Hollywood and popular literature tend to glorify the selfless inventor who innovates out of benevolence for mankind, with no care for personal gain. However, without the ability to commercialize new ideas, many of the world’s most cherished inventions might not have come to pass. Silicon Valley venture capitalist Paul Graham concurs in his essay “How to Make Wealth.”
“Developing new technology is a pain in the ass. It is, as Edison said, one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration. Without the incentive of wealth, no one wants to do it. Engineers will work on sexy projects like fighter planes and moon rockets for ordinary salaries, but more mundane technologies like light bulbs or semiconductors have to be developed by entrepreneurs.”
That is the first thing any inventor must realize: there is no guilt or shame in wanting to profit from your idea. That being said, how do you go about doing it? As far as we can tell, there are two main ways of commercializing new ideas.
1) Bringing them to market yourself, or
2) Selling/licensing them to others
This article will offer tips and guidance on how to make either strategy work for you. The first way, as mentioned, is to nurture your idea to maturity and bring it into the market yourself. The advantage of this strategy is that you control more of the process. If your sole hope is finding a buyer for your idea, you are more or less at the mercy of their whims. What if your idea is sound, but the company you want to sell to just wont bite?
On the other hand, bringing it to market yourself lets you use intelligence and skill to increase your odds. So let’s start there.
Bring Your Idea to Market Yourself
The first step in bringing an idea to market is really firming it up in your own mind. Have you determined who your target market is? How will you reach them? Do you know what it truly costs to build your product? Do you even know how to concretely build your product, starting from nothing but raw materials? Our article “5 Steps to Patent Ideas” gives you a checklist for answering these questions.
Once it is created, you can roll out your idea in the manner you see fit. Want to sell it online? Want to sell it in retail stores? Want to do both? With a finished, tangible, honest-to-God product to sell, you have the ability to start making these things happen for yourself. Most of the popular retail outlets have buyers who you can talk to about getting your products sold. Selling online is simply a matter of setting up a website and publicizing what you have to offer. By this point you have firmed up your business plan and are intimately aware of what it takes to produce and sell your invention.
Again, the key benefit of this approach is that you are in the driver’s seat for important decisions. Another option that offers less control but also less stress is selling or licensing your idea to others.
Selling/Licensing Your Idea to Others
The chief benefit of selling or licensing your idea is that not everything is riding on you. Some people are not cut out for the task of inventing, creating, marketing and selling a product themselves or simply do not have the desire to spend so much time and effort doing so. It is hard, long, diligent work that you simply won’t do if your heart isn’t 100% in it. Therefore, selling or licensing your idea to others can be an attractive option.
However, be warned that this approach is often made to seem far sexier and easier than it is. While many people over estimate the effort it takes to get in front of the right companies, they also underestimate the amount of follow-up it will require. The process does not happen overnight and will take time to see through to a successful licensing or sale agreement. The farther along you are with a business plan, presentation, and materials the smoother the process will go.
If you are serious about your idea, take the time to package your invention for a successful presentation. Having a business plan, pictures, drawings, and your USPTO information on hand will accelerate your path to a successful sale or licensing agreement after you get in front of the right companies. This gives you the protection and leverage you need to approach someone about selling your idea.
In closing, these are the two main ways of commercializing new ideas. You should give some thought to which approach reflects your strengths and weaknesses as an inventor and pursue the course that feels best.
Eric Corl is the Founder and CEO of Idea Buyer, a marketplace for new technology and products that allows inventors to showcase their intellectual property to consumer product companies, entrepreneurs, retailers, and manufacturers at www.IdeaBuyer.com. You can email him at EricCorl@IdeaBuyer.com.