The first step in the product-development process should always be, getting a thorough, unbiased assessment of your concept or “invention evaluation”. While few would argue the logic of this premise, many passionate inventors believe “their” concept is the rare exception that needs no vetting. They are totally convinced that everyone who sees their product will immediately want to buy one. Sadly, we often hear from inventors who discovered way too late, that skipping this step was one of the most costly mistakes of their life.
It is often said that “necessity is the mother of invention.” And while no one knows who first came to this conclusion, it was a brilliant observation. Today we might expand that adage with the inclusion of “convenience” and perhaps “novelty”. In any case, before spending a penny to develop your invention, you should ask yourself a very important question: Does my invention solve a problem that is worth solving? In all honesty, not every problem is (worth solving) but more on that later.
We believe that the main reason so many inventions fail commercially is that all too often they were developed for the wrong reasons. Let’s face it, if you have a spoon that does a great job with soups and cereals, why would you spend money to buy one designed especially for yogurt and another for ice-cream and still another for sorbet? No doubt some consumers would, but in order for your item to succeed in mass retail, it needs to appeal to the “masses.”
There is a widespread misconception that simply being the “first to apply” for a patent, entitles the applicant to patent protection. This is simply not true.
In order to legally apply for a patent, the applicant must be the actual inventor of the invention and the invention must be either a totally new concept or a substantive improvement or an existing invention. Additionally, the invention must not be in the public domain or “obvious” to persons familiar with the subject matter (schooled in the art). If the invention is already in the public domain, (being sold or offered for sale, advertised or exposed to the public in any way, including the media) it is NOT eligible for patent protection.
Many first-time inventors are so eager to “protect” and “develop” their invention that they either totally overlook the possibility that someone else may have already beaten them to the punch, or they do not take time to search for “prior art” and end up wasting a lot of time and money – resources they could have used elsewhere, perhaps on their next invention.
The Internet makes it very easy to do your preliminary prior art search for free. Begin by searching the web for products similar to yours. Search by “description” as well as its “intended use”. For example if your invention was a water bucket, you might search for portable water containers, hand-held water containers and devices, etc. as well as solutions for its intended use, such as transporting, storing and mixing small amounts of water, misc. liquids and material such as sand, dirt, etc.
Next, visit the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office website. If you have never been to this site, or if you have not been there recently, you will probably be surprised to see how user-friendly it is. The USPTO site will be a tremendous resource for any inventor, but if this is your first effort to take an invention to market, you will want to spend as much time as it takes to read through all of the applicable material. Once on the USPTO site, you will find a treasure trove of useful information that is provided to assist inventors.
The USPTO site is easy to navigate, but we have included direct links here to areas that we feel are among the most important.
- Quick (patent) Search: Here you can do a simple search for “prior art” to see if your idea has already been claimed by someone else. This level of search is by no means definitive since it does not include “unpublished” or “provisional” patent applications, but it will give you the opportunity to review patents that have already been issued.
- Beware of Scams: Unfortunately, not all invention service companies have your best interest at heart. The Internet is full of stories that explain why the FTC and USPTO post warnings on their websites. AON is a new company, formed on January 2, 2013 by a team of management and staff that is determined to provide each customer with the highest quality professional service possible. We remind ourselves every day that one complaint is one too many.
While it is always disappointing to find out that someone beat you to market, it is better to find out before you spend any of your hard-earned money. And, look at it this way, if you discover that your invention is already on the market, it means that your idea has been validate. Now you can go to work on your next invention.