Like any activity, the process of inventing and launching products is subject to changes and trends. In this column, I'll talk about the latest trends in the inventing world, and in addition to my own perspective, I've got information to share with you from two other highly successful inventors whose opinions I respect. Peter Russo is the founder and CEO of New Approach Development LLC and has hundreds of inventions to his credit. Stephen Key is one of the first people whose advice I sought when I started my company four years ago. He's the founder of both Stephen Key Designs and www.inventright.com , affiliated with www.inventorsalliance.org , and has seen hundreds of millions of units of his inventions sold.
Based on our discussions, here are the most current trends affecting the marketplace:
1. Inventors are becoming more diverse . For many, the word "inventor" conjures the image of an eccentric guy tinkering in his garage workshop or a lab-coated scientist working on his top-secret formula. If these image were originally based in reality, that reality has changed. Developing a good idea presents an equal opportunity playing field, and those who were formerly underrepresented are exploring those opportunities.
People of diverse demographics are entering the field. "There are great kid inventors, moms, seniors-inventors of every kind," says Peter Russo. Stephen Key agrees, noting that he sees more and more parents who tap into their experiences and create solutions based on everyday challenges.
2. Inventors are stepping into the limelight . More often than ever, inventors are being featured as spokespeople for their products. TV shows and media have also placed inventors squarely in the spotlight. Last year, for instance, individual inventors were featured and celebrated on the high-profile show American Inventor. And TV shows like Modern Marvels feature an inventor as much as his or her invention. Good Morning America has hosted the Mothers of Invention Challenge two years in a row, and QVC regularly invites inventors to appear along with QVC hosts to present their products. After all, who can better explain a product's virtues than its creator?
3. Inventors' mind-sets are changing. It used to be all about the idea. Now it's about turning the idea into a thriving business. One day I looked around my office and had a realization: I didn't have a single book or magazine on the subject of inventing! Instead, my desk and bookshelves are covered with issues of business magazines and countless volumes on branding, marketing and the other elements critical to growing a successful company.
While Russo, Key and I agree that there's still a tendency for people to believe they'll hit it big with a single invention, we also think the recent burst in media coverage benefits inventors by educating them more about the sales and marketing process--and its outcomes. In other words, inventors are realizing that a great idea, even if it's patented, is only worth the paper it's printed on unless someone buys it.
4. Companies are realizing the possibilities of working with inventors. Perhaps the most significant development is the shift that is occurring with manufacturers, who are increasingly open to products from outside inventors. More and more, I'm personally asked by manufacturing peers how they can best work with inventors.
"It's a great time to be a product developer/inventor," agrees Key. "I think it's a better time now because of the TV exposure and the retail environment. A lot of the larger retailers are looking for new ideas for their private label programs--and they have the shelf space!"
Russo says there's been a shift in the product development process inside large companies. Companies have begun changing their "invented in-house" attitudes, making direct relationships with inventors more common.
"I'm seeing more U.S. companies going back to domestic creation of the concept vs. trying to find or develop the concept in China. Some of this can be attributed to the change in the American retail environment," says Russo. "Historically, initial production runs of 50,000 units weren't unusual. Due to shifts in the American retail landscape, U.S. companies have sought smaller initial production runs. I deal with some billion-dollar companies who want to start their production at 3,000 units. One result is that Chinese factories receiving smaller initial runs can no longer economically provide product development services such as engineering and tooling."
Evidence of this open attitude to new ideas also includes a preponderance of corporate-sponsored inventing contests from companies ranging from Whirlpool to Staples to Dial Corp. And another offshoot of the increased interest in domestic inventions is the creation of companies and organizations that help facilitate this process.
With all that's changing in the inventions arena, make sure you always do your homework on business deals and keep the next big idea in mind.