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Running Your Business:
Is There A Roadmap for Inventors?

So, you've got an idea for a new restaurant or cooking tool? Congratulations, you're an inventor. Thinking up an invention is actually the easy part. The hard part is figuring out what to do next.

There are an infinite number of paths for inventors to choose from - including doing nothing with your idea. Whether you want to apply for a patent, keep working on it yourself or hire a company that works with inventors - there's really no single 'right way' to pursue your idea.

If you do decide to pursue your idea, here's an important reality check: financial gain from an invention is definitely the exception, not the rule. Working on a new product is a difficult and uncertain process, with little likelihood of success or profit. An inventor can typically spend years pursuing an idea only to have it fizzle. Some inventors are thrilled to get a patent and decide to go no further. And others just like coming up with new ideas. So why pursue it?

Inventors come from all walks of life. Many invent because they've thought of a solution to an everyday problem. In fact, more than 90% of all patents granted today are for improvements on existing ideas. Look at all the advances in the restaurant industry in recent years - from carb-conscious healthy menus to the technological advances in the kitchen. Each new kitchen tool or piece of cooking equipment could be considered an invention. Many inventors work in a service-related industry - be it nursing or especially restaurant industry professionals - and invent to solve a problem at work. Other inventors may have dreamed about an invention. Some inventors claim they have been inspired by a higher power. Universities and large corporations often have research and development departments devoted to inventing.

But, why do some ideas succeed and others don't? If you remember the Pet Rock, the Slinky and Slime - you'll quickly see that there really is no answer to that question. Timing and luck are factors as well. If you decide to pursue you invention ask yourself whether you have that strong belief in your idea and make sure you understand that there are no guarantees. Then, identify what type of inventor you are. Most inventors can be categorized into two groups: the "Inventor/Entrepreneur" and the "Novice Inventor"

The Inventor/Entrepreneur

While every inventor believes in his or her idea, some inventors also want to direct and oversee every step. These inventors may choose to work from idea to manufacture pretty much on their own. The Inventor/Entrepreneur probably plans to learn all about patenting, manufacturing, packaging, marketing, and shipping - to name a few of the steps.

It takes a great deal of time to pursue any single aspect of these processes. It can also take a great deal of money, especially if the inventor decides to do the manufacturing himself or herself. Going from idea to manufacture is not cheap - and there's no guarantee it will sell even if you do manufacture your invention. In fact most of all new product introductions fail. This is where the entrepreneurial spirit comes in. Entrepreneurs understand that failure is a possible outcome and may sometimes even go on to another venture after a failure.

The Inventor/Entrepreneur wants to be more than the idea person, however. For example, suppose you've invented a new type of splatter-free saucepan that helps keep the kitchen and stovetop clean while preparing a meal.

One of the first decisions you may want to make - do you want to try to patent your invention? Coca-Cola Corporation has never patented its soft drink recipe because if it did, the recipe would be available to the public. According to the United States Patent and Trademark Office, if you are granted a patent, 'What is granted is not the right to make, use, offer for sale, sell or import, but the right to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, selling or importing the invention."

If you are an Inventor/Entrepreneur, you may want to manufacture the invention yourself. Some of the steps you'd need to take to manufacture your splatter-free saucepan could include finding resources for the raw materials. You'd also need to find a way to manufacture it. Then you'd need to package it and try to sell it to restaurants. Then there's advertising your invention so people know about it. All of these steps take money and time. You'd also need to be familiar with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's regulations governing restaurant industry standards. [http://www.fda.gov] The FDA website has an entire set of guidelines. It's a lot to learn - and do.

Very few people have all of the skills required to be a creative inventor, technical manufacturer, marketer and businessperson, though there are certainly exceptions. Some inventors who have become synonymous with their inventions/product lines include H.J. Heinz, Milton Hershey, Dave Thomas and Wolfgang Puck.

