upper left corner of the first page of the patent. You can often gain valuable insight to your own marketing prospects by phoning inventors of similar items, and asking questions such as, "is your invention on the market?" "If not, why do you believe you weren't successful in licensing it?" "What were some of the reactions of the candidates for license to whom you submitted your invention?" And so on. Mainly, you will sense that the inventor floundered due to lack of guidance and persistence in his or her marketing efforts. We inventors don't deal well with rejection, and typically we succumb to discouragement, and give up too soon. Even an outstanding invention may require twenty or more "tries" in order to sign up a licensee.
Again, the evaluations made by any of the universities in the U.S. that do evaluations for inventors address existing and potential competition.
Products similar to your invention that have been tried in the marketplace, and have not succeeded, can often be uncovered in discussions with the buyers and managers of appropriate retail outlets. Asking their opinions on the prospects for the success of your invention should not be discussed specifically at this time however; such discussions are best done at the next step, after you have a prototype.
One source of evaluation that is often used by inventors is the survey of relatives, friends, and casual acquaintances. You should not take too seriously any encouraging comments from anyone you know, especially relatives and friends. Surveys that ask strangers if they would buy your product if they saw it for sale are generally misleading. In fact, almost any surveys that we inventors undertake on our own should be ranked with self-performed brain surgery. The best market potential evaluations come from professionals who have no interest in us or our inventions other than to provide us with the most realistic assessments, and thereby help us to form effective marketing plans, or to abandon our inventions, and save the thousands of dollars that would be required to take them forward.
4. Produce a prototype (and/or a pilot run).
While waiting for your university evaluation, you should proceed to at least plan and prepare to produce your prototype. Overlapping your prototype phase with your evaluation depends on cost and the extent of your inclination to gamble. Getting engineering drawings made, and obtaining price quotations is generally a responsible investment of time and money.
Drawings of the various components of your invention can be manually drafted or done by CAD, Computer Assisted Design. Either way, such drawings should be done to basic professional standards. If you aren't familiar with the dimensioning, tolerancing, and standard views that machinists and other job shops require, you should have a qualified draftsperson make the drawings for you. Money saved at this phase can cost you many times over in misunderstandings at the fabrication phase.
Draftspersons are listed in your yellow pages under "Draftsmen" or "Drafting services." If your local yellow pages doesn't list several such services to select from, consult the yellow pages of your state's Business to Business phone directory, available from your phone company, or in the reference section of your library. Many of these services are one-person contract workers who work from their homes. Others are larger services that cater to businesses. You will probably get a better price from the one-person service. Expect to pay at least $30 an hour for CAD drawings -- around $25 to $30 an hour for manual drafting, which will come out to about the same final price due to the longer time involved in manual drafting. And CAD files can be converted to machine instructions for the operation of computer controlled machinery for just a few dollars more, thus saving significantly if your prototyper is CNC (computer numerically controlled) equipped.
Contact prototype builders with your drawings, and ask for a price quotation. A standard "RFQ" form (request for quotation) can be used, or you can simply visit these vendors, and discuss pricing face to face.
It is often advantageous to have two or more identical prototypes, therefore ask your vendors for prices on quantities of 1, 2, and 5 etc.
To locate prototype machinists and complementary services, look in your Business to Business yellow pages under "Product design and development," "Prototypes," or "Modelmakers."
In four to six weeks the university of your choice will give you a total evaluation score of from 1 to 1 00, and it is recommended that your score should be at least 70 in order to proceed to develop your invention further. In such case, your next step is to issue purchase orders to the prototype vendor(s).
If you receive an especially high score on your university evaluation, you may want to have a pilot run made. A pilot run is likely to be at least 1 0 pieces, and maybe as many as 50 to 1 00 pieces. The object of a pilot run is to be able to send or leave product samples with several prospective licensees, or catalog houses etc. if you plan to control the eventual manufacturing yourself. A pilot run is made using prototyping or short run processes , and while the unit costs will be relatively high, the tooling, if any, will be minimal in cost.
