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Invention Expert Bob DeMatteis

Think you're the next Thomas Edison? Here's how to turn your idea into a profitable product.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

From Patent to Profit You have a product idea that could rival the George Forman Grill or Ron Popeil's Pocket Fisherman. You even think it can bring in just as much money. But you have no idea what to do next. With 16 patents to his name and two more on the way, Bob DeMatteis, author of From Patent to Profit, offers a step-by-step guide to making your idea a profitable reality. Read on to find out how to protect your invention from others, where to find manufacturers and how to effectively market your product. A lot of times people have great ideas for inventions but don't know where to begin. What's a good starting point?

Bob DeMatteis: The first thing would be to learn everything they can about inventing and patenting. Start by learning what it takes to make an invention and turn it into something that's successful. Then get a patent and above all, make sure you make money on it. Learn everything you can from the perspective of making money from your idea. How do you know if your invention will be profitable?

DeMatteis: What most inventors do last is what I do first. I'm going to preface this by saying I have 16 patents with two more being issued shortly. Of those 16 patents, I still own 12 of them, and all 12 have been licensed and have produced income or are producing income for me, all before or during the patent pending phase. This is important because the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office says only 3 percent of patents ever make money for the inventor. What they're saying is 97 percent result in failure, and the reason is because many inventors start developing a product based on what they think works best, get a patent and make some prototypes. The last thing they do is see if they can sell it.

The first thing I do is get a marketing expert on my team and listen for the four magic words: I can sell that. You can trash the 70-page business plan. You can trash the $100,000 beta test plans. You can trash all that if you get the right marketing expert on your team who says, "I can sell that." Then go and get your patent protection in place, the license and so on. How do you find a marketing expert that's right for you and your invention?

DeMatteis: In my book, I describe 10 different ways to find marketing experts. I'll give you the top two-this is assuming that the inventor isn't working in the field of their invention. Number one, go to a major national trade show, not a regional one, but don't just put your product in a booth. Go there and get smart. Network with people. Take a look at what manufacturers are there, what marketing companies are there, who's selling what and so on. If you talk to these people, you'll be able to interview them in a very nice way and determine whether or not they have sales marketing potential to take your product on.

Number two is to get a trade magazine in the field of your invention. Let's say it's in the equestrian field. Go to your local horse supply store, and ask them for a copy of a trade journal. You can also go on the Internet. If you want to look at the back of my book, there's a Web site there that you can go to for various trade journals. When you get the journal, call them up-you can usually get a couple of copies for free. But start by looking at the back of the magazine. There will be advertisements from companies in the industry looking for new products to develop. While your patent is pending, what are some ways of protecting your invention?

DeMatteis: Initially, inventions are protected by establishing the date of original conception. Second, you want to diligently follow through and reduce it to practice. This means you're going to prove it works the way you say it does. Those two elements are normally done by keeping reasonably detailed logs. The next step is to file a provisional patent application-[they cost] as little as $75. Under most circumstances, it would be foolish to file a regular patent application in the early stages of development. It would be much wiser to file a provisional patent application in which you have one year before you file the permanent patent application.

After you've established the date of original conception and have reduced it to practice, you can also start approaching potential marketing and manufacturing partners via the use of confidentiality agreements or nondisclosure agreements. How do you find manufacturers?

DeMatteis: The same way you find marketers: at trade shows and in trade journals. You'll always be able to find manufacturers, especially if you have a marketing expert who says those magic four words, because then everyone's going to want to make it. When you're looking for manufacturers, it would be wise to look throughout the entire world. (You can do most of that on the Internet.) A lot of overseas companies have import agents that are based in the United States.

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