Small Business: Getting an invention to market
Commercializing an invention is the dream of many.
Unfortunately, most inventions never make it to market.
Getting yours into the hands of consumers isn't impossible but it does take a lot of planning and perseverance, experts say.
"Less than 10 percent of inventions get commercialized," said Jack Lander, founder of Inventor Mentor, a Southbury, Conn., invention-consulting firm. "People come up with ideas and think they've got something and they don't."
As the most basic step, you need to make sure there isn't already an existing patent on your invention. You also can do an Amazon or Google search to see what's already out there.
"If I see the exact same thing I don't waste anymore time on it," said Linda Pollock, a Plymouth, Minn., inventing coach. If she sees similar products, she asks if her products are better or have enough of a difference.
Getting a start: If you decide to move forward, you need to start pitching your product to companies: either retailers or potential licensees that might manufacture and distribute it. You also could manufacture the item yourself.
You could hire an invention-marketing firm to help you, but it can be more cost-effective to try knocking on doors yourself, because these firms can run an inventor several thousand dollars and may or may not generate results. Also, you must be cautious, and carefully research who you select so you are not subject to any scams.
To find out where a product might fit, go into stores and look for items that would fall into your category of product, said Brian Fried, a Melville inventor and founder of the Inventors and Entrepreneurs Clubs of Nassau and Suffolk counties.
Check those products' websites to see if they have an area for new product submissions, said Fried. If not, you'll have to call them.
When you call, try to reach a company operator or customer service representative to ask for the person who handles sales for your type of product. If they can't help, ask for someone in marketing, since they're familiar with what customers are buying or not buying, said Pollock.
If you get someone on the phone, don't go into a long-winded story about your invention, she said. Prepare a benefit statement -- one sentence that quickly explains the benefit of your product and why they should care -- and ask to email them more information, said Pollock.
You will also need a sell sheet, which is generally one page and shows and describes your product, she said. It generally consists of a tagline defining the product and highlighting its main benefit; a product photo; a bulleted list of additional benefits; user testimonials; possibly feature details; and your contact information, said Lander. You also should be able to explain how the product will generate sales.
Pitching with patience: Pitching your product can be a long process, so you need patience, as inventors Meghan Musgnug of Huntington Station and Liz Teich of Brooklyn discovered.
In 2001, the duo invented a bagel scooper to scoop the excess dough out of bagels. It took about six years to go through the patenting process and then a few years of knocking on doors before they tapped Fried last year to help them market their product to a licensee.
"It's hard to do it with a full-time career," said Musgnug, 29, a middle school teacher. Teich, 29, is a fashion stylist.
With Fried's help, they recently secured a licensing deal and hope to have their patented bagel scooper in large national retailers by end of 2013.
Want to avoid a scam? Here are some questions to ask a promotion, marketing or licensing firm:
Total number of inventions they've evaluated for commercial potential in the past five years? Of those, how many were accepted and how many were rejected?
Total number of customers who have reaped a net financial profit as a result of the company's services? What is their success rate over the past five years (those who made more money from their invention than they paid in fees)?
Has the company ever been investigated by or been in trouble with the Federal Trade Commission, Better Business Bureau, a consumer protection agency or Attorney General's Office? If so, when and where?
Ask for names, addresses and phone numbers of five of the company's clients within your geographical area and copies of all contracts and forms to review before inking a deal or doling out any money.
Is there an upfront fee? If yes, how much and what are you getting for it? Reputable firms make their real money from successful royalty arrangements and have relatively small upfront or other fees.
Source: U.S. Patent and Trademark Office
In general, a product must have the potential to generate at least a 5 percent increase in a company's net profit to attract their interest, based on average royalty rates. That can fluctuate depending on the amount of royalties a company must pay an inventor.
Source: Jack Lander, Inventor-Mentor.com