5. Apply for a patent:
The price of a typical utility patent these days ranges from around $4000 to $8000. About $1000 of this goes to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office as a filing fee. This leaves $3000 to $7000 as the patent agent's or attorney's fee for writing the application, and arguing with the examiner, who inevitably rejects many of the claims submitted on the initial application. (Don't be scared off by the high price at this point.)
Using a representative hourly rate of $150, this calculates to an average of around 30 hours for the attorney's work. (Having once written and prosecuted a patent myself, I judge the 30 hours to be realistic. I'm not at all convinced that all attorneys are worth $150 an hour, however. But that's another subject.)
So, we inventors have three choices for reducing our patenting costs:
1. We can write and prosecute it ourselves;
2. We can have a patent agent write and prosecute it; or
3. We can write part of it, and have a patent agent or attorney edit it.
First, I must tell you about patent agents. All attorneys, even patent attorneys, must pass the bar examination covering all aspects of law in order to be licensed. But patent law is a very limited segment of the whole spectrum. Patent law can be mastered by most intelligent people. A law degree is not necessary to comprehend how to write a good patent. So, some rare, good people decided that lawyers should litigate and write patent license agreements, and patent agents should write patents.
Lawyers, of course, still write patents. This pays the rent and the lease on the Mercedes, especially in the smaller firms. But litigation is where their real money is made. I've heard it said that the larger law firms consider us independent inventors a nuisance, and some frankly discourage us as clients in favor of corporations, which have the resources to litigate their patents if challenged or infringed. And most lawyers love to maintain the mystique that all patent work must be accomplished in that rarefied atmosphere where only angels and lawyers dare tread.
Patent agents, on the other hand, must pass the same testing in order to practice patent writing and prosecution as do the attorneys. Agents usually have a degree in one or more of the engineering disciplines, and may have worked at their profession a few years. As proof that agents are competent, read through the U.S. Department of Commerce's massive book titled, Attorneys and Agents Registered to Practice Before the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. This book lists patent attorneys and patent agents interspersed, by state, then by zip code, then alphabetically. The address of their employer, if any, is given as the attorney or agent's official address. Within a given zip code you will find the names of the larger law firms and corporations having large legal departments. By browsing through a certain zip code entry you will discover law firms or corporations that are listed several times, and in many cases agents are listed along with attorneys as employees. So, even law firms recognize that agents are competent professional workers who can draft and prosecute patents.
The main advantage of using a patent agent is price. Agent's hourly rates are generally half of those of attorneys in the same region. I deal with a patent agent in LaCrosse, Wisconsin who charges $50 an hour, as against $150 an hour for a patent attorney in my area, Danbury, Connecticut, and $200 and up in New York City, which is just 65 miles away.
A patent agent at $50 an hour, times 30 hours, gives a reasonable estimate of the price to prepare your patent application, which is $1500. Not bad. A complex invention may require 40 hours to write. But remember, this is just the agent's fee. It still costs you about another $1000 in filing and issuing fees for a regular utility patent. You can reduce the agent's fee without jeopardizing the quality of your patent by writing the front matter yourself. Feasible? Yes, if you are a reasonable writer, and have the patience to do a bit of studying.
From your patent search you will generally receive from two to six patents for inventions that are similar to your invention. By studying the structure and wording of these patents you will have a pretty good feel for the writing you must emulate. Patents are not copyrighted, so you can even copy appropriate sections from other inventor's patents, word for word, if such sections apply and express your meaning better than your own writing. In any case, you may learn a great deal about the history of inventions in your field that will provide a valuable basis for your own writing.
In addition to copying the style of other patents you absolutely must study David Pressman's book, Patent It Yourself. This book should be at your library. Whether you buy it for your own, or request it through your library, make sure you get at least the 7th edition, which covers the relatively new "provisional patent application." Here is why: The provisional patent application is a simplified version of the regular utility patent application. It does not require claims, which is the most difficult of all to write whether you do it yourself, or your patent agent or patent attorney writes it. And a "provisional" costs only $75 to file.
