The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office received a record 285,096 patent applications in fiscal year 2014. However, 95 percent of these patents will fail to be licensed or commercialized, and 97 percent will generate no royalties, according to patent law professor Samson Vermont.
Getting past the prototype stage is a big challenge for the vast majority of inventors. That being said, here are some tips for getting past the hurdles and turning your prototype into a marketable, salable product.
Develop a Product that Solves a Widespread Problem
Ron Popeil, inventor of the infomercial, is one of the most commercially successful inventors in American history. His most recent invention, the Showtime Rotisserie, earned about $1 billion in sales. In his book “Salesman of the Century,” Popeil lays out his formula for developing and marketing successful products. He begins by following two simple rules: the product must be needed by a lot of people and the product must solve a problem.
Make sure your product is designed with these principles in mind. Use market research to identify who your market is, and verbalize what your product will do for them. If you already have an existing product, think about new uses that appeal to large groups of people by solving specific problems.
Test Market Your Product
After developing your product, you need to make sure that it works and that people really want it. To do this, Popeil recommends test-marketing your product. He suggests first testing it among family, friends and co-workers. Pick a couple friends who don’t stand to gain from your invention so they can serve as witnesses to document your invention. If you want extra protection of your intellectual property, have them sign non-disclosure agreements. After doing this, write a 60-second speech known as an “elevator pitch” to help you pitch your idea and get your family and friends’ reactions.
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Prototype and Patent
After you have some positive feedback, it’s time to start working on building a prototype and getting it patented. If you want to do your own patent search to save money, start online. If you don’t find an already-patented product, go to the USPTO’s website to find the nearest Patent and Trademark Depository Library, where you can continue your search. Some other options are to use a university resource or to pay for a patent search.
To get your idea patented, you need to develop a prototype. Estimate your production cost by looking up the costs of products constructed from similar materials or getting a manufacturer’s quote. Then, design a simplified version for a prototype. Start by drafting it on paper or in a computer drawing program. If design isn’t your strong point, Popeil suggests contracting help. For instance, o-ring manufacturer Apple Rubber specializes in designing customized seals using various sizes and materials, so they are a good resource for this type of design.
Once you have a working prototype, introduce it to a patent attorney at a consultation-only rate. After you file a Provisional Application for Patent, you should sell a few of your products to do some more test marketing.
Package, Price and Distribution: Getting Your Invention to Market
At this point, you’re ready to start packaging, pricing and distributing your product. For profitability, your price should be at least four times your cost of goods. You may want to sell your product at fairs to establish a track record and you can also create a website and build a mailing list to generate some initial sales. Use a YouTube video and social media posts to drive traffic to your site. Scale your advertising up as sales increase by devoting a percentage of your profits to marketing.
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