Carl, our terrific guest blogger from Inventive Rants created a special posting for Inventor Spot talking about the key timing issues related to the inventing process. I think its an essential read for all inventors:
The Invention Timeline
Inventors want to know, how long does the process take? How long does it take from "Eureka" to "royalty check"? The short answer is that it will take anywhere from 1-4 years for an invention to earn money.
The key to accelerating the process is networking. Every-time you bring a value-added participant into your venture, you increase the likelihood of moving forward. Making money from an invention will only happen if you keep moving the project forward. The faster you move forward, the faster you will see a return on investment. Investment. Now that is an important word. To move forward, you will invest time and money.
A simplified formula for business success, is that you can succeed by either investing less money and lots of time, or lots of money and less time. If you are part of the latter, then you you will probably expect someone else to invest the money and maybe even the man-hours required to bring the invention to market. Before you move forward, beware; don't expect others to invest resources in your dream if you are not willing to do the same. Making a fortune from the next great idea is rarely easy, but it is doable.
What is it that takes so much time anyway?
The inventor trap is simple. You can't show anyone your idea until you protect it. You can't protect it until you patent it. You can't patent it until you find a way to finance a solid patent application. It is unlikely that anyone will want to invest their time and money until they see a working prototype. It's a vicious circle. Now you have to finance a working a prototype. Great.
Like any venture, inventing requires a plan. Writing a good business plan is key to a successful business. Even if you are the only one that ultimately finances and operates your business, a plan gives you direction. It sets goals. If you are serious about getting your invention to market, then make a plan.
A good patent agent can put an application together in 3 to 6 weeks, depending on the complexity of the invention. If you require a working prototype, then it will take time to find someone to design it and then manufacture it. There are numerous small machine shops and custom fabricators everywhere. One of your first alliances is with the owner of this business. Pitch a great story to a manufacturer, and you may have found the best partner of your life. A capable partner that has manufacturing abilities, will cut months, maybe years off your development process, not to mention start-up costs.
Networking with people that can add value to your project will shorten the time to market. Who else do you know? Who in your circle of friends and co-workers knows someone that can help you? Do you know anyone that knows a lawyer, a business developer, an accountant, or a sales and marketing rep? New inventors want all of the profits and usually fail to the see the value of bringing other people into the business. They are wrong. Alone, an inventor will most likely fail, and if they do realize some success it will be far less than if they had utilized the expertise of others. Good partners will increase the revenue potential of an invention by leaps and bounds. They will also accelerate the launch of the invention. Money will come back sooner.
So it is hard to put an actual time on the invention process. A well thought out plan will take a month or two, raising money takes 3 to 6 months, the creation of a patent is about a month and the design/build of a working prototype can vary. It will take you 3 or 4 months to put together a good network of people that may help you, and that is being optimistic.
The best scenario, unless you do this full time, an invention will take a year to launch. I am sure that many readers will wonder why I have not written about licensing an invention? That's fast isn't it? Just hand it over to some company eager to make a million from your wonderful idea. I didn't write about that because it rarely goes that way. That's another blog topic entirely.
Here is a plan of attack to figure out your own timeline.
1) Build something. Even if it doesn't work, have something to show.
2) Build a small network of trusted people that can help you. Find a mentor.
3) Research similar patents and draft something of your own.
4) Look into sources of seed money. Love money is always first. Friends, family, your own pocket.
5) Protect the idea before publicly disclosing it. Use confidentiality agreements until then.
6) Research prototype manufacture.
7) Find someone to market it. I mean market to investors, manufacturers, industry.
8) When you have a product sample, protection and a network, you have momentum.
9) Go back to step 7. Marketing is everything.
If you need more information on the invention process, one good book to look at is The Inventor's Bible.
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You can read more of his great postings at Inventive Rants. Thanks Carl for sharing your wisdom with us!!