Invention help

I recently have come up with an invention that i wish to capitalize upon. i Would like to know how would one such as myself aruire funds, produce, market ,profit and protect my invention successfully?

well tytus, there is no easy answer to this question…but i will give you some places to start.

1)DON’T tell anyone anything!

2)get a bound notebook (not spiral) and start to document your ideas on each page should be a page number, title, and a spot at the bottom. If you Google “making an invention notebook” there are some tutorials.

3)do a preliminary patent search and are great resources.

  1. Contact a patent attorney in your area (most will give you a free consultation)

5)decide what you are willing to invest in your ideas. If you write your own patent just the paperwork for filing will be close to $1000. If you go through a patent attorney you are looking at about to $10,000 or more

The major thing i can tell you document everything and keep it to your self.

once you are patent pending you need to decide if you are going to produce the products yourself (like AndyMark) or if you want to try and sell it off to a bigger company (like GM).

I am going to leave you with that. There are alot of resources online and in print for people who want to patent/ produce their goods, and only a fraction of the people are ever successful. Just be aware that things might not work out the first time but if you are committed to your idea then just never give up.

Firstly, determine if it’s actually valuable—be honest with yourself, and do some hunting around in publicly available patent documents, reference books, etc., to find examples of similar devices that might already exist. But do so discreetly, because if it were valuable, and you described it in public, you could hinder your chances to patent it—incidentally, that means not describing it for us in much detail. (This may be somewhat less of a problem in the U.S., with patents being assigned on a first-to-invent basis, rather than first-to-file, like the rest of the world. But it’s still bad practice to discuss an invention, because it instantly limits your options.)

If it really seems unique (and novel, and non-obvious, and useful) then you have one major option for protection: a patent, where you disclose the invention, in return for exclusive rights. (If you really wanted, you could protect it as a trade secret, but for most inventions of a macroscopic, mechanical nature, that’s tough to do, since if anyone reverse-engineers it, it’s fair game.) To patent it, you need money, and probably a lawyer (i.e. more money). So, once again, ask yourself, is it really worth it? The patent office will take your money, whether or not the invention is actually any good, so you need to be convinced that you’ve got something of value.

Make sure that you have as much documentation as possible. Date and sign documents as you produce them, and keep meticulous records (photos, receipts, journals, etc.). You’ll need that in case your patent is challenged.

To apply for a patent, consult with a patent attorney; your conversations with him are privileged and secure. If he takes your case, he will perform a more thorough patent search, to ensure that the invention is patentable. Assuming that that goes well, it will basically become a matter of describing the invention in broad terms, and submitting that in a patent application. The patent office will review it, likely require some clarifications and/or amendments, and will render a decision. If all goes well, you get the patent, and are in the clear for 17 years. (Other terms apply for international patents—15 years, I think.)

By this point, you’ll probably have spent between 3 and 20 thousand dollars on fees (to the USPTO and the lawyer). So your invention had better have the potential to make that back, quickly if possible. In fact, at some point, it may become more valuable as a patent (or provisional patent), rather than a product itself—consider that selling the rights to an invention to a company with the means to produce it can be just as profitable, especially if royalties are agreed upon.

If you can’t make a business case for selling out, then you can try to finance it yourself. But this sort of thing is notoriously high-risk; getting loans will be tough, and getting investors depends greatly on the product itself, and their opinion of it. Just for the sake of discussion, you might let us in on the expected saleability of the product (without describing the product itself), just so that we can take a crack at figuring out how much you’d need to sell to break even.

Here is a workbook from “The Inventors Bible” book which I purchased a while back.

This, and others like it, are a good resource. If you follow the books advice, it will help you look at your idea critically and constructively.

Everybody has had good advice, but here is one that should be a no-brainer… DO NOT CONTACT ONE OF THOSE INVENTION HOTLINES YOU SEE WHILE WATCHING JERRY SPRINGER AT 2:00 AM! Most of those invention hot lines are borderline scams. They will get a patent one way or another for you, but it will be useless.

Like said above, don’t call one of those “we’ll patent and market your invention” commercials on TV. They are bogus.

Do a patent search first. Think of all possible ways it could be described. If your idea is unique, put it on paper in as much detail as possible, and send it to yourself through the US Postal Service and do not open it when you get it. This proves you came up with the idea at latest the date of postmark if there is ever any dispute of who had the idea first.

