10 Quick Questions for Inventors
by Jeffrey Dobkin, Past President
The American Society of Inventors
Like it or not, at one point if you are serious about your invention – and moving it forward – you need to answer a few questions. The good part: Don’t worry – you can change your answers at any time. Just rough it out for now.
1. Do you have a budget?
Nothing happens until you spend little time, money… or both. So – What is your time commitment, Hours/week? What is your $$$ investment?
2. What are your goals?
If everything goes right, this happens. What are your objectives – what do you want to accomplish? Start a business? Get rich? License your product? Just have fun (because everything doesn’t have to make money!) Have a few products for you and your friends to enjoy? Think about this – up front. Write it down.
3. Have you done a patent search?
I generally recommend a patent search. You can do this for free on line at USPTO.gov or the Google patent site. Even if you’re not patenting your invention, it’s nice to know you aren’t infringing on someone else’s patent.
4. Are you going to Patent it, or not?
A patent is a $5,000 to $10,000 expense. Yes, it’s that expensive. And most of the time, patent claims are narrow, indefensible, and easily circumvented by patent circumvention specialists. I generally DO NOT recommend a patent.
Keep in mind: a patent doesn’t protect you or your idea, a patent only gives you the right to protect yourself (by suing someone.) You don’t need a patent to sell anything, but it may help when licensing your invention.
5. Is your product “Commercially Feasible”?
I define commercially feasible as “can you sell it and make a profit?” Not every idea can be sold at a profit. This doesn’t mean the idea isn’t great, it just means it may not be a commercial success.
6. What industries will your product sell to?
Is it specific to one or two, or is it so general you can’t define the markets (which makes for harder and more expensive marketing.)
7. Will it sell itself?
If you product sells through a store like Home Depot – remember it will sit on a shelf with someone else’s product on either side of it, and one on the shelf right above it, and one on the shelf right below it. Can a customer tell what your product is – and what it does – at a glance? (Because that’s all you’re getting on a store shelf.)
8. Can you make a few prototypes?
You can’t show anyone your product without a prototype. There are homemade prototypes, made with available parts; working prototypes for proof of concept, professional prototypes, and manufacturing prototypes – how it will be made in volume. You should have one or more of any of these.
9. What is your own field of expertise?
You’ve got to know your own strengths and weaknesses. Now you know what you can do, and where you need to go for help.
10. What are your next 10 steps?
Yes, in order. Because if you don’t know them, what are you going to do?
Jeff Dobkin is a fun speaker and an all around good guy. He was on the Board of Directors of the original American Society of Inventors (non-profit) for over 15 years, and the President for four. Thanks for visiting his new non-profit organization to help inventors, the Philadelphia Inventors Alliance of the new American Society of Inventors. Dobkin has written 5 books on marketing including the amazing inventors and small business entrepreneur’s marketer’s Bible: “How To Market A Product for Under $500!” If you’re an inventor who’d like to market his or her invention – you’d be crazy not to read this book. Visit him at JeffreyDobkin.com for more of his writing or call 610-642-1000 to speak with him personally.