The catch is that the provisional application is valid for only one year. Its original purpose seems to be a quick way to get an application date in the U.S. so that you are able to reveal your invention publicly without forfeiting your right to file for a foreign patent in the Paris Convention countries. This is a very important right because if you license your invention quickly, within the "year" that it is protected by the provisional application, your licensee may want to file for foreign patents. You must understand that most corporations that you solicit to demonstrate your invention to will not sign a confidentiality agreement thus, you may have made a legally "Public" disclosure of your invention by demonstrating it to such a corporation (even though it isn't "publicized"), and you will have forfeited your right to file for foreign patents. And again, even if you have no intention of filing for a foreign patent, your eventual licensee may wish to do so. If you have forfeited your right to foreign filings, your invention may lose much of its value.
The provisional patent application serves us independent inventors another way, too, that of having the psychological impact of being able to tell prospective licensees that our invention is "patent applied for." (It is virtually impossible to license an invention that is not patented, or patent applied for, in any event.) And we have a "year" within which to sell or license our invention before we must either ...
* go ahead and file a regular utility patent, or
* abandon patent protection altogether.
The word "year" above is in quotes because you can't wait until the last day to prepare a regular patent application and file it. You should probably allow at least two months for a U.S. application, and perhaps three months or more for a foreign filing. Thus, you should conclude your licensing agreement within about nine months. This will depend on your agent or attorney's work load, etc. So contact your agent or attorney early for specific advice on this and all other matters covered above.
A provisional patent application is much more than a disclosure that merely establishes the date of your invention; it must stand up against a later challenge by patent experts. Do not attempt to write any patent application without expert guidance.
Still another option for filing a patent application is the design patent. Many of the invention development and brokering firms -- most of which are scams -- file for design patents on your behalf. Such patents are worthless if your protection involves function rather than appearance. The Coke bottle is a good example of something that would benefit from a design patent. Its unique shape would be hard to circumvent if patented. But a "better mousetrap" is a functioning device, and a design patent would be worthless in attempting to protect it.
Some inventors use design patents for protecting jewelry. Even in this case it is very easy to change features and get around such a patent. And it is often not worth the legal costs to defend one's patent -- especially a design patent.
To summarize your options for applying for a patent:
* you may use a patent agent rather than an attorney; they charge less;
* you may file either a regular application or a provisional application;
* a provisional application provides several benefits for nearly a year:
a. you will have "patent pending" status;
b. you may publicly disclose and offer your invention for license or sale without forfeiting your rights to file a foreign application;
c. you can avoid confidentiality agreement hassles; and
d. your negotiating position is stronger than without it.
If your invention does not involve a functioning device, and its appearance is the main aspect you wish to protect, you should get advice from a patent agent or attorney on filing a design patent. In any case, a regular utility patent is the best kind.
6. Locate and contact potential licensees.
Generally, stay away from the giant corporations. Most discourage submissions by independent inventors. There are some notable exceptions. The 3M company is one. And Nordic Track is not exactly a giant, but receives all of its product ideas from independent inventors. Still, the giants have legal departments that often are an insurmountable barrier to a competent review by the marketing department, which is the only department really interested in discovering promising new products. The mission of the corporate legal department is to protect the corporate butt, and the easiest way to do that is to stonewall submitted inventions. If you feel that you must deal with a giant, contact them for their information brochure on how to submit ideas and inventions. All giant corporations will have this information in some form, and will want you to read and almost certainly to sign away all rights except for your rights granted by your patent. And then you may find that the process of communication is frustrated by prolonged, non committal answers.
Midsize and even small corporations are the most lively prospects. The distinction I would make is that any corporation with an in-house legal department that intercepts my solicitation to demonstrate my invention is too big to deal with -- at least until I have exhausted less difficult prospects. Try to arrange a demonstration meeting directly with the president, or at least with the vice president of marketing.
Beyond its ethics, sales growth rate, and financial health (profitability), the most important qualifier is the corporation's marketing record.
