Q: I have an idea that I'd like to bring out to the public as entertainment for all ages. How do I get my idea out to entrepreneurs? What will interest them enough to look at my idea? Is there a way for me to find out if my idea exists already or is in production?
A: Welcome to the business of inventing. I say "business" because inventing successfully requires learning and understanding about design, marketing, production, accounting, sales, legal system, patents and of course, the trials and tribulations of being an entrepreneur.
Let's start with your last question first. The process of discovering whether your idea already exists is called a prior art search. This includes researching existing patents, technical journals, publications and even the store shelves. If the idea exists, that means yours is not patentable. If the existing idea is not patented, however, you might still be able to make it succeed. It's the marketing that separates the winners from the losers.
If you want to begin searching on the Net, take a look at the Intellectual Property Search Engine, which allows you to do a ton of prior art research from one browser. In addition to searching for patented prior art, research your idea through the various technology sites, journals and other research resources. If you don't find your invention, you may have something truly novel.
A few words of caution: First, patents take about 18 months to issue. That means, if someone else filed their patent application yesterday but doesn't begin selling the product until the patent issues, it may be a year and a half before you find out that someone else invented it before you did. This is true even for big corporations. Second, regardless of what you find on your own in a preliminary patent search, you can only truly trust the results of a professional search done by experts who will give you a legal opinion regarding your invention. The cost for this is about $500.
Catching Their Attention
Once you've found out you actually have a patentable idea, your next step is to get others interested enough in it to pay you for it or license it from you. So how do you get them to license your idea? The answer is simple-money.
If an entrepreneur clearly sees an opportunity to make money, he or she will discuss licensing your idea. However, the value of your idea will come into play early in any negotiation. So you can increase its value by doing deep research to determine there's no similar competitive product ideas. If there are many other similar ideas or inventions patented or on the market, the entrepreneur you're approaching will have a tougher time selling the product in the market. Consequently, he or she will reduce the licensing fee (how much they will pay you) as a result.
The Secret Formula
So how do you get your idea out to entrepreneurs? I can think of about 50 ways, and someone else will come up with another 50. Let's first take the direct approach rather than some complicated process. Here's the secret formula:
Call them or send them a letter.
If you want to license your invention, in most cases the person or company that licenses it will want an exclusive license. That means as soon as you find an entrepreneur who wants to build and sell your invention, you'll most likely be finished with trying to find licensees. So research the industry, and find the entrepreneur you think will best promote your invention, then make the presentation.
Entrepreneurs are in business to make money. Therefore, if you can clearly show the entrepreneur a strong marketing, finance, production and sales plan; that your patent could be a strong one; and that they can make money, you've just succeeded.
Andy Gibbs is president and CEO of PatentCafe.com Inc, a leading intellectual property information and resource Internet portal. He is an inventor with seven issued and pending patents, and an entrepreneur who has started seven companies ranging from product development to low-and high- technology product manufacturing. He speaks to inventors, entrepreneurs and venture capitalists on intellectual property, marketing research, competitive strategy and sales development. Visit http://www.patentcafe.com.
The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, not of Entrepreneur.com. All answers are intended to be general in nature, without regard to specific geographical areas or circumstances, and should only be relied upon after consulting an appropriate expert, such as an attorney or accountant.