How do I talk about my invention?
Relate to your comment on a blog post for going after company number two, rather than, the #1 company in a particular field. While watching the movie, "Flash of Genius", it struck me that his biggest downfall was having a friend who was a big shot at Ford. Then, he tried to manufacture the intermittent wiper himself. Seems to me, he should have been looking to speak to the companies who already sell wiper motors to Ford or want to.
My idea is big on the order of magnitude of the intermittent wiper. It is a Continuously Variable Transmission. They are in automobiles, off road 4 wheelers, riding lawn mowers to name a few. They have their limitations. What if my design could be used in those same vehicles and also full size 18 wheel trucks, motorcycles, snowmobiles, scooters, bicycles, manufacturing and basically anywhere any other type of transmission is currently used? That should be big enough. How do I find the #2 companies in all these different areas?
How do I verbally convey the immense versatility and durability of my product, compared to other designs, so, investors will realize the potential and want to sample the product? Don't want to tell people too much detail without a signed confidentiality agreement. I always get skittish, when talking to people, and just mentioning the name of a type of part that I'm using in it, seems relevant. Is that a no no?
So far, I've tried only talking about the issues, which the other designs have and are not an issue with mine. I'll have a prototype ready to show in a few weeks and will be filing for a provisional utility patent.
Robert Kearns could have had a simple licensing agreement with Ford (and Chrysler, GM and others) if he had wanted one. He would have made far more money that way and kept his marriage and family together. But he wanted to make the product himself. The problem is that Fortune 500 companies like Ford strongly prefer to work with well established companies that have a track record in their industry. They don't want to take a risk on a start-up company's learning curve. In the end Kearns was paid millions by Ford and others, but the effort destroyed him and he never did get to make his product.
It sounds like your plan is to license your invention. That's a wise choice. And going for suppliers is the right path. I wouldn't worry too much about targeting #2's in this case. Virtually all supplier companies have a strong interest in bringing innovative products to their gigantic customers. Supplier companies can be big but they're not unapproachable. Some 15 years ago my company tried to license a new windshield wiper design to Trico. Our design was a type of flat spring wiper similar to what's on the market today. Our product testing consisted of blasting down the Massachusetts Turnpike at 80 mph in the rain to check for wind lift. Needless to say, Trico had better testing facilities and protocols. But we did have a meeting with them and they did consider our design as an alternative. After a brief review they said "no". The design they were pursuing was frankly much better. Despite having spent approximately $100,000 we gave up on our effort and even let our patents lapse by not paying maintenance fees. The point is that companies like Trico, suppliers to the big automotive firms, will talk to outside inventors who act professionally.
Should you be skittish about mentioning a certain type of critical part that, once you've named it, will enable others to duplicate your idea? Yes... but... The but comes from the likelihood that the companies you approach will already know many of the ingredients in your secret sauce. Your patent will cover the specific way your idea is implemented. If you're using an ingredient that's already known you won't be able to patent that ingredient anyway. The patent that issues will be limited by this fact. Patents rarely cover big ideas - they cover details. A great patent has details that make it possible to "make, use and sell" the invention in the best ways (lowest cost, most durable, most useable). There are almost always ways to get around a patent... but a good patent causes legal knockoffs to be unappealing and market unworthy.
As of today (September 28, 2010) there are 1407 issued US patents (many expired) with "continuously variable transmission" in the title. That's a lot of intellectual property. Too much for anyone to become interested if that's what you say you have. You would have much better luck getting someone's attention if you could, for example, that you have a type of "belt-drive continuosly variable transmission" where there are only 9 US patents with that more specific term in the title. Being specific helps you establish credibility and spark interest. Confidentiality Agreements always exclude information that's in the public domain. If you can't disclose that your invention is within the category of inventions covered by the titles of already issued patents then you'll go nowhere.
You should find key words that will grab attention. Why is your invention better? Will it save time? money? give a better driving/riding experience? Pointing out the deficencies of the competition is also good. You should be able to back up the claims you make with customer surveys and testimonials.
The most important thing in getting someone to talk to you in a serious way is to establish credibility in advance. A working prototype is a necessary first step*. The next step is to accumulate some testimonials from experts about your prototype. For example, you might start by contacting a mechanic at a semi-pro car racing team - show him the prototyope (with confidentiality agreement in place) and get his thoughts. Then work your way up the ladder. He might know others you can talk to. If you have something hot you'll find a lot of people will want to help you. When you have one or two "serious people" who've reviewed your invention and blessed it (they may want something in return) you'll be ready to make calls to prospective investors and licensees.
As you noted there are a lot of uses for a continuously variable transmission. To start, focus on just one use, maybe bicycles. The opportunity there is big enough to get started. Don't get carried away and talk about "changing the world" or say things like "everyone will want this." If you're talking to an investor you can say "I'm starting with bicycles and then will go after.... followed by..." Plan on spending a decade to get your invention licensed to the range of industries you mention.
I would think you'll want to go for non-exclsuive licenses or exclusive licenses limited to a specific applications.
Once you have focused more narrowly, you should make a list of prospects. Then, with prototype and endorsements in hand (and knowing what you want in terms of a deal), begin making calls to the smallest prospects, the ones where damage will be limited if you say something stupid and blow it. Ask for the person in charge of new products. Expect to get a secretary or an intern but and be prepared to speak to the company's President.
*A first prototype will inevitably lead you to make improvements and refinements to the design. Input from experts will lead to further improvements and refinements. The provisional patent you file today may well be completely irrelevant to the design you end up pursuing and attempting to license.
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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