I thought it might be nice to post a variety of common questions that inventors ask and my answers. My answers are, of course, just that: my answers. Other inventors may, no doubt, have different answers than I do. Here are the Q & A's, in no particular order.
- Question: Patents are expensive, do I really need to have a patent on my product?
- Answer: Only if you hope to market it yourself or license it to a manufacturer.
I feel that having a patent on your invention is absolutely necessary for two reasons:
- Without a patent, anyone can legally knock it off
- You will not be able to license the product for royalties without a patent
Having a patent won't prevent knock offs of your product, but it will give you the option to sue for patent infringement. The reason you cannot license without a patent is simple: why would a company (licensee) want to manufacture and distribute your product if their competitors could do so too. A patent may give a licensee a monopoly in the marketplace if they take on your product.
- Question: If I manufacture in China, won't the company just steal my product and sell it to others?
- Answer: Maybe, but the risk is probably much less than you think.
I manufactured my product, Savvy Caddy wallets, for 8 years in China.
Like most inventors, at first I was paranoid that the manufacturer would simply steal my product and sell it to many others. Chinese manufacturers are very good at sourcing and making things to spec. They are not skilled at marketing products: locating distributors, pricing and packaging, complying with regulations, adhering to shipping deadlines for retailers, etc. Why should they invest time, effort, and money to learn a new set of skills when they have already have plenty of customers asking them to manufacture products? Manufacturing is what they do well, not marketing.
- Question: Can't I just sell my idea for money?
- Answer: No.
This is a common misconception. A raw idea is not a salable asset, it has no monetary value unless it is converted to a workable product: packaged, priced, and marketed just like a product in the supermarket.
- Question: Won't it be easy to sell or license my product once I have a patent?
- Answer: No. Less than 5% of patent holders ever profit from their inventions.
This issue is one that confounds many new inventors. There are over 8 million issued US patents and only a tiny fraction have ever appeared in the marketplace as a salable product. A patent is no proof of marketability: you may patent a triangular shaped bicycle wheel, but no one will ever buy it. This is why it is crucial to market test a new product or obtain a marketability analysis of the product.
- Question: Can't I license my product quickly, like in 2 or 3 months?
- Answer: That is possible, but extremely unlikely.
This is one of the most frustrating dilemmas inventors face. Working with potential licensee companies for your product can take many months, often years.
First, you must present or “pitch” your idea to a prospective company. Then, they must mull it over internally to decide whether or not they are interested. New products from independent inventors have a low priority with them and key decision makers are often away from the office traveling or on vacation or sick leave. The go or no-go decision process frequently spans months, not days or weeks of time.
Assuming the licensee gives the green light to proceed, they must obtain budget to produce the product. This may take 6 months to 1 year or more. Then, they must work through a licensing agreement with you. Even after the licensing agreement is executed with both parties, arranging manufacturing and actually getting product into the marketplace can take another 6 to 9 months. Only then might you be able to collect royalty checks for your invention. Doesn't sound like get rich quick, does it?