Small corporations are often the best prospects because they are limited in their resources for researching and developing new products. Many inventors invent the better mousetrap, and rush to contact the biggest mousetrap manufacturer they can locate. This is usually counterproductive. Corporations that have well-established product lines, which are reasonably profitable, have little incentive to "rock the boat," or to compete with themselves by taking on new versions of old tried and true products.
Often a better strategy is to search for a corporation that markets complementary products, such as rat poison, and does not yet have a mousetrap product line to sell.
There are seven basic ways to locate licensee prospects. These are:
1. Trade shows.
2. Free publicity.
3. Business directories.
6. Banker, lawyers, CPA's, venture capitalists, etc.
Of these, the most productive is often the trade show. There you meet the top executives of prospective corporations unhampered by "screening committees." See the directory, Tradeshows Worldwide etc., at your library for details on appropriate trade show. Or, look for EXPOguide, www.expobase.com, www.tsnn.com or www.tscentral.com on the Internet. If convenient and timely, visit one or more trade shows even before you begin evaluation of your invention, and certainly concurrently with any of the other steps. Consider your first visit reconnaissance. Meet the people to whom you will later submit your invention. Get their business cards and product literature, and makes notes about their companies. Later, if practical, you may want to either take a booth or try to share a booth with one of the exhibitors who has a sparse display, in order to demonstrate your invention to hundreds of prospects.
The disadvantage of trade shows is that you often must wait several months until the upcoming show, and then you may have to travel a long distance to attend.
Second, and easier to accomplish than trade shows is free publicity. By sending news releases and new product releases to trade journals you may attract companies that are receptive to your invention - - that is, to your "new product." There are many books on how to prepare news releases and new product releases, but Jeffrey Dobkin's book, How to Market a Product for Under $500! is the very best I have found (www.dobkin.com). Business directories, such as the Thomas Register of American Manufacturers, are available at nearly all libraries. Thomas is the standard reference for locating appropriate businesses. But remember the rule of complementary, not competing, product lines. And the underdogs, not the top dog, are usually the best prospects.
Advertising may be productive. Use classified ads in well-read Sunday papers having business sections. "Product line for sale or license," is a good way to begin your ad. Inventors' Digest magazine is also an excellent place for exposure. New product scouts read Inventors' Digest. Its ads are affordable. Their number is (800) 838-8808.
Invention brokers are mostly scams. Stay away from brokers that ask for a significant amount of money up front. Some brokers ask for a nominal registration fee, and this is fair. In any case, check out a prospective broker by phoning Carol Oldenburg, administrator of the United Inventors Association of the U.S.A., a non-profit watchdog and networking organization. Reach Carol at 716-359-9310.
Bankers, lawyers, CPA's, etc., are not likely candidates directly, but these people
have many contacts, some of whom may lead to the right licensee.
Periodicals and trade journals often have a small classified ad section in the back of the magazine where product lines are offered for sale. Review the massive bible of publicity and advertising sources titled SRDS Business Publication Advertising Source, formerly called Standard Rate and Data Service. This reference should be at your local library, and is definitely in the larger libraries. Here you will find more than 1000 pages of periodicals and trade journals listed by category. Call each appropriate periodical and ask for an advertising media kit. This is a free kit that will provide at least one sample periodical and much detail about its readership. It may also tell you about its policy and expectations for publicity and new product releases. Remember, you are a potential advertiser, and it is your right to inspect the medium before you plunk down your hard-earned dollars.
And, again, lnventors' Digest is worth trying. If you have an exceptionally exciting invention, phone the editor, Joanne Hayes-Rines, and discuss some kind of publicity for it. At the very least you can try an inexpensive paid ad.
Always remember this: It is best to wait until your patent issues before entering serious negations with any prospective licensee or buyer. The reason is not simply the risk of having exposed your invention before it is fully protected, but because until your patent claims are published, you do not have specifics that can be evaluated by your prospect. If you have invented an improved mousetrap, for example, obviously you did not invent the mousetrap itself; you have invented an improvement. And the specific nature of the improvement is covered in your patent's claims. Your prospect likely will not be willing to enter into any meaningful agreement until your claims are granted.
