Three Steps to Selling Your Idea

Step 4: Qualify Your Targets
Once you've generated your list of 50 or so companies, you'll want to prioritize them--or "qualify" them based on which will make a best fit with you and your product. There are a number of factors to consider when qualifying prospective licensees:

  • Size. Large companies are easy to identify and generally have terrific distribution. However, small companies might stand to benefit more from your invention--and often make better prospects. Small companies generally have less "in house" product development staff and are less burdened by red tape and multiple layers of bureaucracy, which can make them easier to deal with.
  • Geography. While you don't need to limit yourself to local companies, they do offer advantages. Companies in close proximity allow you to leverage any contacts you might have locally, and set up face-to-face meetings (which is always valuable).
  • Similar product line. The closer your invention matches a company's already existing product line (as long as it isn't directly competing), the more sense it probably makes for them to take it on--especially if it gives them a product that competes with a rival company.
  • Access to a decision maker. The more easily you can identify and directly reach the decision maker, the more efficient your contact with a prospective licensor will be. (Note: if after several calls you can't determine who the proper contact is--or get in touch with him/her--you're better off focusing on other targets.)
  • Company policy. Some companies' policies for accepting submissions are more inventor-friendly than others.
  • Manufacturer reputation. Find out the company's track record for working with inventors, and if possible get personal references from those who've gone before you.

Step 5: Make the Sale
You're now armed with information, presentation materials and a hot prospect list. How do you know you're getting a good deal? Understand there are no set rules or terms when it comes to negotiating a licensing agreement. The perfect agreement is one that gives both you and the manufacturer exactly what you want. Therefore the terms are completely negotiable and can vary dramatically.

However, do keep the following points in mind as you're negotiating your deal. First, set realistic expectations. In other words, don't expect a million-dollar deal--it's doubtful you'll retire after licensing your first product. Second, go for the gusto. Most ideal for you, the inventor, is to get as much up-front cash, as high a royalty, and as high an annual minimum payment as possible. Of course, the manufacturer will be gunning for less risk--which means a lower up-front payout, lower minimum payment requirements, and as low a royalty percentage as possible. But what exactly do these terms mean, and how can you get the best deal for your invention idea?

  • Up-front payment. This is the money that the licensee pays the licensor up front, before development or sales even begin, for the assignment of the rights. This can be an outright payment, but most commonly takes the form of an advance against (future) royalties. The amount of up-front payment varies. However, it's not unusual for an inventor to seek an up-front payment that covers the cost of her patent filing. Another way to come to an agreeable sum is to base your payment on projected sales expectations for the first year.
  • Royalties. These are the payments made to the licensor based on a percentage of the licensee's product sales. So, if you make a 2% royalty, that means you'll receive 2% of the wholesale price of each unit sold. The typical royalty range tends to run from 2% to 5%. Again, the further along or more proven the invention, the less risk for the manufacturer and the more likely you'll get an up-front payment or higher royalties. From my perspective, the royalty is the most important element of the agreement, because if the market responds to the product, the manufacturer will do well and the inventor can earn a good revenue
  • Annual minimum. This is the contractual term that requires the licensee to pay the licensor a minimum amount of royalties, irrespective of the actual royalties due from sales. To me, the purpose of annual minimums is to ensure that the manufacturer places sufficient effort and resources behind promoting the product. Therefore, I believe that annual minimums are most important in the initial years of the agreement--when the product is being launched--to ensure that the licensee adequately prioritizes this item when deploying sales resources.
  • Exclusivity. Most manufacturers will want to have exclusive rights to distribute the product globally. However, this is subject to negotiation. Depending on each party's motives, the agreement could actually divide up the markets in many ways.

It's important to note that these four components are inter-related: meaning the more you get in one area, the more you might have to concede in another. As with any negotiation, both sides will likely make concessions. Decide which of these components will best meet your short- and long-term needs, and negotiate from there. There are numerous books that provide techniques in negotiation. The most salient tip I can offer is to use a "non adversarial" approach in which your goal is to create terms that are a win-win for both parties. Good luck!

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Your Million Dollar Dream: Regain Control & Be Your Own Boss Tamara Monosoff is the author of Your Million Dollar Dream: Regain Control & Be Your Own Boss and The Mom Inventors Handbook, Secrets of Millionaire Moms, and co-author of The One Page Business Plan for Women in Business. She is also the and CEO of www.MomInvented.com. Connect on Twitter: @mominventors and on Facebook: facebook.com/MomInvented.

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