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 don't you're probably not using the right key words. Keep trying. There's 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! Don't 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 you've got friends and family saying "yes" over 50% of the time... then, for us at least, the idea is worth serious consideration. Learn much more Inventing 101.
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'll need to make a formal patent filing within one year.
Having a validly issued patent offers more protection... but, but, 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 can't 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'll 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.
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.
6. You say "no" a lot. What do you say "YES" to?
We've said "yes" to inventions in all stages of development across a wide range of industries, from inventors all over the world. Click here to see examples.
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 doesn't 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 don't open it up to show what makes it work.
For example, if you've 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've 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'll receive. Don't 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 duiscuss your invention without giving away the key details.
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