Before Spending Money on Your Great Idea Be Sure It Isn't Invented Already

Inventors caught up in the thrill of new idea often skip the research needed to be certain nobody has a patent on it.

learn more about Christopher Hawker

By Christopher Hawker • Feb 2, 2015 Originally published Feb 2, 2015

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

People come to me almost daily with product ideas they want to bring to market. Every one of these potential clients is sure their idea has never been done before. Very often, however, I can do a quick internet search that brings their idea up on the very first page. In their excitement or hope that their idea was a winner, they didn't do their research. Amazingly, many people are willing to invest money developing a product before taking even 15 minutes to research its existence. I have seen people invest up to $100,000 before taking this important step.

Often, inventors assume their product idea is original because they have not seen it on the market, but that doesn't mean it doesn't exist somewhere your haven't look. Some people don't do proper research because they don't want bad news. They are convinced their idea is unique and "proof" they are a genius who is going to be rich. Their conviction becomes more important to them than the truth.

To be certain an opportunity is real, though, you need to be aware of what's already done. It's similar to going to the doctor. It's not always bad news, but it could be and the sooner you know, the better chance you have of treating it. If you don't go to the doctor, you risk not finding out before it's too late.

The first thing to do when you get an idea for an invention, before you invest time and money, is conduct an exhaustive research. Here are some tips on how to do research properly for an invention idea:

1. Search the internet thoroughly.

Look for your idea, or similar ideas, on the market or in concept form. At my company, professional researchers spend hours on this for every project. This is absolutely the most important first step of the invention process. You need to know what is already out there. Oftentimes, the most important findings are made at the end of a long search. You can't prove that something doesn't exist, but what you can do is search persistently until you to exhaust all avenues.

Related: How to Search for Existing Patents

2. Look to prove the idea exists.

Confirmation bias is when you want a particular answer and unconsciously sabotage your research to get the results you seek. With the typical inventor, even when they do research, if they don't find their idea on the first page, they jump to the conclusion that they have proven that their idea is new. Usually, they are wrong.

Instead of trying to prove that your idea doesn't exist, try to prove it does. Let's say you go to Target and you see something on the shelf -- a clever tea kettle, perhaps. With that product in mind, you go back to your search engine and search for it knowing that it exists. If it doesn't show up at first, that certainty will cause you to get creative with your search terms and attack the search with tenacity. I mean, you know it exists. You won't give up easily. That is how you need to search.

3. Go to brick-and-mortar stores.

Go to stores that sell similar products and look on the shelves. Go to more stores. Look carefully. This may seem obvious, but people often never do this.

4. Search the patent database.

I use This works just like their normal search engine, and you should spend a similar amount of time searching through the patent database as you did with the general search. Learn how to interpret patents and spend a few hours learning the ins and outs of patents and their language. Just because a product isn't on the market doesn't mean it's not patented. A patent can stop you in your tracks.

Related: When It Makes Sense to Hire a Patent Attorney

5. Hire a professional researcher.

Do your own research first, to save money if there are some obvious deal killers. You need to know your market anyway. Before you start spending real money, though, hire a professional. A third party is unaffected by confirmation bias and will likely be a faster and more effective researcher. Also, for patents, their expertise will come in handy since you may find it difficult to interpret the results of your own searching.

6. Collate your results.

As you find things that are relevant to your product idea, create a list or spreadsheet you can reference so that as you create marketing plans and are presenting your idea to others, you have your research on paper and can readily show your results.

It can be very expensive and time consuming to create something new, so know what is out there before investing in your product idea. Make research your first priority until you are sure you are investing all of that time and money into an opportunity that is real. If you find bad news, that's great. Don't get attached. Move on to the next idea, or adjust your idea based on what you find. It's not always the first to market who wins. The fast-follower can learn from the mistakes of the pioneer. Now, go out there and invent something great!

Related: Don't File for That Patent Yet

Christopher Hawker

Inventor, Entrepreneur, and Innovation Expert

Christopher Hawker is the president of Trident Design, LLC, a product development and commercialization firm working with everyone from independent inventors to large corporations, based in Columbus, Ohio. He has brought over 70 products to market in a variety of industries, including the PowerSquid and the Onion Goggles. He has worked with Stanley, Philips, GE and Kyocera among others. He blogs at

Related Topics

Editor's Pick

This Co-Founder Was Kicked Out of Retailers for Pitching a 'Taboo' Beauty Product. Now, Her Multi-Million-Dollar Company Sells It for More Than $20 an Ounce.
Have You Ever Obsessed Over 'What If'? According to Scientists, You Don't Actually Know What Would Have Fixed Everything.
Most People Don't Know These 2 Things Are Resume Red Flags. A Career Expert Reveals How to Work Around Them.
Starting a Business

5 Ways to Expand Your Pet Sitting and Dog Walking Business

The new book, Start Your Own Pet Business, details easy ways to add new revenue streams to your biz.

Thought Leaders

5 Small Daily Habits Self-Made Millionaires Use to Grow Their Wealth

We've all seen what self-made millionaires look like on TV, but it's a lot more subtle than that. Brian Tracy researched what small daily habits these successful entrepreneurs adopted on their journey from rags to riches.

Business News

Massive Fire At Top Egg Farm Leaves Estimated 100,000 Hens Dead. What Does This Mean For Egg Prices?

Hillandale Farms in Bozrah, Connecticut went up in flames on Saturday in an incident that is still under investigation.

Business Ideas

55 Small Business Ideas To Start Right Now

To start one of these home-based businesses, you don't need a lot of funding -- just energy, passion and the drive to succeed.

Business News

Survey: A Majority of Americans Are Living Paycheck to Paycheck

Sixty-four percent of U.S. consumers live paycheck to paycheck — even those who earn more than $100,000 a year.