I watch a lot of late night television where I notice a lot of infomercials about inventions. I have a lot of great ideas but have no idea of what it takes to get a new product to market.
Taking a product from cradle to completion is not an easy journey. The infomercials give you the impression that you can easily make millions off of your invention. The truth is only about 10% of “new” ideas are unique enough to receive a patent, and only 2% of those are commercially successful. The good news is that thousands of inventors have great ideas but have no clue how to take the idea to market. You are in good company.
The first thing you need to do is to make sure your idea or service has a defined USP (unique selling proposition). How is your idea different and what makes it appealing to your target audience?
After you define your USP, conduct a search to see if your idea already exists. The next step for anyone hoping to bring an idea to market is to conduct a patent search. There are more than 7 million patents for products that already exist. The United States Patent and Trademark Office (www.uspto.gov) has tips on searching its vast online database. Check out the Inventors Assistance section for information about new inventors and links to inventor groups in your area. You can also use Google Patent Search.
If during your patent search you find your invention already exists, stop there. You may be disappointed, but you’ve now saved yourself potentially thousands of dollars trying to develop an idea that isn’t new and unique. Even if you don’t find a match, you may have to pay a professional to conduct an extensive patent search. For references, contact your local chapter of the United Inventors Association (www.uiausa.org) or a patent attorney.
Until you have been granted an official patent for your idea, anyone can claim it. To provide a measure of confidentiality, make sure you have everyone you show it to sign a non-disclosure agreement.
Now it is time to build your prototype. Depending upon your product, you may need an engineer and a manufacturing company to develop your inventory. Ask your inventors network for references for legitimate design firms.
If you are reluctant to find your own manufacturing firm, hire a product development company. In addition to the Internet and invention network, visit your local economic development office. It will have the manufacturing connections, particularly overseas, and can help you navigate the waters.
The best way of finding out if there is a market for your invention is to talk to people in the industry who make or sell similar products. You also can go to trade shows where similar products are sold. After attending a few trade shows, determine at which one you’d like to exhibit. Throughout this journey, make sure you have a business plan, a sales and marketing plan and some financial investment.
There are a significant number of details that can’t be ignored. For example: What is going to be your distribution channel? You can sell directly to the end user, or to a retailer or a distributor who sells to retailers. Who will sell your product? Is it you, a sales team or a hybrid approach of online and offline selling?
I recommend that you familiarize yourself with the steps in bringing your idea to market and talk so some successful inventors. Good luck!
Sharon Roberson Pinder is CEO of the Pinder Group (www.thepindergroup.com) and founder of the Center for Business Inclusion and Diversity Inc. and creator of the region’s Top 100 MBE Awards Ceremony (www.top100mbe.com). She can be reached at 410-489-7098.