Innovators, Watch Out for These Invention Killers
Inventors are problem solvers. If they weren’t, they wouldn’t be inventing. But ask anyone who has gone through the process of turning an idea -- even a great one -- into a marketable commodity: The list of problems is just beginning.
That’s not to be discouraging. It’s just to point out that the world is not waiting breathlessly for your product or technology, no matter how good it is. Successful inventors understand the process necessary to bring a solution to market. They listen and learn along the way.
More important, however, successful inventors internalize the notion that passion and tenaciousness are an absolute necessity. They are flexible in their pursuit but resolute in their determination. They see a sky-high roadblock as simply one more obstacle to overcome. They will an idea into existence.
When laboring to bring an invention to market, be advised of five common mistakes that can accompany the development process. Several reflect missteps in attitude as much as inexperience or lack of resources. Be aware of them and avoid them to stand a much better chance of seeing an idea be adopted.
1. Impatience. Realize up front that invention is a process and things don’t happen overnight. The more disruptive the product, the longer the development process. It took Sir James Dyson five years to go from his first prototype out of 5,127 to his first manufactured G-Force vacuum cleaner.
Don’t be surprised by delays and setbacks. Minimize potential negatives by researching the requirements for licensing, manufacturing, marketing and distribution online; also, find mentors -- attorneys and experienced entrepreneurs, in particular -- who have done it all before.
2. Market indifference. "Necessity is the mother of invention" is often said. It’s not enough for an idea to be original or even for it to solve a need. Is the need is so acute that people will pay to solve it? The market must also be big enough to support profitability.
Discuss the perceived need with people unfamiliar with the product. Without “giving away the store,” find out how badly people really want a solution to the problem.
3. Lack of funding. This is the No. 1 reason businesses fail. Put together a pro forma income statement that realistically anticipates not only revenue but also expenses for prototyping, patent fees, manufacturing and the like. Be honest about anticipated living expenses.
Once the fund-raising requirements are set, be creative; banks don't lend for speculative products. Family, friends, private equity and angel investors are options; so are crowdfunding sites like Indiegogo and Kickstarter. Just be aware that these sites favor tech products with a “wow” factor.
4. Miscommunication. When building a network of investors and advisors, look for people who can compensate for any missing skills and experience. Be bold in defining expectations. Responsibilities and compensation need to be clearly established up front. How formal the terms must be depends on the entrepreneur's history with his or her partners. But it’s better to err on the side of detail. Misunderstandings and miscommunications can turn exciting business deals into angry confrontations down the road.
5. Exposure. In the world of inventing, the sooner an idea is protected the better. Start by researching the database of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Google has a patent search tool as well.
Anyone seeking a patent must establish that no one “disclosed” the idea before. For example, if someone discussed a similar idea or invention on a blog -- even if he or she never developed it -- that disclosure constitutes "prior art” and will kill a patent. Commercialize the idea by all means, but a patent won't be possible. (Investing in the services of a patent attorney is always a good idea.)
Remember that follow-through is essential. Be relentless. That doesn’t mean be stubborn; changes are inevitable when developing great ideas. On the other hand, don’t be the “inventor” who does nothing more than talk. Put actions behind words and stay the course, to be one of the rare few who succeeds.