Ending Soon! Save 33% on All Access

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.

By Christopher Hawker Edited by Dan Bova

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 google.com/patents. 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 inventorsmind.com

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.


How to Break Free From the Cycle of Overthinking and Master Your Mind

Discover the true cost of negative thought loops — and practical strategies for nipping rumination in the bud.

Business Solutions

This is Your Last Chance to Get Microsoft Office for $25

Lock in a lifetime of access to 2019's Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and more favorites for your business.

Growing a Business

It's Time to Prioritize Regular Performance Reviews — Here's Why Reviews Are Essential for Employee and Company Growth

Regular check-ins, focused discussions about goals and progress and constructive feedback build a thriving work environment.

Business Ideas

63 Small Business Ideas to Start in 2024

We put together a list of the best, most profitable small business ideas for entrepreneurs to pursue in 2024.

Starting a Business

How to Find the Right Programmers: A Brief Guideline for Startup Founders

For startup founders under a plethora of challenges like timing, investors and changing market demand, it is extremely hard to hire programmers who can deliver.