Inventing A to Z

F - J

F: Funding & Finances
Speaking of money, how much does it take to get a product on the market? The ballpark figure, says Lander, is at least $10,000, and most inventors tend to be self-funded at this stage. Here's a quick breakdown of that:

  • $275 for a product evaluation
  • $500 to $3,000 for a prototype
  • $4,000 to $10,000 for the patent, depending on the complexity of your invention

G: Groups for Inventors
Inventors groups can be a crucial resource. You can find moral support, information and more. Find your local group (look in Inventor's Digest and on the UIA's Web site and join up. "Network with others who have gone before you. It won't keep you from making mistakes, but it will keep you away from scam marketing companies, and you'll learn from others who've gotten products on the market," says Joanne Hayes-Rines, publisher of Inventor's Digest.

H: Hot Markets
"The hot areas are whatever sells. Products for the elderly have expanded because there are (and will be) more of them, and they have more money than [they did] years ago," says Hayes-Rines. "The key to inventing is to find a real problem that affects a good percentage of people. Solve that problem elegantly (don't over-invent), be sure it's priced right and market it well."

I: Intellectual Property
There are three main types of intellectual property: patents, trademarks and copyrights.

  • Patents, as you probably already know, protect inventions, and there are a few different types: Utility patents (new methods, new devices or new chemical compositions); design patents (for the shape or look of an object, like the outside of an iMac); and provisional patents (a patent that is never examined but gives you a year to apply for a regular utility patent). Patenting will suck up the majority of your funding and time, so you want to be as educated as possible on the subject. Scour the USPTO Web site, inquire at your inventor group meetings, read books like From Patent to Profit, and double- and triple-check everything with your attorney or patent agent.
  • Trademarks exist to protect your brand image. Names, slogans, phrases and images can be trademarked. Use TM after your trademark and SM after a service mark (which is used for service features). After you register your trademark with the USPTO, use an �. You can do trademark searching at the USPTO site, but you should use a trademark search service once you get serious and want to begin building your brand.
  • Copyrights protect writings and other visual work, such as catalogs, books, brochures and pamphlets. You can copyright by marking your work with "Copyright 2002 by Jane Doe Inc. All rights reserved." If you register it (which isn't required but does add extra protection and costs $30 per work), you can instead use "� Jane Doe Inc., 2002." Visit the U.S. Copyright Office for more information.

J: Journals
From the moment you think of your idea, you should keep an inventor's journal--a bound notebook with sequentially numbered pages so that you can't insert pages later. "It's like a diary," says Gibbs. "Even before you file a patent, keep your journal up-to-date: Every idea, note, drawing, everybody you talk to, all of your marketing ideas. Date everything, and every so often, have somebody sign and witness it. These [journals] stand the evidentiary requirements in court to determine the date of invention." The journal will also help your attorney or agent when it comes time to patent by providing them with a lot of information to develop a solid patent.

Another important (and easy and cheap) way to protect yourself during the inventing process is to file a disclosure document with the USPTO--a thorough description and appropriate drawings of the invention, along with a $10 fee. "This document doesn't 'protect' anything, but it does provide some relatively unimpeachable evidence of the approximate date of conception of your invention," says White. "It also puts the inventor under a two-year gun since the document will be destroyed if not referenced in a formal patent application within two years of filing."

The ABCs of Inventing


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