Once I had this friend of mine that came in to stay with me from out of town. I never really understood this guy, as he had quite a bit of money, but whenever the traveled, he would stay at friends’ houses. You’d think a guy like that could afford hotels. I know that I much prefer staying at hotels than with friends, but that’s just me. You never know when you are going to get yelled at for raiding the fridge in the middle of the night. At least at a hotel, you know the price of everything on the inside.
The reason this guy was in town was that he was at this inventor’s convention. It was a convention for people that were struggling with getting their inventions the patent stage and into the production stage. Most people think that getting a patent is a great milestone, but it’s not really that complicated. All you have to do is prove that it’s a new idea, and you were the one that thought of it. It depends on the country, but usually showing something written down in a notebook is sufficient to show originality of an idea.
And the kind of originality is pretty staggering, and not in the way you’d expect. If all bicycles happen to be made with a certain metal in the chain, and you come up with an idea for a new chain with a unique metal, then that is enough to warrant a patent. I used to work for this biomedical engineering company, and the smallest changes in plastic molded parts that warranted their own patent was mind-boggling. Before, I though that getting a patent was some kind of genius level milestone. But if you can change the angle slightly on a barbed connector for medical tubing and get a patent for it, there can’t be much to it.
Some companies use patents strictly for marketing purposes. They get as many patents as they can, useless as they may be, just so they can use them in their marketing literature. Product X has seventeen patented parts that you won’t find anyplace else.
There’s even companies that have a business model of creating ideas, and filing patents for simple household items, and then doing nothing except to wait for another company to independently come up with the idea, and start selling the product. Then the original company simply has to show that it was there idea, sue them, and forever collect a percentage of the profits.
It would seem that there is more to it than simply building a better mousetrap and waiting for he world to beat a path to your door. I suppose if the world you happened to live in was infested with disease carrying mice that ate your eyeballs while you slept, and your particular idea for a mousetrap would guarantee a mouse free house with little cost, then maybe you might have something. But when you come up with a patent for the new design for that little plastic thing that goes on the end of your shoelaces, then you’ve got some marketing work ahead of you.
Which was basically the gist of the seminar my freeloading friend was going to. It was primarily for people that came up with patents that they thought were marketable enough to invest some time and money in, but hadn’t picked up any kind of corporate sponsorship. Even if you come up with the greatest idea since sliced bread, you’ve still got to figure out a way to market it and manufacture it on a large scale.
If you have a product that is very similar to other products, and it is an improved version, like a bicycle tire that will never go flat, then it may be a little easier to sell. All you’d need to do is create some fliers, mass mail them to bike shops, bicycle manufacturers, etc, and hope they buy enough of your product to make it worthwhile. If you can get enough pre orders to pay for your production, so much the better.
But if you come up with a new environmentally friendly way to cook bacon, you’ve got your work cut out for you.
My friend has been doing this for quite a while, and he does pretty well. He has about twenty patents, three of which were picked up by large manufacturers. Two of them he got paid a nice lump sum, and the other one he got a really good deal where he gets a certain percentage of every sale. This of course gives him plenty of motivation to keep thinking and trying to figure out how to come up with new ideas.
He said that the hardest part is the time when he has an idea, that he is sure will eventually make money, but he’s been working on it for a while, and poured in a significant amount of time and money, and hasn’t seen anything yet for his efforts. He said that all three of his big money makers were like this. He had a great idea, asked a few of his friends, and asked a few people in the particular industry he was targeting, and they all enthusiastically agreed that he had a winner. But each one took more than a year of effort, and lot of time, money, and many, many rejections.
But he said that once he gets one that works, and a company either buys it outright, or pays him per sale, it’s all worth it. He said that is the biggest cause for failure among all the other inventors he meets at these conventions. They all have great ideas, but they give up way to easily, and way to quickly. If they would only try a few more weeks, or even days, they might get a break that would make all the difference. But he said that most people still believe in that old mousetrap myth. They think just because they have an idea, somehow the population at large should get some telepathic message from the gods, and each send them a dollar or something. They don’t understand that coming up with a good idea is not good enough. You’ve got to come up with a good idea, and then convince everybody else that it’s a good idea.
I asked him how he was able to push through those early days when all he had was an idea, and no money, and he said it was his imagination that pulled him through. He would imagine himself in the future, already successful, and looking back on his tough startup times with fondness. He created a vision of the future, and focused on it above all else, and never let anything distract him.
Maybe that’s why he likes staying at his friends’ houses instead of hotels, because it keeps him grounded or something. Because he is as creative and energetic as ever. Every time he visits, he talks about his new ideas as if they are his first one, and he is as hungry as ever. You would never know by this guys clothes that he’s worth several million dollars, but I guess that’s what it takes to keep pushing ahead.
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