The six steps at the beginning of this Report are the essential basic steps to follow in minimizing your financial and psychic risks, and maximizing your chances for success. You may be tempted to believe that your invention is so good that you can circumvent one or more of the steps. You may even believe the quote attributed to Emerson about people beating a path to your door to buy (license) your better mousetrap. They don't. If there is a path to be beaten, you must beat it yourself.
And until you have made more money than you have spent at this wonderful game of "invention lotto," play it safe, and observe the tested steps used by successful inventors -- the six steps covered in this report.
Best Wishes, and let me hear about both your successes and your flops.
Copyright © Jack Lander
# # # #
This tip contributed by Jack Lander. With 13 patents in numerous industries, Mr. Lander knows what inventors need to succeed in the world of ideas, inventions, patents and licenses. He is well-known for his prototyping skills and is a regular contributor to Inventors' Digest. He has written over 20 valuable reports for inventors. You can purchase any of these reports by visiting his bookstore on the Internet at www.InventorHelp.com.
Article #2: "Make a Plan for 2000," by Paul Niemann
Think back to the beginning of 1999. What did you hope to accomplish during the year in terms of seeing your invention(s) hitting the market?
Before answering that question, it's helpful if you ask yourself, "What did I do to MAKE things happen during the past year?"
We always practice what we preach here at Market Launchers, so we set our goals as well. For example, our main goal for 2000 is to make our Invention Database even more valuable to inventors -- by getting more companies to visit the inventions on the Database than in the past. How do we plan on doing that? First, let's take a look at the main improvements we made in 1999:
1. The most important thing we did was to team up with Inventors' Digest. Inventors' Digest is the trade publication for inventors, and we co-branded our site with their site. Now, when a company visits Inventors' Digest's site and clicks on "New Inventions for License," they're automatically sent over to the Market Launchers site. This added exposure and credibility has increased the number of calls that our inventor customers have received from companies looking for new products. Our goal was to increase the number of inventors AND the number of companies who come to our site, and we achieved this -- our # 1 goal for 1999.
2. We've gained more exposure from the search engines. For example, at one time Alta Vista had our site, including some of our customers' pages, listed 4 times in the Top 10, and 7 times in the Top 20. The search words were "new inventions."
3. We've added the ability to put pictures of our customers' products along with their product descriptions. And we all know that a picture is worth 1,000 words.
4. We've added free consulting to our customers on the marketing of your invention. This benefit is available exclusively to customers who have an invention listed on our site.
As a result, we're constantly being recommended by more and more organizations as a valuable source of help for inventors.
These improvements have come about because we set a goal of constantly improving our web site and our business.
So, how do we plan on getting even more companies to notice the inventions on the Database in the Year 2000 than in the past? Our main objective is to co-brand our site with one more company or organization in 2000, just like we did with Inventors' Digest in 1999. This final co-brander will be a company or organization that has extensive ties to manufacturers and, as a result, will drive lots of traffic to our site from manufacturers and other potential licensees. And we will continue to look for additional ways to keep improving, just as we've done in the past.
This increase in exposure among companies who are looking for new products from outside inventors will benefit our inventor customers, as more companies than ever before will be able to see your invention on the Internet. This is how we can improve our site the most in the Year 2000 -- by increasing the number of companies who see your inventions. By succeeding at this, we'll increase the number of inventors who list their inventions on our Invention Database. We announce our goals to you so that we're held responsible. It puts some good, healthy pressure on us to perform.
Now, back to you and the marketing of your inventions: The questions that I'd like to see you ask yourself as we begin the New Year are, "What am I doing to MAKE things happen this year?" and "Is my EFFORT equal to the type of RESULTS that I want to achieve?"