Take a look around for some software applications that are made to help you write a patent. I’m sure there are many.

I agree with that, except for the word “borderline”.

Protecting your idea is only useful if it has considerable value. A patent for an AndyMark transmission is not worthwhile - not because they item isn’t good, but because they will sell maybe 800 per year at $330 = $260k - not all that much of it is profit, and even with a patent, someone could redesign it sufficiently to not infringe on the patent, but still have a 2-speed transmission suitable for a FIRST size robot.

In other words, unless it’s kind of earth-shattering unique, and has a large market potential (million$), just build them and sell them, it’s unlikely someone else will invest the effort to compete in a small market.

But, you also asked about a few other things - not just protecting your idea.

acquire funds, produce, market ,profit and protect

Funding: The most basic funding source is your own wallet. The next is friends, relatives and enighbors who might believe in you enough to invest a modest sum, for some share in the profits - this is essentially how a stock-issuing company works, but they are on a bigger scale. Or, you can get money from a venture capitalist - these are investment firms where they invest OPM (Other Peoples Money) in start-up businesses that they think will earn them money. These guys are sharks, and not easy to get money from, but they can be valuable management partners, too. Never offer debt, only equity! Learn what that means before getting OPM.

You will need a well-written business plan. Note that OPM can spot Bull Poop quite easily, so do your homework. See below about NDAs.

Production: Unless it’s something you can build yourself, you need to find someone to build it, or at least parts of it, for you. Let’s take AndyMark transmissions: At first, they might have a local machine shop do some of the work, and buy things that don’t need to be made. As money comes in, maybe they would buy a small CNC milling machine, and bring some of the production in-house (or garage, as it were). Eventually, they could do it all…or, they could do none of it, hiring a company (or several) to manufacture parts and/or assemble things for them. If your item is complex or difficult to build or even assmeble at home, or in a rented factory space, there are so-called “contract manufacturers” who will handle the whole thing for you - for a price.

Years ago, I made spare cash selling specialized electronic circuits and cables to Amateur Radio operators interested in digital networking via Radio. I designed the circuits myself, made some of the circuit boards at home, and contracted some out to a local company because they were a bit more complex. I found the cheapest suppliers with an acceptable quality level and bought the myriad parts, then soldered them up in my basement. After a while, I hired a local kid to do some soldering, paying him a flat rate of $10 per board. That was production.

Ahhh, Marketing, my favorite. How to tell people what you’ve got, and where to send the money. Note that Advertising is not Marketing - although advertising can be a part of a marketing plan. marketing has more to do with identifying your likely customers in general, then specifically, and finding a way to communicate with them.

With my Amateur Radio business, I bought a membership list from a large club of people interested in digital networking over radio - over 1000 names - made up a catalog and mailed one to each person. I also advertised in some Amateur Radio magazines, got some product reviews published, put out a flurry of product announcements…

Marketing is an art. Get one of your mentors or parents, who works at a larger company, and make an appointment to “shadow” someone in the marketing department for a day or two. If that person knows what they’re doing, they can teach you more in a day than I could write. Too bad you’re not near NJ, or we could sit down and talk.

Profit: That’s what’s left of all the money that comes in, after everyone’s been paid. Suppliers, mostly, because as a start-up they probably won’t extend credit. Don’t forget to pay the accountant and lawyer - you’ll need them more than they need you. Learn how to keep your own books, and do it the right way. Get product liability insurance, if there’s any remote way someone could hurt themselves with your product - even a book, or software, can hurt someone (not only if you throw it, either).

The Rest: If you start a real business, be sure to register with the town, county or state as necessary. Consider incorporating, it can be done cheaply. Plan on filing tax returns, also for sales tax in your state. Get ready to work for the most difficult boss you will ever have. Don’t do it alone, find a support group - long hours alone can get you at times. Pick a partner carefully, these things are less likely to work out than a marriage.

Of course, you can go big-time with something too. Let’s say you have the idea for, say FedEx - something wildly successful. Venture Capitalists will help you get off the ground, you can find manufacturers, hire markting firms, the whole bit. But OPM doesn’t come easily.

Buy a book on this stuff.

