Although most ideas do not make money for the inventor and drain the resources of the inventor in terms of both time and money, the tips below will help you to discard the mediocre ideas and protect and pursue the more promising inventions.
Tip #1 to protect your idea: 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 understand the market so much better. If you don’t have the expertise, that is fine. Partner up with someone who does. You will be better able to identify and protect the more promising ideas.
Tip #2 to protect your idea: Set aside enough funds
One of the saddest things that I see inventors do is start the process of protecting their idea without enough funds to get through to patent pending and hopefully to the patented stage. 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 to protect their idea because they have run out of money and eventually abandon the project.
Related article: Patent costs
Tip #3 to protect your idea: 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 on your invention. It is a plan of how you are going to monetize your invention and justify the expenses to protect 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.
Related book: Business plan template and example
Tip #4 to protect your idea: 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 your own free patent search. Pay for a formal novelty search with a patent attorney after you have done some free searching on your own. In this way, you can spend more money to protect your idea when needed.
|Benefits of a patent search|
|Basics of a DIY patent search|
|Conducting a patent search|
|Overview of how to conduct a DIY patent search|
|Patent searching websites|
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.
Some patent search companies include:
For more information about patent searches, please see my article on the patent process.
Tip #5 to protect your idea: 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.
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 which 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.
Related article: 4 Basic Agreements
Tip #6 to protect your idea: Build a prototype
For some inventions, a prototype should be built. The prototype will help you to understand what parts of the invention to protect. 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 it. 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 to protect your idea: Domain names and Websites
Protect a part of the world wide web by registering your domain name. 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: Domain name registrar
Register copyrights for unique content and images on your website. Each application is only $55 if you do it yourself on the www.copyright.gov website.
Related links for websites:
Tip #8 to protect your idea: Trademarks and company names
Don’t forget to protect your trademark. The following explains how to structure your naming structure between your company name and your preferred trademark.
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 what the relationship between the first and second brands are. 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.
Related links: DIY Trademark application
I’m available to help with any of the steps above, or if you have any questions regarding your invention. Please schedule your initial consultation.