Tag Along to an Invention Trade Show

Many Months Later...
At first, things move quickly. In July 2005, about two weeks after the show, Dearing, Christy and Troy fly to New York City for a meeting with--what do you know?--Blank and Greener, their new licensing attorneys, and Kaplan, their manufacturer, who will be producing Sippy Leash under his company's subsidiary, Cuddle Time.

By late July, a proposal is finalized, and in August, Dearing and the Deikes sign a contract. For the next several months, prototypes are developed and sent to Christy, who looks them over and offers her opinions. Her own business is now largely out of her hands. That's the nature of licensing.

Throughout 2005, Christy and Dearing continued to find out that over-night success rarely occurs overnight. Dearing's mother had a stroke and passed away around the time the contracts were signed, making it a difficult year, since her father had died of Alzheimer's disease a couple of months before INPEX. One month later, in September, Christy's parents divorced.

All the while, Christy continued parenting full time and running her bed and breakfast, her gravel pit and selling Sippy Leashes to 14 stores. Dearing continued tending bar, working at a ranch and teasing hair. Troy continued working at UPS.

Through it all, the three knew that the next year would be different. If all goes as planned, in the summer of 2006, the Sippy Leash will be in stores around the world. It's set to eventually be sold at Babies"R"Us, J.C. Penney, Kmart, Kohl's, Target, Wal-Mart, and other, smaller chains. In the first year, Cuddle Time is projecting it will sell half a million Sippy Leashes; by the third year, three million. And those numbers, says Christy, are conservative.

Troy, not surprisingly, is ecstatic. "Everybody in town knows about Sippy Leash because of him," says Christy. "He's a very proud husband, but I keep telling him, if it weren't for him, it wouldn't be possible." That's partly because of Troy's supportive nature and his willingness to watch the children while Christy was building her business. But it's also because he played a critical role in the initial negotiations in New York City.

"I took him to New York with me for his first experience with Sippy Leash," says Christy, but the deal was that she, Dearing and Blank would do the talking with Kaplan. Feeling contract negotiations weren't his forte, Christy says, "We told him to sit there, shut up, don't answer any questions--don't breathe."

But the negotiations for the royalties didn't go as well as Christy had hoped, and when she was left in a room with Dearing, Troy and Blank, she felt she just couldn't make a decision for all of them. She thought the royalty being offered was a little too low. "I felt this huge weight on my chest, like I was going to throw up," says Christy.

Troy said quietly, "Can I just say something?"

Christy and Dearing shot him disapproving looks.

"Just this one thing," said Troy.

Christy sighed. "OK."

"What if we do it on a tier level, where if you sell a certain volume, the royalty rate increases?"

Christy, Dearing and Blank stared at each other, marveling at the simple genius of the man, and perhaps a little stunned that they hadn't thought of the idea themselves. Christy hugged and kissed her husband, saying, "I am so glad we brought you." It was, she says, "his shining moment," and sure enough, moments later, Blank was presenting the offer, and Kaplan and his attorneys were in full approval.

"And so our royalty rate increases, all because of him," says Christy. "I'm so glad I can credit him for that, because he's done so much for me."

His work may not be done yet. Christy and Dearing are already thinking of what they can invent next.

The Licensing Leap
Doug Hall is the founder and CEO of Eureka! Ranch, an invention and research think tank in Cincinnati that provides marketing advice and scientific data to companies such as Bank of America, Ford Motor Co., Nike, Procter & Gamble Co. and Walt Disney Co. You may recognize Hall as a judge on ABC's prime-time series American Inventor. "Be honest with yourself about what your skills are and what they aren't," says Hall. In other words, if what you've invented requires you to master something completely outside your universe-like owning a manufacturing plant or running a restaurant-consider licensing your invention rather than doing everything yourself. Here are Hall's tips for securing a licensing deal:

  • Once you find a company interested in discussing licensing, show them your patent. "Nothing builds confidence like a patent," says Hall.
  • Show them the money. "Show the licensing company how they can make more money from your invention than they can with what they're doing now," says Hall.
  • Show them a prototype. They need to see at least a drawing or model so they can see what your invention looks like and how it works.
  • "After you've made the licensing deal, don't look back. Let the legal deals run their terms," says Hall. "Don't whine about it, because the blessing is that you don't have to worry about it morning, noon and night."

What to do after the deal is done? "Move on, and invent something else," Hall suggests. "Generally, a person who can come up with one great idea can come up with many more."

Calling All Inventors
It isn't too late to attend the 2006 INPEX show as an inventor--booth space will be sold right up to the show date. If you're interested in going as a member of the public to get a sense of what it would be like to be an exhibitor in 2007, that's possible, too. The 2006 show is June 7-10 in Monroeville, Pennsylvania. For more information, go to www.inventionshow.com, or call (888) 54-INPEX.

Geoff Williams is a writer in Loveland, Ohio.
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Geoff Williams has written for numerous publications, including Entrepreneur, Consumer Reports, LIFE and Entertainment Weekly. He also is the author of Living Well with Bad Credit.

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This article was originally published in the May 2006 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Mother of Invention.

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