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Will It Sell?TM
How to Determine If Your Invention Is Profitably Marketable
(Before Wasting Money on a Patent)

Jim White
Marketing help for inventors and small businesses. James E. White & Assoc.
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"I know that inventors who purchase this book will continuously refer back to it."
Michael S. Neustel, Neustel Law Offices, LTD, www.patent-ideas.com and
National Inventor Fraud Center, Inc. www.inventorfraud.com

STEP 2—Get a professional, reputable, marketing evaluation or invention evaluation.

Patent considerations for this step: First, get non-disclosure agreements signed by anyone you present your idea to for evaluation.

Do A Patent Search Yourself

To avoid wasting money on evaluations of already patented inventions you might want to do your own patent search or pay to have one done. See Chapter 13 for a more complete discussion of doing your own patent search. First search the patent info available on the Internet. If you don't find your invention online, visit your nearest Patent and Trademark Depository Library and do your own search. The complete list of supporting libraries can be found on the USPTO web site (www.uspto.gov). The librarians will train you to do your own search, it's easy but not foolproof. If you don't find anything you'll have to make a judgement call as to whether to pay for a professional search or proceed on the assumption your search was correct.

Your patent search, and even a professional patent search, does not definitively answer the question "Is it patentable?" The fact that an invention cannot be found by searching in the USPTO's patents does not mean that the invention is patentable. A complete patentability search must consider all prior art, including earlier products, earlier patents, foreign patents, non-patent literature, and "obviousness." Unless you pay big bucks, a professional patent search will almost always ignore everything but searching U.S. patents. If your invention turns out to be a multi-million dollar winner, you can rest assured that the big boys will do an exhaustive "prior art" search to try to show your patent is invalid.

There are a broad range of programs for evaluating inventions, from FREE(?) hucksters who will always tell you to go ahead (and, for a fee, they can help you), to University programs (see following paragraphs), to very expensive market research firms (often used by large successful corporations, is that a clue?). I recommend you go with a service you have to pay some up front fees to—and which spells out what it will do for your money—otherwise you are likely to end up with a huckster who you will pay to stroke your ego (see the Pitfalls to Avoid chapter). I strongly encourage you to make this contact with a person or organization that has a MARKETING perspective. Remember, your first question should be, "Will it sell?" Without actual products in hand to sell, of course, no marketer can guarantee that their answer to the question will be correct (remember the Edsel, a noted failure predicted to do well, and the Slinky, a smashing success predicted to fail).

University Evaluations

One of the bigger programs is the Wisconsin Innovation Service Center (WISC) at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, 402 McCutchen Hall, Whitewater, WI 53190. Debra Malewicki is the director of the program and I've found her and her staff to be very responsive. They can be contacted by phone at 414-472-1365, by fax at 414-472-1600, or by e-mail. The web site is (academics.uww.edu/business/innovate/) at which an electronic version of their evaluation application can be found. The biggest "catch" for their program is the fee of $495. The WISC program does the most thorough checking of any of the programs I have used, but I'm not convinced their fee is always worth it. You can do your own online patent search, collect and look through catalogs, talk to retailers in the field of your invention, etc. yourself.

The Center for Entrepreneurship, Hankamer School of Business, Baylor University, Waco, TX 76798 is patterned after WISC to the extent that they have many of the same questions on their invention disclosure form. They only charge $150 and promise an evaluation based on 33 criteria that are used to create a Critical Value Score, an Aggregate Value Score, and an Estimate of Success. They also explicitly provide "no confidential relationship" between you and them but will treat your disclosure "with care." They have a web site from which you can get their application form (hsb.baylor.edu/entrepreneur/). This is the cheapest of the services I have tried and also the one I felt gave me the least for my money. Essentially you get one person's opinion and no discussion of what it means. Their 33 questions appear to be directly from earlier PIES (see next) evaluations. In other words, they have "borrowed" from WISC and WIN and appear to be collecting $150 for little more than 15 minutes of effort.

