Click to Print

Three Steps to Selling Your Idea

Start making money now with this step-by-step guide to licensing your invention.
February 13, 2006

Perhaps you've got a keen mind for inventing--but not much of a head for business. Or maybe you're good at both, but you'd rather focus your time on developing ideas rather than launching a full-scale business. Fortunately, there's an option that suits your needs perfectly: licensing your invention idea. Licensing is simply the process of selling your idea to a company that'll develop it fully, taking on all the business-related tasks that launching a new product involves. Licensing can also be a great option for those whose financial resources are very limited.

Just as there are steps to starting your own business, there's a smart way to approach licensing your invention. I break it down here into three main steps.

Step 1: Gather Information
Yes, it's the information age--which means the more info you're armed with, the better off you'll be. Licensing your idea is no exception. Before you even consider approaching prospective companies to sell your idea, be sure you're clear in the following areas:

Step 2: Prepare a Professional Presentation
After you've gathered all the relevant information, you'll need to present it to potential licensors. Along with your most effective tool--a three-dimensional prototype model--you should develop a simple sell sheet to convey all the information you've gathered.

Your sell sheet should be a one- or two-page document that clearly states the following:

You should also develop an introductory letter to accompany your sell sheet, which introduces yourself, explains why you're contacting the licensee, and sets a time when you plan to follow up.

Step 3: Pinpoint Your Targets
You've gathered and prepared your information. Now what? Your next step is to determine the most appropriate contacts for this awesome new business opportunity. As a first step, I recommend you create a list of at least 50 prospective targets. As with any type of sales, the more prospects, the better. It's a numbers game, and most companies will turn you down for one reason or another. Also note that a more focused list will bring you more effective results.

So how can you identify companies that might make a good fit? If it's a consumer item, it's as simple as a shopping trip around town. Go to a store where you'd expect to see your product sold and jot down the names of manufacturers who produce similar products. You may also be familiar with many of these companies from your prior market research.

Another way to identify prospective manufacturers is to identify the trade association that serves the industry in which your product will fall. Visit their websites and look for member lists. Some trade associations list the manufacturers scheduled to exhibit at their upcoming trade shows.

Online databases can also be a great resource. Local public business libraries are often linked to database systems that allow you to search for companies in specific industries. And, from your own computer, you can visit , a great online database that provides information about many large-sized companies. The site even enables you to find companies that have specific key words in their description.

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:

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?

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!