Inventing A to Z

U - Z

U: UPC Code
If you're selling your product retail, you'll need to talk to your retail contacts and get their approval of your packaging design before you set a launch date. Retailers usually won't buy a product that isn't packaged to meet their needs, which include graphics, size and how it is displayed. Another crucial part of your packaging is a UPC code. To obtain a UPC code for both your company and your product, visit the Uniform Code Council's Web site .

V: Virtual Prototype
Complicated inventions can be particularly expensive to prototype. Instead, check into virtual prototypes, i.e., demonstrating via computer. This option is also useful for inventors who may wish to present their invention to several companies at once but are unable to create several prototypes; sending DVDs or CDs out in the mail or e-mailing a URL is much easier. Click here for more information .

W: Web Sites
Think brochure, not e-commerce. It's unlikely that you can build a profitable e-commerce site for your one or two products, but building a professional calling card for your product is crucial. It will give you something to stick on that business card and everywhere else you can think of (a few ideas: look for free invention directory services, and always include your URL in message board posts and e-mails). Make it professional the first time by forgoing the free services so you can get your own URL and offer ad-free viewing for visitors. And keep it updated!

X: X Amount of Dollars for Manufacturing
A crucial figure in your road to success will be your production costs. No matter how amazing your invention is, if it costs too much to make and can't be sold at a competitive price, it's a no-go.

Check out these books for plenty more inventing tips:

"The easiest way to start is to figure out approximately what it will take to make the invention--say three molded plastic parts and one little metal part," says White. "Go shopping for anything that is made similar to what the final product will be without regard to what the [products] found with the parts are--or even what field they're in. Find five to 10 [items] and then look at their prices. Ignore the ones with unusually low or high prices. The average price is typically what a consumer might expect to pay for the invented product based on their experience with the similar goods the inventor examined.

"Now, what will it cost the inventor to get it produced? The typical answer is, the direct costs of whomever subcontract-manufactures the product will be about 10 percent of the consumer price. However, the manufacturer needs to cover their own overhead costs and make a profit, so they'll charge the inventor typically about two to three times the direct cost. In other words, the production costs for the product will be about one-fifth or one-fourth of the eventual retail price."

Y: Your New Home Away From Home: The USPTO Web Site
Yes, we've already mentioned the USPTO site several times, but we can't help but reiterate: Almost all research you do regarding your invention will lead back here. Trying to determine originality? Ready to do a thorough patent search? Looking for information on filing fees and applications? Need to register a trademark or just want to brush up on the rules? It's all here. Start with their FAQs and then let your finger do the clicking.

Z: Zip Your Lip
A standard non-disclosure agreement (NDA) can protect you from the greatest of all inventor fears: Someone ripping off your idea. "Whenever an inventor talks to someone about the invention, whether to get feedback or to get a prototype made or whatever, they should have the other party sign an [NDA]," says White. "It's a simple agreement that essentially says the party receiving the information agrees to keep it confidential." White suggests that you have an attorney in your state check your NDA to make sure it's legally sound.

Gibbs does say, however, that being paranoid about having a manufacturer rip off your idea is probably unfounded. "If you deal with reputable manufacturers, they have too much at stake to rip off your idea. If you sue them, they're in the wrong, and the courts are more and more favoring independent inventors. It's better business to just do the deal with you and get the product out in the marketplace."

The ABCs of Inventing


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