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  • Writer's pictureLaw Office of Gerald R Prettyman

Got A Bright Idea? Want to protect and develop the idea?

Got A Bright Idea? Want to protect and develop the idea? Here is some preliminary information.

Part I. Cautionary Statements

1. Ideas are not protectable. You may be able to protect the registered use of a tangible idea, but not ideas. Never send an unsolicited idea to a company. Patents protect eligible patented (registered) inventions. Trademarks protect registered brands. Copyright protects a select set of creative registered ideas. Companies tend to return letters of unsolicited information, but that is only to avoid the hassle of lawsuits. Many companies have successfully used unsolicited information and even changed ideas from other people. SpongeBob Squarepants started from an idea of a Sponge named Bob.

2. Selling ideas is rarely profitable. Avoid these mistakes.

A. Invention promoters: Less than 1% of people earn back the money they spent. Glossy brochures look good, but the promoters do little more than send letters to companies.

B. Licensing deals: The accounting of "costs and fees" almost always "exceeds" revenue.

C. Corporate Partnerships: The process tends to work like: A. Desired partner uses due diligence to learn protectability, marketability, and profitability. B. Desired partner cancels the contract. C. Desired partner builds its own version. D. Ousted partner fights in court and has to settle for a cheap deal. The lousy thing is how often this occurs. I've seen it in the auto industry, Home Depot, and WalMart even used it on Nike.

Part II. Suggestions

1. The best way to make money from an idea is to turn the idea into a business and then get 'bought out." The money you make depend mostly on the work you do to make it into a profitable business.

2. Before starting, look at protectability, marketability, and profitability. You should keep records in written documents and spreadsheets of every detail of information you learn to determine and prove "costs and fees" do not "exceed" revenue.

A. Protectability: Patents help deter competition, but don't help innate profitability. Most things we buy lack patent protection, though trademarks acquire value consistent with market share. Patent law requires a patent application on file before public disclosure. We can file a summary of the invention, called a provisional patent application, but a provisional patent application expires 12 months after filing. To pursue an actual patent, we must file a utility patent application while the provisional patent application is valid. Patent rights (the right to sue to stop an infringer) don't exist until the Patent Office issues a patent.

B. Marketability: You have to make sure you understand what would motivate people to buy your product. I suggest asking people about the problem or pain your invention solves. You don't have to disclose your idea - just ask, like you see on TV, "ever had the problem of ..." as the TV shows a person trying frustratingly and unsuccessfully to do something. As what they do now (which is your 'competition'), and how much people should pay to solve the problem. How many people will buy the product? How much are people willing to pay? What are the wholesale prices paid by retailers?

C. Profitability: You then have to find out how much making your invention will cost, then triple that number as a realistic expectation of total costs. What are the manufacturing costs? What are the delivery costs? What are the shelving costs? What are the business overhead costs?

3. My advice to every client is to lessen costs, and become the expert with your invention.

A. Hold off on a commercial prototype. Prototyping is a valuable tool but a costly lesson unless you have confidence in commercial success. You should first talk to people you know and trust and get their opinions on the pricing, features, uses and look of the invention

B. Then research materials and construct a home-made prototype from craft stores and hardware supplies - don't worry about appearance, and test it. Make it better, then let your trusted people test it (you can promise them a first run model if you want.)

C. Once you have a functional and tested model, you may want to hire an industrial designer to achieve an attractive product. That was the genius that Steve Jobs brought to Apple Computers.

And, the good news is that you won't have spent much money following these steps.

Call 925-600-7342 to schedule a consultation.

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