I’ve developed 8 tips based on my discussions with thousands of inventors. The tips below will help you to:
- Protect your ideas and inventions
- Identify the money-making ideas
- Save money
- Discard mediocre ideas and identify more promising inventions
Tip #1: Invent in your own area of expertise or hire someone who does have it
Inventors that start a business in their area of expertise, in my experience, have been more successful than those that have not. Experience brings clarity to understanding the market so much better. If you don’t have the expertise, that is fine. Partner up with someone who does.
Tip #2: Set aside enough funds
One of the saddest things that I see inventors do is start the patent process without enough funds to get through to patent pending. These inventors bootstrap the costs but things inevitably do not work out the way that they expect or plan. They cannot go to the next step because they have run out of money and eventually abandon the project.
Read more about patent costs.
Tip #3: Write up a one-page business plan
A business plan is basically a checklist of items that you need to consider before you invest a lot of time and money in your invention. If you cannot show that you will make money on paper, then you won’t have any chance of making money on your product in the real world. The business plan basically helps you to understand manufacturing costs, distribution channels, marketing costs, and the time required to implement your plan.
An alternative to a business plan is a business model canvas which is a shorter document but will help you to map existing business models,
Tip #4: Conduct your own informal novelty search
If you are a startup and you are personally funding the costs to launch your product, then you will want to start by conducting a do-it-yourself patent search. You can use the database at www.freepatentsonline.com to perform the steps outlined in the link above.
If you find knock-out prior art, then great. You saved yourself time and money. You don’t have to spend your time building a business around your idea. You don’t have to spend money for the novelty search by a patent attorney and all of the expenses associated with starting a business.
After you conducted a DIY patent search, hire a patent attorney to conduct a formal patent search for you. Novelty searches come in all shapes and sizes. Have the patent attorney conduct a class, subclass search.
You can also hire a patent search company to do the basic patent searching steps. However, you will have to tell them the unique aspect of your invention. Otherwise, they may be looking for the wrong references. Also, they won’t interpret the references for you—that would be the unauthorized practice of law.
Here is the patent search company that I use. Remember to ask for a $50 discount by mentioning James Yang.
For more information about patent searches, please see my article on the patent process.
- What is a patent search and How to do it?
- Patent Fundamentals: 7 Core Concepts and DIY Patent Searching
Tip #5: Get basic confidentiality and IP agreements
When you are starting your patent process, two basic agreements will help you to protect yourself before you get patent pending status: a confidentiality agreement and an independent contractor’s agreement. You can find my copies of these agreements here: Basic Agreements
A confidentiality agreement will allow you to disclose your invention to others for the purposes of pitching your idea to investors, seeking licensees or buyers of your invention. The other party will be required to keep your invention secret.
An independent contractor’s agreement will let you own all of the intellectual property that the independent contractor creates for you. Independent contractors include engineers, graphic artists, and content creators.
Engineers are those that draw up designs and figure out how to best implement your invention. The drawings are protectable by copyright. The design itself may be protected by patents.
Graphic artists create your brand design visually. They will need to create an aesthetic design language for your product and website, including creating your logo which has a copyright that you need to own.
Content creators are those that create the sales pitch for your website and brochures. These are protectable by copyright, which you will need to secure if you don’t want someone else stealing your content.
Here is a list of articles relating to issues relating to getting the right types of agreements: Issues relating to protection your idea with agreements.
Tip #6: Build a prototype
For some inventions, a prototype should be built. The prototype will help you to understand the invention better. It will also help to troubleshoot the product. Oftentimes, the invention as an idea works great. However, after building the prototype, the product might not work as well as you thought. That is a good thing. All of the additional engineering and design that you put into your product to overcome those deficiencies could be an invention.
Prototypes could be built in many different ways. Inventors have come into the office with wood chiseled products, steel bars welded together, and even folded cardboard boxes. They may not look elegant but for me, I love them. It shows that the inventor had enough wherewithal to think through the issues and get the prototype built.
For the purposes of the patent application, all that I would like to see is a proof of concept. It helps me to physically see the product so that I get a feel for the invention.
Tip #7: Domain names and Websites
Register your primary domain names before filing for trademark protection. You don’t want to spend the money and time to secure a trademark registration only to find out that the domain name that you want is not available and you now have to switch to a new mark.
Related links: Godaddy.com (Domain name registrar)
Get a fast website hosting solution: Siteground Go Geek Plan under WordPress Hosting.
Use a theme that has a child theme. The parent is updated regularly for security fixes. The child theme will hold all of the design elements. When an update happens to your theme, then you don’t have to redo the design.
Tip #8: Trademarks and company names
If this is your first invention, then the natural tendency is to come up with a product name and to use that same name as your company name. However, that would not be optimal. The problem occurs when you invent a second product. When you go through the naming process for the second product, then customers might get confused as to what you are trying to do. They will wonder about the relationship between the first and second brands. The better approach might be to use a generic name for the company name but then to use different and unique trademarks for each of the product names/brands to eliminate any confusion.
Customers don’t need to know your company name. They just need to know the brand name for your product.
If you want to file a trademark application on your own, you can do so at the Apply Online page of the United States Patent and Trademark Office website.
I invite you to contact me with your patent questions at (949) 433-0900. Please feel free to forward this article to your friends. As an Orange County Patent Attorney, I serve Orange County, Irvine, Los Angeles, San Diego, and surrounding cities.