And, I agree - don’t tell anyone what you’re thinking, unless you trust them implicitly (like parents) or they have signed a NDA (Non-Disclosure Agreement - you lawyer can write one up for you)…

Oh, and Good Luck. Everyone should try the Entrepreneur thing at least once. It is very rewarding, even if usually not enriching.


this link is not accessible anymore. Can anyone help me find the Inventor’s Bible Workbook.

Thanks a lot

You can buy the Book

Although I would check elsewhere online rather than getting it directly from the publisher.

a couple of disagreements:

DON’T tell anyone anything!

there is no way you cant take an idea to a product all by yourself. You are going to have to discuss your idea with other people, many other people. Some, like a patent attorney, have an implied agreement of security. For others you can use a standard non-disclosure agreement. The bottom line is, if you are going to apply for a patent you must act like your idea is valuable to you. If you go around telling everyone your idea, and post it on the internet… then you have legally given your idea into public domain, and everyone is free to use it.

mail your idea to yourself in a letter…

There is no value to this whatsoever. A so called post office patent has zero value in court (during a patent dispute). There is no way you can prove an old envelope with a post mark has not been steamed open and the contents altered, or the postmark was not counterfeit.

The engineers notebook, with witnesses signatures and dates is the best evidence you will have. Those witnesses must be willing to appear in court if your claims are ever disputed. Obviously the people who sign your engineering notebook must have read and understood what it said, which goes against the ‘tell no one’ fallicy.

to save money write your own patent application

dont even bother to go down this path. A poorly written patent application will result in a worthless patent. You must hire a patent attorney - if your idea is worth investing in, the you must invest in these things.

From my experience the one question you have to ask yourself is: what problem does my invention solve? Is your invention the solution to a problem, or is it a solution in search of a problem?

Ive seen a lot a great ideas and new products over the years, things that you look at and say WOW! thats awesome! Thats clever! Thats something Ive never seen before! But do I pull out my wallet and buy one?

many times, no. If your invention does not meet some real need, solve some problem in a better way than anything else thats out there, then you will sell only a handfull to technology geeks, then your sales will drop to zero.

I’ve bought the Inventor’s Bible, but for some weird reason it has about 30 pages of workbook missing… And I can’t return it to store now.

Does anyone have the workbook pdf? Your help would be appreciated!

A poorly written patent application will result in a worthless patent. You must hire a patent attorney - if your idea is worth investing in, the you must invest in these things.

Agree, BUT read and challenge what the attorney writes. You will be bound by this application. Make sure it you and the attorney agree 100%. You are the expert on this invention, not the attorney. Most patent challenges come from inconsistencies and vagueness in the application.

Good Luck

absolutely. You are the expert on your invention and your patent lawyer is the expert on patent searches and patent applications and laws.

A good example, look at the sales receipt most people scribble on a piece of paper when they sell a used car - two sentances at most

and look at the paperwork you get / sign when you buy a car from a dealer!

The holy grail for an inventor is an orginal concept patent - when you are the first with a new idea, you get ownership of all possible implementations of that basic concept/invention - IF your patent is correctly written!

For example: Carlsons patent on Xeroxgraphy - using a charged surface that is altered by light to hold powered ink for the purpose of printing. His original patent was not for a copy machine, not for a printer, it was for all possible applications of that technology. His patent was bullet proof. Many companies sued Xerox for the right to (basically) steal his patent away, but Xerox prevailed for the entire life of the patent. It was literally worth billions of dollars!

the next step down is an implementation patent: when you find a specific way to improve a system or process. Using Xerox again, if you came up with a better way to feed paper into a scanner or a printer, you could get a patent on that part of the system. Then if Xerox wanted to use your new paper feed system on their copiers they would have to lease your patent rights from you - but you could not build copy machines using their patented technology. These types of patents are not as valuable, because a good engineer can always find another way to do the same thing, maybe not as good as your method, but a way that still gets the job done.

I know of one very good solution - if not for now, then for the future.

That is, when it’s time, consider coming to work for the U.S. Government. Under the Federal Technology Transfer Act, inventors receive a portion of the proceeds (royalties, etc.) Most all of the above would be done for you by the Intellectual Property office. Every research facility I know of has it’s own IP legal staff who’s number one job it is to see that their engineer’s ideas get patented and then transfered to the public sector.

So, in addition to excellent pay and job security (USA TACOM/TARDEC has been around for 50 years and has never laid off an engineer) you’d get the chance to make something extra and accelerate your promotion schedule.

