"Anything that won't sell, I don't want to invent." - Thomas Edison
I do not quite agree with Thomas Edison on this point, there are many things worth inventing that fall outside of commercial concerns. However, this series of lessons deals with making money from your ideas and all inventors need to realize that only a very small percentage of patents make money.
Patenting an invention costs money, even if you take the risk and patent it yourself without hiring a professional. Before you go to the expense of patenting your invention you need to find out if your invention has a reasonable chance of making money by doing what is called an invention assessment or market evaluation.
What is a Invention AssessmentIn summary, an invention assessment is a form of market research. An assessment determines the following:
- If anyone would buy your product.
- How big is your potential market.
- If it can be made at the right price.
- Will it still be a desirable product by the time it receives a patent.
- Will it be a desirable product long enough to make sufficient money.
- What the marketing costs would be and how to sell it.
- If there is already too much competition.
Professional Invention Evaluation and AssessmentAn invention assessment is one step you should never skip and the money you spend on one could save you time and money in the end. In the sidebar, you will find a few professional choices with modest prices. Remember, companies that also offer development or marketing services have a potential conflict of interest. Why would a company tell you your product will not sell if that information might stop you from buying more services from them including: patenting, manufacturing, or marketing.
No Budget MiraclesHowever, for those of you on a non-budget who cannot afford a professional assessment below are a few suggestions for finding a possible lower-cost or free assessment or sources that could add to a self-assessment.
- Local college or University - check the school of business or school entrepreneurial groups - perhaps professors would be willing to have their students work on your project for extra credit.
- Local retired business executives - Score.org.
- The Small Business Administration or local government agencies may be able to provide advice and contacts.
- Check with local inventors clubs.
- Check with local distributors of products similar to your invention.
- Use caution when dealing with invention submission companies.
- Read our article Invention Assessment and Marketability Evaluation that includes self evaluation questions.
Non-Disclosure AgreementsRemember one cardinal rule - if you do not have any intellectual property protection for your product any person/company who would assess your product must sign a non-disclosure agreement with you first. Moreover, remember that any public disclosure of your product sets off a time limit on how long you have before you must file for a patent - remember that condition of novelty.
You can research your product by talking about it in general terms, "What is the market for a phone that takes pictures?" You can also safely discuss your product with someone who has signed a confidentiality or non-disclosure agreement with you first. Use confidentiality agreements only with essential service providers and be very selective. If you have already filed for or have a patent or provisional patent - confidentiality agreements are no longer needed.
Avoid Conflicts of InterestAnother cardinal rule to consider is that you should not hire the same firm to do the assessment that wants to file your patent. It is doubtful that such a company could give you an honest assessment if they also want to make money from their filing, marketing, or other services. A negative assessment means that you should work on a new idea and not spend more money on a bad idea.
After you have decided that you can get a patent for your invention and that would be worth it to do so, you now need to know how to apply for a patent. However, some inventors will try to market or sell their invention before patenting it, more about that in later lessons.