3. Research the Market.
Did you guess that this is my favorite part? This step is the beginning of your detective career. You have to do a very thorough investigation because a) you don't want to waste your time developing something that already exists; and b) you need as much information as possible about possible competition to successfully patent and market your own product.
I like to get out to the stores for my first round of research. That way, I get to see, touch, and see how similar products are marketed. I will look for knowledgeable managers and ask how the products are selling and what people say about them.
Where will your product most likely be found? Grocery stores, pharmacies, sporting goods stores..? Is your idea for a pet item? Then go to PetCo, PetsMart, Wal-Mart, Target, the pet sections of pharmacies and grocery stores, groomers, pet spas... "wherever pet products are sold."
Be emotionally prepared for the product research experience. You will feel absolutely joyous if, after a thorough search, you find absolutely nothing that even comes close to your product. But finding what you were looking for, in this case, can be very disappointing. If you see products on the market that are like yours, don't give up just yet; purchase whatever like items you find and keep searching. Oh, and keep the product tags and sales receipts, just in case....
One of my inventor friends, Mike, has a terrible habit of "overlooking" the product search because he can't stand the disappointment of seeing his ideas already produced by someone else. Once he went so far as to pay some big bucks for a patentability search before learning that his idea was already patented. Then he was curious enough to find it for sale in a specialized pharmacy. Since that experience, it's been tougher for me to keep my promise not to tell him that his newest idea already exists... and I have one. Inventors are a quirky bunch.
If you've come back from your shopping trips empty handed, congratulations. You are now ready to search the Internet for your product. I do my "narrow" searches first; for example I will start searching the term "backscratcher" and then move out towards the broader term "bath accessories," or "personal care." Until you've discovered something (remember, you're the detective), search under every possible term you can think of.
After a thorough market search for your product idea, you reach your first decision point. To continue or not continue: that is the question... we will answer next week.
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