FAQ: Inventing Q&A
- How do I find out if my idea is worth developing?
- I'm afraid someone will steal my idea. What should I do?
- Do you work with inventors from outside the United States?
- How long does it take to turn an idea into a successful product?
- How does Invention City make money?
- You say "no" a lot. What do you say "YES" to?
- How can I survey people without disclosing my idea? Should I ask them to sign NDAs?
- I need help with prototyping.
- I'm ready to get quotes for manufacturing.
- Why you should choose Invention City.
1. How do I find out if my idea is worth developing?
Here are two low cost steps you can take: 1) ask friends and family if they would buy it - if well over 50% say yes then maybe you've got something; 2) do a key word search for patents at the web site of the US Patent and Trademark Office. You ought to find something similar in concept (prior art); if you do not find anything similar, then you are probably not using the right key words. Keep trying. There is almost always prior art. When you get serious about an idea, we highly recommend hiring a professional to perform a patent search for you. We recently heard a story where two different professionals found two different sets of prior art! Do not be discouraged when you do find prior art. Inventing is in the details. If the details of your invention are better than what you find in the prior art, and your got friends and family say your invention is a good idea, then over 50% of the time, for us at least, the idea is worth serious consideration. Learn much more Inventing 101. It is possible to get a patent on anything, but the question comes down to should you get a patent? The answer to that is to answer two question, will you be able to defend your patent and will your patent infringe on another? We would recommend getting a patent opinion for professional legal help.
2. I'm afraid someone will steal my idea. What should I do?
There is no 100% satisfactory answer. A good first step is to keep well-documented and dated records in a bound notebook. That's free and may help to establish that you were the first to invent the item. Being first to invent still carries some weight and could help you win in a legal dispute. Now, under the America Invents Act of 2011, the US is on a "first-to-file" system for patent applications like the rest of the world. The good news is that filing a provisional patent is inexpensive and will secure your priority - but you need to make a formal patent filing within one year.
Having a validly issued patent offers more protection... but... patents are not just expensive, they generally only cover specific details and, in rare circumstances, can be invalidated or limited if challenged. A similar idea with different details might be able to get around your patent lawfully. Before spending money trying to protect your idea, you need to learn as much as you can about similar ideas. If your idea is already known in the public domain (patent records, stores, magazines, books etc.), then you cannot protect it with patents. You can probably add some features to the idea that will enable you to get a patent, but the patent will have no value unless the features add value.
Patents are especially important when the cost of entry into a market is high and the payback period relatively slow. If your idea can be commercialized for very little investment then a patent could have little value (if the item is a big success you will probably be knocked off before you can enforce it). On the other hand, without a patent, licensing a simple consumer product/idea, is nigh unto impossible. Note that until a patent is issued it cannot be enforced. "Patent pending" is simply a warning that a patent has been filed and might be enforced IF and WHEN a patent issues.
The most basic tool for protecting a new idea is something called a Non-Disclosure Agreement or NDA. Most NDAs (ours included) have a provision that excludes anything known in the public domain. Our articles "The Disclosure Dilemma - An Inventor's Catch-22" and "Protecting Your Invention" discuss this matter in more detail. One thing to keep in mind is that execution almost always matters more than protection. In other words, even if your idea is known, you can still make good money by commercializing it in a unique way. Dell computer was founded on ideas that were well known and freely available in the public domain.
3. Do you work with inventors from outside the United States?
Yes. We enjoy working with inventors from every country in the world.
4. How long does it take to turn an idea into a successful product?
Software and Internet inventions aside, most simple inventions take between 2-5 years to move from idea stage to Wal-Mart shelf. It usually takes over a year to get an idea into the market AFTER A FINAL DESIGN IS COMPLETED. Achieving a final design and not changing it is a critical (and very difficult) step. After achieving a final design you need to build attention for your product. Publicity can take up to a year to create a desire in your target audience.
5. How does Invention City make money?
Invention City makes money from advising inventors and on royalties shared with inventors from commercializing great product ideas. In other words we make money with you, our profits are based on your success which is why we provide all the resources necessary for success. which is why we are different from other invention companies that offer fees for product development.
7. How can I survey people without disclosing my idea? Should I ask them to sign NDAs?
To learn what the market thinks about your idea you need to ask it - you must disclose it. But that does not mean you must disclose key features to your competitors. Choose your survey targets carefully. Give them the information they need to generate the information you want. Describe features and benefits without disclosing how those features and benefits are achieved. Show them a prototype but do not open it up to show what makes it work.
For example, if you invented a new kind of ball that bounces higher and for longer duration than other balls, you should have no trouble in saying exactly that: "I invented a ball that bounces higher for longer duration than other balls." You have not revealed HOW the ball manages this trick. The HOW is the invention. If the idea itself needs to be secret, find other ways to discuss it obliquely. But keep in mind that the more accurate your description of your invention to third parties, the better input you receive. Do not be overly paranoid. While paranoia is helpful in small doses, it can become poisonous in large ones. To commercialize an invention an inventor needs to talk (more or less) openly with third parties. Find ways to discuss your invention without giving away the key details.
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