Again, it is very important to remember that the chances of achieving commercial success with any new product are very slim. But - entrepreneurs by nature have a mindset of 'try try again.'

The "Novice Inventor"

The Novice Inventor also believes in his or her idea but maybe isn't sure where to start. This inventor may think 'I'd like to pursue my idea but I don't want to give up my day-job/my family life/my life-savings to do it.' Novice Inventors may have limited time and resources and may prefer to hire an inventor service provider to work on their behalf.

There are thousands of providers that offer services to inventors. Among these would be patent attorneys and agents, prototype and model makers, inventors clubs and organizations and invention submission companies. For more advanced inventors, professional services might also include marketing consultants or designers, advertising and public relations professionals. Only you can decide which of these options [and you may choose more than one] might be right for you.

If you are a novice inventor who's not sure where to begin - working with an invention submission company can be a good option because there is a clear set of services to be performed, a finite cost to the service and a specific term of contract. Types of services 'invention submission' companies may offer include patent referral services, promotional services or invention submission to industry - basically attempting to submit your invention to companies who might be interested in reviewing it. Any inventor service company you explore should provide you with a complete explanation of services and costs right up front. An honest company will also be forthright about the chances for success - which you already know are very slim!

Why would an inventor choose to work with an invention submission company? For the same reasons consumers buy any service: convenience and cost. For example, in order to purchase services comparable to those offered by Invention Submission Corporation [ISC], a Pittsburgh firm, an inventor would have to: obtain general information and conduct research, hire a graphic illustrator, write text for materials and have them printed, pay for mailings, develop a data base of companies to which ideas could be submitted, purchase booths at industry tradeshows to make general contacts, develop a list of publications, hire a publicist to create materials for the media, and employ a marketing manager and a patent attorney.

These services purchased individually by an inventor acting alone would cost several times more than Invention Submission Corporation's fees. In fact, many inventors could pay more for the services of a patent attorney alone than for an entire package of Invention Submission Corporation services.

If you do decide to work with an inventor service firm, do your homework and make sure you understand what you're purchasing and when each step of the process will be performed. Working with an invention submission company can give an inventor the opportunity to try and submit their idea to industry in the hope of gaining a good faith review. It can be a good introduction to the world of pursuing your new product idea. At the end of your contract you may decide to stop pursuing your idea - or keep going. But hopefully you've learned enough to make an informed decision.

If you talk to any inventor, or anyone who works with inventors, they will tell you it is a high risk expenditure.

What Else is Out There for Aspiring Inventors?

There are other resources available for independent inventors. One way for an inventor to learn is to network with other inventors who can share information, contacts and experiences with you. Places to find inventors to network include inventors clubs, tradeshows and online inventor chat groups. Invention tradeshows such as the Invention New Product Exposition (www.inventionshow.com) can give an inventor a chance to network and learn. This tradeshow offers educational seminars for inventors in addition to the chance to display and demonstrate your invention. Tradeshows in your specific industry can also offer the opportunity to meet and speak with inventors and entrepreneurs.

Subscribe to inventor newsletters - you can find two different newsletters related to inventing at www.inventhelp.com and at www.about.com (search invention).

So What's Stopping You?

Whether you're a basement (or restaurant) tinkerer or an aspiring entrepreneur here are things to keep in mind.

1. Inventing is often said to be 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration. The idea is the easy part. Deciding what to do next and then doing it is hard.

2. Do some research related to your invention to make sure no one else has already invented it. It is impossible to know for sure whether your idea is on the market somewhere else or is in the process of being patented. But no one else can do it for you.

3. If you decide to pursue your idea, research options that are available and select those which best suit you. Learn all you can and listen to feedback.

4. Success with any new product idea is the exception not the rule. It's a hard reality but it is reality. Most inventions never go anywhere or see any kind of financial gain.

5. Most of all - enjoy the process of pursuing your invention idea. Learn from it. Enjoy the journey and take satisfaction in knowing you're one of those who tried.




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