20 April, 1997
There are many good books out on how to sell or license your invention, and hopefully you might pick up an idea or two from one or two of them. Usually they will offer suggestions on avoiding pitfalls, which is useful information. Often the writer is telling how he sold his inventions. Your invention is different so it probably doesn't fit a mold. That is why it is called an invention.
Companies spend money developing markets for their existing products so don't expect them to be very excited about an invention that obsoletes their investment in the status quo. My experience on new products and inventions is that final answers are usually unforeseeable. I call it the serendipity factor. Serendipity is when you get a good result by accident, while you are trying to do something else. When you are evaluating your ideas, and reducing them to practice, you want to figure out how to sell your invention too. Don't assume that just because you have a better mousetrap, all the mice are going to be very excited about it!
One client invented a holder for foam backed nail files. The beauticians loved it. However, the people who sold the products to beauticians, such as nail files, weren't very excited to see a new product that cut down on sales of nail files in their markets. The nail file holder is starting to take off, but it took some hard work, and attendance at a number of trade shows to develop a good approach.
Another client has a toy invention that was of no interest to toy makers. A staff member of the Evansville Chamber of Commerce, who had a physical therapy background, pointed out that it would be of interest to occupational therapists and physical therapists.
Back in 1972, I developed a package brake, known as the Ausco Failsafe Brake, that became very popular on mining and construction equipment. It was a standard on hydraulic backhoes, and JLG man-lifts, to name a few applications. Brake salesmen were unable to sell it. It became a very successful product, after a fluid power distribution network saw it as an accessory item to planetary gear box sales.
These examples indicate that inventions usually take innovative approaches to find their niche in the market place. Your patent attorney or patent agent should be able to help you address this problem, before you hock everything to finance your invention. If your patent attorney or agent is not able or willing to assist you in this, I would suggest you keep looking until you find one that is.
Conscientious attorneys and patent agents will try to help you any way they can when you talk to them about your invention. Be very wary of invention marketing companies. There are a number of inventors organizations you can contact on the web that can help you assess an invention marketing company. For a good example, click on R.J. Riley's Scam Alert Page. Talking to the Better Business Bureua and the local Chamber of Commerce can be helpful also.
Inventors are usually emotionally involved with their invention, akin to a mother/child relationship. Alerting inventors to pitfalls facing their inventions is similar to telling proud parents they have an ugly baby. I advise a client if I don't think there is a good chance of getting a patent or that the product will not succeed. And, again, I have been wrong both ways. I have offered the opinion it would be hard to get a patent only to have the inventor say they just wanted a patent pending long enough to stall off the competition. A year later, their application was approved. That has happened almost as often as inventions I thought were a shoe-in were turned down. It keeps a patent agent or patent attorney humble.
Keep in mind we live in a litigious market oriented society. On one hand, you want the best lawyer you can get for your patent application. On the other hand, you want a patent agent with heavy product development and marketing experience to prosecute your patent application. My approach is to use my product development and marketing experience in advising the inventor while I am prosecuting their patent application, and to fall back on a top-notch intellectual property lawyer at the point in time one is required for execution of a sale or licensing agreement.
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George H. Morgan, Registered Patent Agent
401 Tyler Avenue, Evansville, IN 47715