What to Expect When You’re Inventing

Inventing can be like having a child. Joys and hard work.

You have your great idea and have decided to move forward with it. Here’s what to expect:
  1. Encouragement and support from friends and strangers.
  2. Feelings of optimism and confidence as you think about all of the people who will buy your invention and how much money you’ll make.
  3. Fun making design choices on the invention’s look and features.
  4. Solicitations from attorneys and invention service companies.


a roller coaster ride of expectations being raised and crushed:

  • Prototype after prototype getting better but still needing improvements.
  • Rejections from the patent office that are overcome.
  • Prospective licensees and investors saying yes and then going silent.
  • Leaving trade shows with hot prospects that go nowhere.
  • Spending many, many, thousands of dollars over 2 to 7+ years.
  • A last hurrah, Hail Mary effort.
  • Putting the idea on a shelf with the hope of resurrecting it in the future.

    SOMETIMES the invention takes off. It can be the slow ascent or a rocket launch. The experience varies depending on whether you’re a licensee collecting royalties or the entrepreneur responsible for the business; whether it’s backed by millions in TV advertising or something being bootstrapped.

    Once the deal is signed, you’ll usually have little input into design and marketing. Regardless of how well things are going, you’ll want the licensor to be doing more and differently. You’ll worry that you aren’t being paid fairly. If the product is a big success and it’s licensed to a small company (and sometimes to a big one), knockoffs should be expected. If knockoffs happen, you may get to participate in patent litigation, hopefully at someone else’s expense.

    You’ll have the joy of walking into a store or looking online and seeing your product offered for sale. You’ll read comments from people who love it and feel good. You’ll get mad when you read a bad review.

    If the product is a long term success, unless your deal is unique, you’ll see the day when the patents run out and the licensor stops paying you royalties. Save for that day.

    With every sun rise there’s a problem that needs fixing. Parts are delivered late. The defect rate is too high. A user is hurt and threatening to sue. Advertising response rates are down. A major retailer stops buying from you and buys a knockoff instead. But as you persist and fix the problems, things run ever more smoothly. If the product is a big success, within a year or three after launch, someone will likely offer to buy you out. If you turn down that offer it will likely take another five to ten years to get a buyout offer that’s equally high, or maybe never.

    With a successful product, if you’ve got life in the patents and/or a trademark with value, you will likely have the chance to sell the company you built around your invention and enjoy a meaningful payoff.

    Regardless of outcome, the journey of inventing is rewarding. I’ve had all of the experiences described above. On my display shelves are some big successes and many more failures. The failures make me feel good too; I’m glad to have taken the shot and I never truly admit that they’ve failed. For me, they are simply on ice awaiting a better time.

    - Mike

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