If the DoD is not for you, the there’s NASA, or the EPA, or whatever area floats your boat. Something to consider. Don’t think it doesn’t happen - I’ve made a bunch from royalties, which put me on the fast-track at the same time.

Make sure your idea is worth it. I can’t find the article now, but a few years ago I read a good review of patent law that basically boiled down to this: “Don’t even think about patenting a Million Dollar Idea. It had better be worth a lot more than that to make it worth your while”

I don’t think I agree with the advice 100% but it is a good starting point.

There are a lot of reasons to patent something. Not all of them involve suing to enforce a patent.

  • You may want to patent in order to increase your value if you are purchased or go public.
  • You may want to have patents in order to make investors more comfortable with investing (they may think, “At least we can sell the patent rights if all else fails”).
  • You may want them to have some basis for a counter suit if you get sued.
  • You may want to generate doubt in the mind of your competitor as to what path they should take to avoid patent infringement (provisional patent applications are often used in this way – they are not published and they allow an applicant to claim whatever they want without review. They will almost certainly not get all they claim but it is uncertain as how much will be limited.)

Another great source of info (especially on software patents) is Paul Graham’s excellent essay, Are Software Patents Evil?

As to documentation, all you really need to reserver your priority date are witnessed signed sketches. You need to make sure that the sketches document the idea well and the the witnesses actually understand the idea (based on the drawing). There have been a number of famous patent cases were the priority date was lost based on the argument that the witnesses could not have truly understood what they were witnessing. Keep that it mind.

If the idea has international application, you have other issues to worry about. The US is “First to Invent.” Almost the entire world is “First to File.” You need to keep this in mind for priority dates for international patents. You also have a 1 year clock to worry about. Once you have show the idea to an outside person or offered the idea for sale to customer (NDA’s complicate this process – talk to a lawyer), you have 1 year to file or you loose your ability to file at all.

I wish you all the best with your idea.

Joe J.

A couple notes on items others missed.

If you plan on filing a Paris Convention international patent realize that you have a limited window after filing for a US patent to do so, otherwise your US patent application can be used against you as prior art. Unlike the US the rest of the world uses a strict novelty system for patents meaning that once any info about the patent is published it is no longer patentable. In the US you have a 6 month window that starts from the date of publication.

Make sure a patent is the correct type of protection for your idea. Sometimes keeping it a trade secret is better. Patents are required to include enough detail that one reasonably familier with the field can duplicate the invention with the given data. This makes it easier for some one to reverse engineer your idea. Filing is getting a limited term of protection from the government for putting your work in the public domain for others to later use.

Where others say beware of being too vague, being to specific can be as bad or worse. One example being my company has aquired patents on the use of commercial products that the manufacturers did not think of. We therefore have protection from any one else using these products to compete against us. (I apologize for being inspecific but for business purposes I have to be vague.)


this sounds very fishy! how can you possibly get a patent on a system that someone else has designed and produces? If they are selling it, and they did not patent it, then it is public domain.

If I buy something I am free to use it for any purpose I want. Nobody can tell me I can not use a screwdriver to open paint cans, because they patented opening paint cans with screwdrivers, and I have to buy my screwdrivers from them if I ever intend to open a paint can with it.

That is nonsense!

thats not how patents work. You patent the design, the system… not all possible uses it may be put to.

It sounds like some patent lawyer has taken your company for a ride! :ahh:

We patented a non-obvious use of a chemical product that the company who created it did not know exists. Using a chemcal in a process is a patentable subject and therefore we have blocked anyone else from using it for our application. The inventor of the chemical product still has all the rights to use it traditional methods. We have no right to make or manufacture the product. We can hawever purchase and use the product in our way and prevent anyone else from doing so. This is a perfectly legal and common type of patent similar to the improvement patent where you improve on an existing patent and the original patent holder if it is not you can not use your improvement.

but you have not improve the existing product, you have not changed it at all. Its exactly the same as what they are selling on the open market.

I dont think your patent will hold up to a court challenge.

The patent is on the use not the product (edit: aka process patent). These types of patents for non-obvious uses of something that exist are a very common type of patent. If I gave you the specifics you would immediatly understand what I’m talking about, but for IP reasons I’m intentionally being vague.