At Your Fingertips

Showing Off

If you're interested in showing your invention or product to the world, you may want to look at the http://www.inventing.comWeb site, maintained by Boston-based Web design company Impulse Communications. For $20 a month, this site will display your idea. With some luck, potential buyers will see it while browsing the Internet. I have my doubts about the success of such an "Internet Invention Store," but then again, you only need one buyer. A valuable page on this Web site is its comprehensive list of books related to inventing. The site also lists companies that are willing to help inventors. A word of caution: These companies have not been pre-screened or interviewed. In fact, there was one company referenced that I would never do business with. As I mentioned earlier, you need to conduct reference checks before taking advice from any of these sites.

Another Web site trying to become the quintessential networking mechanism for inventors is http://www.inventnet.com. This site aims to provide independent inventors with up-to-the-minute information as well as assistance in developing and marketing their inventions. To that end, it has a monthly electronic newsletter where articles of interest to inventors are published. This site also has a fairly active "Chat Cafe." I know of one inventor who went into this chat room looking to solve a molding problem. He claims the replies he received were very helpful. General patent information is also provided at this site, as is a classified section where inventions for sale or license are displayed. A rather new addition is a sample nondisclosure/noncompete agreement that can be edited to your specific needs.

If you're looking for someone who can help you manufacture your idea, you no longer need to hoof it to the public library and search through the multivolume Thomas Register. This excellent resource is now online at http://www.thomasregister.com. The site requires that you register before using it. However, once registered, you can search through a database of more than 155,000 U.S. and Canadian manufacturers to find the industrial products or services company you might want to contact. Many of the sites have an icon you can click on to go directly to the manufacturer's home page. This is a must-see site for inventors looking for outside resources.

If your invention has been manufactured and you are now in the marketing phase, a Web site you'll definitely find helpful is http://www.tscentral.com. Trade Show Central offers details on more than 30,000 trade shows nationwide. Once you search and find the trade show that interests you, Trade Show Central will mail you information on the trade show and in many cases provide online registration. This is a helpful site given that most trade shows do little advertising and many times are not known about outside their specific industries.

If you'd like to look at more inventor Web sites, try searching on one of the many Internet search engines. The largest, Yahoo! (http://www.yahoo.com), is set up like the Yellow Pages. You search on a subject such as "florists." The search engine Alta Vista (http://www.altavista.com) allows you to search using keywords. As an example, you could search using a person's name. It also offers a feature for more advanced queries. For example, you can search using a phrase. Another search engine, Excite (http://www.excite.com), is very good at finding sites that are specific to a company or organization.

An important feature of the Internet is that most sites allow you to submit questions to the brains behind the site. This can be very helpful, and in the worst case, you send an unanswered e-mail.

If you choose to search for something, don't get frustrated. Many times you won't find what you're looking for the first time you try. However, you will invariably stumble on something that you hadn't planned on looking for that will be helpful.

If you haven't already, get on the Internet and start exploring. At the very least, you'll walk away with a better understanding of all the information that is truly at your fingertips.

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This article was originally published in the March 1998 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: At Your Fingertips.

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