Thursday, July 8, 2010

Will My Invention Sell? Find Out If It Will Sell Before Spending Money On a Patent

Will my invention be successful in the market place? That is a question every inventor should ask and answer before expending time and money on that great new idea. Bringing a new product to market is an inherently risky venture. Over 90% of all patented new inventions never make it to the marketplace.

There are many factors to consider when determining the commercial marketability of the product including manufacturing costs, methods of distribution, consumer awareness, legal and safety questions, liability insurance, and more.

I once had an invention call the Trim Trak. It would easily strip off the perforated margins on tractor-feed printers in the early days of computer printers. It was a simple part and we felt offering a lifetime warranty was a great idea. It made our liability insurance soar since we might end up replacing vast numbers of them.

If you have a new toy, you will probably need to meet a number of government mandated rules for toy safety. If you have an electrical or plumbing product or one that involves drinking water you will need to have a listing from an approved lab such as UL, ETL, BOCA, NSF, IAPMO etc. Getting a code listing can cost thousands of dollars and will be an ongoing expense.

I’m just beginning to market an invention I’ve been working on for some time, a selective asparagus harvester. The machine uses lasers to detect the spears of asparagus. The lasers are less than 5 milliwatts which is totally safe. In theory you could stare directly into the beam for over an hour without any harm, but I guarantee you wouldn’t look into the beam for long enough to blink…it’s much brighter than the sun.

If I sell the machines I will have to provide the federal government with the customers names that I sell them too because the machine has Class III lasers and requires government notification.

I helped a friend of mine invent an electronic handle for the valves on oxygen, acetylene, propane and other gas cylinders. When you turned on the gas valve the handle would beep once a minute. It reminded you to turn off the valve before you go home at night. I t would save customers a lot of money since the tanks are often empty by morning. The gas supply companies that sell that kind of refused to handle it because they would lose all those gas sales.

Does your invention have a unique selling proposition? In other words does it have something special that makes it stand out over the crowd? Is it less expensive than the existing products? Does it do its job faster? Perhaps it lasts longer, weighs less, is more accurate or makes less noise than its competitors. A unique selling proposition can make it much easier to successfully market your product.

Can it be manufactured economically enough to make it marketable? What quantities will you need to make at one time to take advantage of economies of scale? Will the product need expensive tooling? Will it require a skilled labor force to manufacture it? Can all or part of it be out sourced? Would it be a candidate for overseas manufacturing? Does the manufacturing result in hazardous waste products?

If the product or device is of a technical nature will it need a repair service and warranty replacement program? How will you handle returns? What about product liability insurance?

Does your invention provide a convenience for the customers? Human beings love convenience. Look how quickly society latched onto microwave ovens, cell phones, and GPS devices.

I was involved with manufacturing and marketing an energy saving device that could cut your energy usage for heating water by as much as 40% called a "hot water saver". We worked trade shows with the device and got a lot of feedback from the attendees. They didn’t care if they saved energy. What they nearly always expressed a desire for was a way to get their hot water faster. They did not like waiting for it. As a result we invented the Metlund Hot Water Demand system and the Chilipepper hot water demand systems. It pays to listen to your customers.

Packaging is yet another important consideration. Packaging can make or break a new product. If the new product is in a brown box on the back of a shelf no one will notice it. You want packaging that sells as well as protects the product.

For many types of new inventions you will need a prototype for several reasons. With a prototype you can use focus groups and do much better marketing research. People generally don’t have a good imagination… they usually need the real thing do give you a realistic evaluation.

A prototype may also alert you to potential manufacturing problems and give you a better feel for putting together pricing. Building a prototype often results in further refinements and can thus affect your patent application.

In a number of instances I used prototype inventions for test marketing. I would make up a few dozen of something and find a local retailer who would be willing to share some shelf space temporarily for test marketing.

Don’t forget about the one year rule. If in your market research you disclose to the public the details of your invention you must file for your patent within one year and will most likely lose all or most of your foreign patent rights. Use non-disclosure forms whenever possible.

In summary, figure out all of the advantages and disadvantages of your invention idea and try to find a unique selling proposition if you can. Make sure that can be manufactured and at a reasonable cost. Build a prototype if applicable and do your marketing research utilizing focus groups, test marketing, compare it with other products it will compete with.

Obtain some books on the subjects of patents, new products, marketing and the like. I highly recommend a book titled: “Patent It Yourself” by David Pressman. It goes into quite a bit of detail about everything from trademarks to writing patent claims. It’s a must read for any aspiring inventor.

Happy inventing and patenting!