Getting a Hand Fan Invention on the Market

Kevin asks:

I designed a unique hand fan a while back and had a patent search done on it. The patent attorney told me not to get my hopes up because there’s a 50% chance that it has already been invented. Well, 2 weeks later, he told me that he couldn’t find anything on the market like it, and that I have a really good chance of getting it patented.

So, about a week and half ago I filed for a provisional patent with the USPTO and now I’m waiting to get a patent number “Hopefully”. Other than that, I made a prototype and showed a few friends of mine and they just loved the Idea. I was told that the best place for this to be really successful would be in hot and humid climates like Hawaii.

I would like to see it on the market. Could you offer me some advice?


wikipedia image - Antony and Cleopatra

It's 100% certain that hand fans have been invented. Cleopatra surely fluttered one to beguile Mark Antony. But your particular version of a hand fan may, in fact, be unique. Keep in mind that a patent is worthless unless it has one or more issued claims that cover the thing(s) that make your invention market-worthy. It's really not hard to get something patented if you put enough limitations on it, so don't get overly excited about the possibility of getting a patent.

A provisional patent is just what it sounds like. It does not have claims, is not reviewed by a patent examiner and cannot be enforced. It does, however, give you a degree of protection and may enable you to disclose the invention publicly without losing rights to it.

Since you have a provisional patent and a prototype my suggestion is that you spend some time showing it to retailers in hot humid places who might be interested in selling it. This is a legitimate excuse for a tax deductible business trip to Florida or Hawaii in the middle of winter. When showing your invention ask the retailers for the names of distributors and manufacturers that supply them with items like hand fans. Those are the first companies you should contact regarding a licensing deal.

Among the retailers you target should be gift shops at hotels and other tourist locations. Along the way you may discover that a better way (or another way) to get your invention on the market is as a premium/gift (give-away) item. There are many companies in the premium business. You can find them online or at a trade show. Target companies that sell items somewhat similar to yours in broad concept and cost.

I'm advocating a licensing deal here but that's not the only way to go. You could have the item made and sell it yourself. Regardless of whether you go the licensing or make-it-yourself route, the next step is to spend more time confirming there's really a market.

Some time before your provisional period is up you'll want to add claims to your provisional patent and file it as a non-provisional patent. Before incurring that expense you should do some serious market research.

Good luck!


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For more than two decades Mike Marks has been active in creating and marketing new products and forming new businesses. As founder of Invention City and co-founder/partner of WorkTools, Inc., Endeavor Products Company, and Accentra Inc., he has managed the design, manufacturing, marketing, patenting and licensing of products such as the Gator-Grip® Universal Socket the Black & Decker PowerShot® staple gun, the Staples One Touch stapler. Over the past ten years products developed by WorkTools have generated over $350 million in retail sales and over $8 million in royalties. Mike has negotiated a wide range of contracts, established manufacturing operations in Taiwan and China, managed national and international sales, run public relations/advertising campaigns and written and produced television commercials and video news releases. Prior to founding WorkTools in 1986, Mike worked as a commercial photographer and photojournalist in New York for clients such as American Express, Nikon and Newsweek Magazine. Mike graduated from UCLA in 1978 with a degree in Economics.

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