Since nobody knows more about your inventions than you do, you're probably more qualified to do the marketing of your inventions than you think. In fact, you're probably the MOST qualified person to do the marketing of your inventions. So make sure that at this time next year, when 2000 is over and you're looking back over the past year, that you got the kind of results that you wanted. If you do nothing else today, make a game plan on how you're going to bring your inventions onto the market in 2000. The first article in this issue can be your guide. And don't be afraid to share your goals with someone who can hold you accountable for achieving them, whether it be your spouse, a relative or someone who you work with in your inventing efforts. Good luck to you.
Article #3: "Prototyping Stories," by Ken Tarlow
My philosophy on prototypes is to be creative in locating the parts and pieces you need from already existing products and then to blend these pieces together to make your design. I also make use of plastic fabricators and other stock parts. The following examples show this philosophy in action:
STORY ONE -- THE MOTORIZED TIE RACK:
I wanted the ties to rotate slowly, about 4 revolutions per minute, so I looked for a toy which was battery driven and had a slow turning action in it. I finally located a battery operated pottery wheel. The revolutions per minute were perfect and it was built to be strong since it had to take the pressure of molding slowly spinning clay. I used a Dremmel hand-held motor tool with a thin "cut off" disk mounted on it to cut the plastic around the motor and gear system which is what I was after.
Then I needed a drive wheel and a belt to work with, which would be used to create the revolving action for moving the ties around in an oval pattern. It was back to the toy store and this time, I located a toy army tank. I noticed that it had a drive-wheel and rubber tread belt which would work for me. I disassembled the tank, got the wheel and belt and attached the drive wheel to the gear reduction system from the potter's wheel. I had some flat plastic parts cut by my local plastics fabricator.
I glued the plastic parts together with acrylic cement. I bought a battery holder from Radio Shack (a great source for parts) and installed it in the acrylic frame I had built. I then made little arms for the ties to hang on out of thin vinyl strips -- available at any hobby store. I drilled 1/8" holes in each bent strip and then pop riveted the strips onto the rubber belt (from the toy tank). I now had a rotating belt with 36 plastic arms sticking out. I made a plastic cover out of 1/8" sheet acrylics and 1/8" x 3" diameter tube acrylic. I had the tube cut in half to create rounded ends.
STORY TWO -- THE BARBIE CLAW:
The Barbie claw is a device used in barbecuing and it combines the best features of a spatula, a barbecue fork, and tongs -- all into one easy-to-use product. There is a trigger-type handle at one end, and then there is a long tubular portion, and at the other end is a fork on the bottom and a movable claw piece on top. By pulling the trigger at the handle area, the claw piece comes down onto the fork and basically grabs and holds anything you're trying to barbecue, whether it's chicken, steak, dogs or hamburgers.
I wanted to make the prototype quickly and efficiently. I noticed that the grips on fishing rods are very nice looking and very comfortable in your hand. So I bought an inexpensive fishing rod with a molded grip and took the rod part out and got some thin aluminum tubing from a ski pole because it was light-weight and just the right shape. I put the tube into the end of the grip that came from the fishing rod. I hollowed out the grip a little bit with my Dremmel tool and I put a trigger at the bottom of the grip. I inserted a smaller rod that ran through the length of the tube. I used a stock fork from another barbecue utensil for the bottom fork portion of the Barbie Claw. The only thing I had to custom make was the actual little claw-piece which I machined out of aluminum. Then I bought a stock spring and formed a simple linkage from the claw to the trigger. And Presto! The Barbie Claw!
STORY THREE -- THE MOON MUG:
I had a client come in who was tired of his beer getting warm too quickly and he wanted to keep it cold for a longer period of time. So we began looking for a way to make a double-insulated mug where we could fill the space between the inner wall and the outer wall with some insulating liquid. We could have used plastic tubing, but I decided that the easiest way to make the initial prototype was to go to a person that fabricates scientific glass equipment. I looked in the Yellow Pages under "Glass -- Scientific Equipment" and called them up and found a fabricator. He made the mug out of cylindrical glass pieces that he then welded and shaped together. Eventually that product was made out of clear acrylic. But the initial glass prototype sparked enough interest to warrant spending money on tooling for the plastic version.