There is also the World Innovation Network (WIN), Center for Business & Economic Development, Southwest Missouri State University, 901 South National, Springfield, MO 65804 [Note: this was formerly the Wal-Mart Innovation Network]. The phone number is (417) 836-5671 and the web site is www.innovation-institute.com. You can request their registration package through the site. WIN does what is called the PIES-VIII evaluation for $175. This is the 8th iteration of the Preliminary Innovation Evaluation System (PIES) developed by Dr. Gerald G. Udell (and others) when he was working with a National Science Foundation grant while at the University of Oregon. WIN's purpose is not to predict commercial success but to detect serious technical or commercial flaws in the idea submitted. Your fee buys a copy of their book as well as a full set of responses to their standardized evaluation and a discussion of what the results mean. This university program is the one I am most likely to use again.

Marketing Firm Evaluations

At the very least you want your paid-for marketing evaluation to not only answer the "Will it sell?" question, but, if it's "Yes," to give you some idea of what price buyer's might be willing to pay for it and what size the market might be. The professional results might also discuss competitors and their current market shares, depending on the invention. If you pay enough for the report you should even get some indication of what the competitors are doing in the way of marketing. How much are they spending on various media? What is their market channel? Etc. But always keep in mind that the more restricted THE PROBLEM your invention SOLVES, the less reliable this kind of competitor information can be because there is simply no place to get the data. A market research firm is most likely to try to err on the conservative side in this kind of analysis. Using a conservative estimate lowers YOUR risk because projections of profitability at the conservative level will justifiably induce you to proceed.

Also remember that in the mid 1940's the expert marketing projections were that 1,000 computers would probably be about all that would be sold by the year 2000.

Self Evaluations

If you really can't afford an outside, objective opinion you can go to the Marketing 101 (Abridged) chapter and see how to do some basic marketing analysis on your own. You can also locate a copy of the book Millions from the Mind by Alan R. Tripp and evaluate your product yourself based on Tripp's Ten Tips starting on page 8. You can also order Gerald Udell's book Innovations, Evaluating Potential New Products (the PIES-VIII book). BE AWARE, HOWEVER, THAT YOUR ANSWERS MAY NOT PROVIDE AN OBJECTIVE OPINION.

There is also a free evaluation form that you can fill out online at www.patent-ideas.com which is the site of Neustel Law Offices, Ltd. If you select the "Invention Evaluation Form" link it will take you to www.uspatentlaw.com/evaluation.htm where you can work your way through the questions. You will probably find you have to struggle a bit with the first few questions but don't give up. Once you get the hang of it, and if you can answer the questions OBJECTIVELY, you'll get a relatively clear answer. Mr. Neustel is also responsible for the National Inventor Fraud Center at www.inventorfraud.com which is well worth a look.

If you have $69.95 to spend, you can go to Andy Gibbs' site at www.patentcafe.com/kits/assesskit.html and order the "Invention Assessment & CD ROM Program" with which you can evaluate as many of your ideas as you want. The CD contains 6 Excel spreadsheets that provide a bunch of good evaluation questions. The seventh spreadsheet collects all your entered numbers and displays your Graphic Performance Report. Andy's product wasn't "done" when I tried it in that the plan was to convert it into a "C" program with a more robust interface, but he's got it on the market! If you do decide to buy the program I recommend you do it through one of his multi-item packages, you'll get it for what I think is a more reasonable price. He is doing what is sometimes called a "live" market test which means it's capable of returning a profit, or at least significant contribution, while he continues development. Such a test is the rule in the software industry and is not uncommon in other industries. Think about this for your invention. Can you get it to the market without having it absolutely perfected?

If you don't want to go to any other resource than the book, you can go through the "STOP IF" issues in the "Steps for Idea Development" and "Steps for Product Development" chapters. (See the STOP IF & THIN ICE examples.)

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