Picture of Smiling, Bright Light Bulb

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.
Home | Book
| Reference
| Sample
| Marketing
| Order
"Mr. White's book is not for light reading. It is the most technically competent book of its kind that I have come across—heavy with in-depth marketing advice. Very thorough. A valuable reference for inventors at any stage of experience."
Jack Lander, Inventor-Mentor, www.inventor-mentor.com


Steps for Idea Development

The basic steps for invention development proceed from Idea Development through Product Development and on to Market Development. Most inventors leap right to Product Development (the next chapter) either on the assumption that their idea is great and unique or because it poses an interesting challenge for them. To avoid wasting a lot of time, you must squelch those reactions immediately and put the idea through a 4-step test.

STEP 0—Seek the alternatives ALREADY on the market. (Go Shopping)

Patent consideration for this step: Write a clear description of your idea down in your inventor's notebook and sign and date the page. Your inventor's notebook should be a bound (not loose leaf) notebook with page numbers. If you have no evidence of your invention and its dates you have nothing to fight with in court in any derivation proceeding that you or your competitor might instigate. Be aware that most foreign patent laws are "first to file" laws. That does NOT generally mean that someone can just take your invention and patent it. In the countries you'll probably want to deal with, the true "inventor" (or the owner on the inventor's behalf) is still the only one allowed to get a patent.

What's the Problem?

First, clarify in your mind the PROBLEM the invention idea SOLVES. Now go out into the real world (you rarely can adequately do this in your head in your arm chair) and look at as many situations as practically possible where this problem is likely to occur. Does your invention SOLVE the problem in better than 99% of the situations you see? Do not fool yourself by adjusting your definition of the problem to more specific situations than you originally did. If your idea for a solution only works in 90% (or less) of the problem situations, and it is not a technically difficult solution and/or for a high cost problem, I would bet that it is unlikely to catch on in the marketplace.

Realize that there were 243,062 patent applications filed in 1998. Did you see that many new products on the store shelves? Some sources estimate that a bit more than 15,000 new products hit the shelves each year, 80% are gone by the end of the first year, and 95% are gone by the end of the 5th year. Unfortunately I have found no source that indicates what percentage of the new products are "inventions." Most (probably better than 90%) are probably simply new sizes or new flavors or another soap by another manufacturer type "new" products. In other words, not really new or inventions.

Go Shopping

Even if you don't believe there are any solutions to the problem your invention addresses, go shopping. Go into likely stores that would carry your type of product, boldly walk up to a clerk, explain to them the problem your invention solves, then ask if they stock something that solves the problem. DO NOT divulge your invention. You might just be surprised (wow!) when they lead you right to your invention! Or perhaps (gulp!) an invention even better than yours. "...Darn—I'm not gonna get rich from my idea." Wrong attitude. It is really time for you to get cracking on your next idea—you don't want to be labeled (at least to yourself) a wannabe forever, do you? Not to worry—it gets worse.

Any Competing Solutions?

Well, what if the clerk can't show you your product or a better one—maybe they just show you a competing solution or 2 or 3... Buy one of each—or at least of the better ones. That costs money! You can't afford it? How serious are you anyway about inventing a (superior) solution to the problem? You must buy the competing products because you will need to carefully analyze them before yours is developed or marketed. Why? Because—if your product is to sell successfully in the marketplace—it must be at least equal, if not better, on one or more criteria RELEVANT TO THE BUYER.

"Fixing" the Problem

The main point here is to be aware that inventors often keep REFINING THE PROBLEM to fit their invention (and to exclude competing products) rather than the other way around. The smaller the niche you fit your invention into, the less likely it is that it will be profitable. A niche that isn't even perceived to be there by your prospective buyers will be a hard one to profitably fill. Despite having "refined the problem," however, the vast majority of inventors I have spoken with will always start any discussion of their invention with their original, broad, statement of the problem. Any intelligent listener soon backs them into their "refined problem" statement and will conclude "kook, not worth more of my time." It is usually easier to become a financially successfully inventor if you avoid being categorized that way.

Well, what if the clerk couldn't show you, or describe to you, a solution to the problem you posed? Are you done with Step 0, can you move on? No. Try another store and another clerk. If after 5 stores you haven't found "your solution" or a better competing solution, stop for a few days and think about it—you may be approaching the wrong kind of stores. Toilet seat lifters may not be sold at hardware or plumbing stores—they may be sold at prosthetic devices stores or at stores catering to professionals in the field of your invention. While stores and their clerks are the first things I would try, because I get to interact with people, I would also try specific and general Internet searches if nothing turned up at stores.

How Do You Compare?

If you haven't found any competing solutions you are ready to skip on to Step 1. If you have found one or more competing solutions you MUST do some analysis to decide if proceeding may still be worthwhile. Sit down with the collection of solutions you bought (and notes on any other ready solutions that you can come up with or that might have been suggested to you) and look at them closely while answering the following questions.

  • Is your solution more complex to manufacture than the competition?
  • Is it harder to use?
  • Is it more likely to cause accidental injury to a user?
  • Does it provide less coverage of all possible problem situations?
  • Might your product or its manufacturing process have a significant detrimental environmental impact?

If the answer to any of the above (or similar) questions is "Yes" (i.e., your product is more complex, harder to use, etc.), you can resign yourself to being in a (very tough) specialty market—or you can DISCARD your current idea and try to come up with a simpler, easier, etc., idea to solve the problem—or you can move on to your next problem. In either of these last two cases start STEP 0 over with the new idea.

What a Killer Step

If thorough and realistic execution of Step 0 as described above does NOT kill off 90% of your ideas, you are probably too egotistical to ever be more than a wannabe inventor. (Being as egotistical as I am is okay—being more so is a sin!) Note: at this point you really still don't know if your product will work in practice or even if it can be manufactured. Those questions are never really answered until the Product Development phase where real time and money are spent.

GoTo "Start Here" Page

powered by FreeFind

Search Options

Book Excerpts Menu
Site Map | <Previous | Next> | Back to Top | Order Book | E-Mail

© Copyright 2002 James E. White, All Rights Reserved