STORY FOUR -- THE DRAWER ORGANIZER:
The "Perfect Order Drawer Organizer" is something that creates a honeycomb effect in your drawer so you can keep socks, or undergarments, or ties, or anything you want in order. The first thing we did to test the concept was to make a paper honeycomb model to see which size honeycomb would work for the various garments we were trying to hold, and also how it felt putting your hand in to get the things out. We realized that the best shape was sort of an oval egg shape. This way your hand would go in nicely. Additionally, the various garments that we folded up fit in that shape easily. And it was also the most efficient use of material. It turned out that this sine wave shape that we came up with was the best way to do it.
To prototype this piece, we bought a number of cylindrical pieces of plastic that were the right size to make the sine wave. We cut those pieces and glued them together, making the one sine wave that we wanted. We cast that one sine wave in plaster. Then, we actually took strips that come from vertical window blinds and heated them up lightly in a regular home oven at around 120 degrees. Wearing leather gloves, we took these wiggly pieces of plastic that were like pieces of spaghetti at this point, and laid them down onto the plaster mold that we had built. We then took the other side of the plaster mold and pressed down to force the plastic into the shape that we wanted. We then stuck those sine wave pieces together and, lo-and-behold, there was the drawer organizer!
We even took pictures of the product loaded up with various garments and socks and things for making the organizer to illustrate how it worked. Although ultimately in actual mass production, the sine wave pieces were snapped together. The original prototype was made in the way that we just described and it was enough to show the product in action. It created a favorable response with potential buyers which led to the decision to manufacture this product in high volume.
In conclusion, I recommend that if at all possible, you make your own prototypes. I recommend this for several reasons. One is that part of developing a new consumer product is the discovery process of finding out exactly what will work and what won't work. No one out there has the same burning desire that you do to make your idea work. It's something you need to do yourself. It's hard to design on paper alone. You usually sketch something out on paper first, and then make a real model, even if it's just paperboard or some easily workable materials. You've got to try it. See how it works. If it doesn't work right, you've got to fix it and try something else.
This process is at the heart of the new product development procedure. I also recommend that you try to do as much as possible yourself, mainly because you'll learn a lot and save a lot of money. Also the vision of it will be yours -- it's not someone else's vision. Yours and yours alone.
If you've got to go to outside sources to get help to make your prototype and do your design work, do some research. Talk to a few different people and then see who you feel comfortable with, who really understands the concept that you're trying to develop and who will charge a reasonable price for the work.
One way to have a more economical silver platter approach, if finances are a problem, is to do a rough engineering model yourself by just cuffing up pieces and gluing things together to prove that the product works the way you want it to work. Then you can hire a graphics illustrator or an industrial designer to sketch a color rendering of your product. The combination of the color rendering to show how the product will look and the engineering model to show how it actually works is often enough for a manufacturer or licensee to understand and accept the product.
Last but not least, when you are making your prototypes, work in a safe manner. Use eye protection. Use respiratory protection when you are spraying things. When you are handling hot things, use gloves. And when you are using power tools or hand tools, use them very carefully. If you are tired, take a break or stop altogether and begin the next day. Take care of yourself first because you are more important than any prototype that you are trying to build.
And remember, Have Fun!
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Ken Tarlow is one of the most prolific inventors in the country. He has developed more than 300 products which have combined to sell for more than $1 billion in retail sales. The material in the above article came from Kens book, "Mind to Money," which comes with an excellent set of cassette tapes to walk you through the inventing-prototyping-patenting-marketing process in a step-by-step format. His company, America Invents TM, can be reached at (415) 927-0311 or on the Internet at http://www.americainvents.com. Ken can help you develop your invention, or you can do-it-yourself with his book and set of cassettes, which sell for $40 & $5 S/H.
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Until next time, Successful Inventing To You!
Market Launchers, Inc.
Copyright (c) 1999
Market Launchers, Inc.
All Rights Reserved
Click here to read the November 1999 issue.