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Inventor Survival - Incorporating the Concept of Survival Into the Process

Carl is the blogger for Inventive Rants.

He is a successful inventor who produced an enhancement for manufacturing semiconductor chips in the nanoparticle process. I don't even know what that means so I just figure he's brilliant! He had a blog posting about inventing that we thought was terrific so we asked him if he would mind if we incorporated a copy of it here. He happily said yes. Even better, he agreed to be a guest blogger and will be writing a special article (maybe a few if we're lucky) for American Inventor Spot soon.

In the meantime, here's the blog posting that we wished we had written:

Inventor Survival

The problem with most how-to books on inventing a new product is that they focus on the fundamentals too much. Let's say you invent the next great widget that will make a million dollars; how do you survive the process?

It's one thing to tell people to just license their idea, but licensing a new invention is much more difficult than just writing a few letters and filling out a few forms. Here's an example: The greatest game ever invented is Trivial Pursuit. It was licensed by the inventors to a game company for millions of dollars. Wait a second, that seems pretty easy doesn't it? The inventors of Trivial Pursuit produced the first 1000 or so games themselves and sold each one to a retailer for a $60 loss. Selling the first 1000 games generated a negative cash flow of -$60,000. Trivial Pursuit had to sell almost 20,000 games before they were in a position to license it. They couldn't give it away for almost 3 years after it's creation. Imagine, the greatest game ever invented, and they couldn't give it away?

Inventors look to the inventors of TP, Chris Haney and Scott Abbott as rock-stars. These guys kept the faith and risked everything in order to survive. They had such a great invention, that it only took them about 3 years to become multimillionaires. Most inventions aren't that great though. Some inventions flounder about looking for a market. Sometimes, an invention has multiple uses or multiple potentials, and finding the right market niche is difficult. The most difficult part is surviving long enough to find the market.

No one will buy a license for your product without knowing some key things. 1) Does it work significantly better than the competition? 2) Is ready to be manufactured? What's the start-up cost and how quickly will we see a return? 3) Can it marketed quickly and easily? 4) Will people buy it?

Most inventions will have to answer "I don't know" to all of the above until the product is physically manufactured and sold. No one wants to be first. No one wants to invest money in an idea unless you are willing to make sacrifices as well. Herein lies the problem. There are many good books on how to license your invention, patent your invention or sell your idea. What they leave out is that even if you can find a licensee, you will get next to nothing for just an idea. Patents cost upwards of $10,000, so it really doesn't make a good return on investment. Simply selling your idea is tough as well.

An idea for an invention is just an idea until it can actually be picked up by a customer. Survival during the process is really the only important thing that an inventor needs to know. Anyone can search the internet and learn about patents, licenses and manufacturing. How do you actually do it though? One of the funniest ads I see on TV these days is for a school promoting a course on interior design. My wife is an interior designer and decorator. The TV spot urges you to sign up for their course and get all the knowledge you need to become an interior decorator. Sure, I guess they give you the fundamentals of design, but then what? How do you survive the next three years as you build a business? The same is true of inventing.

Anyone can tell you how to complete the basics of inventing and licensing a product, they just don't tell you how you are going to survive until you succeed. You can't just send your idea to some company, or some individual along with a check and expect another Trivial Pursuit. It just doesn't work that way. I finally decided to write down how I survived. I mean, actually survived as an inventor. No part time job, no trust fund. Writing a book and getting it published is probably as difficult as inventing something and getting someone to buy it. I think that the survival aspect is a good one though. It's the key to succeeding and turning your idea into money, maybe even a career. I can't believe that I did survive, but what I learned along the way was invaluable.

I get very angry at people who pretend to make the process of inventing simple. Each step might be simple, but the entire process isn't. If making lots of money from an idea was simple, then wouldn't there be a line-up somewhere?

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More of his terrific blogs can be found at Inventive Rants.

What do you think of what he had to say? Do you agree or disagree?

Comments
Apr 3, 2006
by Ironponyfabrication

controling costs

I write a regular column here on Americaninventorspot. Check it out Prototyping 101. One of the things that I preach constantly is to control costs by spending your money wisely. I hear of and see folks that spend huge amounts getting a prototype built. That is one way to try and make it through the hard times. Use your head and do your research. Most companys would never waste money in developing a product if they can help it. So why do so many inventors waste money. I really liked your blog and hope you do more. William