So you've come up with a great and inventive idea, and you're absolutely itching to take action. But where do you begin? Do you start looking into patents? Search online? Run your idea by trusted friends or family members?
Before you do any of these things, there's one important step to take: start an inventor's notebook. Why an inventor's notebook, you ask? Not only will a separate, defined notebook become your de facto organizer for all the ideas and information related to your invention as you move forward, it can also provide some legal protection for you in the future.
Easy Does It
While you may be tempted to buy the latest electronic gadget to record and organize your findings, all you really need--and should use--is a simple notebook and a pen. The only required element is that it contain bound pages that can't be temporarily removed (no loose-leaf binders). That's because, as you move forward in the invention process, you'll need to record your progress chronologically. This includes your own thoughts about your idea and your plan of action, as well as any and all conversations you have with others, especially potential business contacts like engineers or manufacturers. Be sure to date these conversations and detail them in your notebook. You'll want to do that because, as recommended by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office , your dated notebook will act as a record to validate your progress if there are any future problems or discrepancies (or if someone tries to steal your idea). Also, if someone is working independently from you to develop a similar idea, patent rights are granted to the person "most actively developing the product." Your notebook will provide a detailed record of your progress with dates attached to each step you take.
In addition to providing legal documentation, your notebook will also become your constant companion. All those details, contacts and information you've collected along the way will be in one organized and oh-so-valuable place. Take it everywhere you go so you'll have it at the ready--that way you won't find yourself frantically searching later for the note or phone number you jotted on the back of that old receipt!
Where Do I Start?
Each inventor's journey and style is unique, but the more you write in your notebook, the better organized you'll be. I recommend including the following topics to provide the foundation for your notebook, but feel free to include anything you think is relevant. To better illustrate exactly what should be included, I'll provide examples from my own experience inventing the TP Saver: the invention that launched my business.
Describe Your Invention Idea
Try to address the following questions in your notebook:
- What's your idea? Jot down the primary function of your invention. For me, this was "a device that prevents children from unrolling the family toilet paper."
- How did you think of it? In other words, describe what inspired you and what experiences it was based upon. Example: "My daughter, at age 10 months, started pulling the toilet paper and clogging the toilet."
- What does it look like? This should include dimensions, shape, materials and anything else that is relevant. Example: "It should extend the length of the internal toilet paper tube and stick out a little bit further so that one can hold onto the end while fastening the cap (approximately 5" long x 1" wide). The current design is similar to that of a hair permanent rod. It is a long tube with some type of elastic securing the body of the device to the cap. Initially, I think it will be made of plastic and rubber bands."
- How does it work? Describe the function of the invention. Example: "The body of the device slides into the current cardboard toilet paper tube and sits next to the metal/plastic toilet paper holder used to hold toilet paper in nearly all current toilet paper holders available on the market. It wouldn't be necessary to remove the metal rod. This device would fit inside the toilet paper tube next to the actual toilet paper holder as it is. No aspect of the toilet paper holder mechanism would need to be removed while attaching the toilet paper saving device."
- What problem does it solve? Example: "There appears to be nothing available that prevents children from unrolling the family toilet paper. It solves the problem of kids pulling the toilet paper and clogging the toilet or making an unsanitary mess on the bathroom floor and wasting paper."
- Possible product names? Example: "TP Roll Stopper", "TP Roll Guard," "TP Roll Holder, " "Toddler Toilet Paper Protector," "Toddler TP Guard", and "TP Saver."
Draw a Picture of Your Invention Idea
Don't worry if you're not artistically inclined--this can be a rudimentary sketch. A drawing is important to keep a record of your invention idea, and also so that you can better communicate with the machinist, engineer or product developer what you are trying to achieve when you get to the design/prototype stage. An added benefit of an early sketch is that you'll be able to revisit it to see how far you've actually come once the product's stocked on retail store shelves!