25 February 2012

Finding a Route to Market for Your Invention - Unsolicited Approaches are not usually a Good Idea

When I was a child in the late 1950s and early 1960s my favourite book was "Ideas and Inventions", a large, red cloth bound volume telling the history of some of the world's great inventions and the often difficult life stories of their inventors. My bedroom was littered with all sorts of rubbish such as cotton spindles, fuse wire, bits of string and rope ends of various thickness and hundreds of hundreds of elastic bands which I fashioned into unpromising contractions. It is probably one reason why I am so untidy as an adult.

My dream was to invent something that would bring me fame and fortune.  Some of my ideas were not half bad. I remember devising a video recording system in my head and dismantling an old dictating machine that my mother had brought home from work together with an ancient Kodak box brownie camera. My plan was to build a prototype and offer it to Mullard or Ferguson or one of the other great British radio set makers of the day. I hoped that one of them would marvel at my invention and put it into production paying me a massive royalty that I would probably have spent on sweets.

Now with several decades of experience of practising intellectual property law I understand the naivete of that plan. However, through my clinics and inventors clubs I am consulted by many adults for whom an unsolicited invitation to a market leader remains the preferred route to market.   "I'm a serial inventor, me", many of them say. "I don't care about money. Just leave me in my workshop to get on with inventing things and pay me what you think the invention is worth."  Actually they do care about money if their idea or invention is actually taken up - or if they imagine that it is.

Although there are some companies such as Procter & Gamble, Henkel and Boots which have always encouraged approaches from individual inventors, it is not as a rule a good idea to cold call companies.   The vast majority of firms will not be interested simply because they have got quite enough on their plate as it is with global competition and declining markets.  Of of the few firms that may take an interest in your invention most will be reluctant to enter a non-disclosure agreement with you. There may be many reasons for their reluctance.   In some cases it will be because they are working on a similar invention and they don't want to risk a claim by you that they have stolen their idea.  Another reason may be that they have scoured the universities looking for fine minds whose pet projects are rarely taken up and firms don't want to upset those staff still further by giving house room to an idea off the street.   Yet another reason - although a very rare one - is that if your idea really is a disruptive technology, businesses that have invested heavily in the conventional technology just don't want to hear about it.   The usual reason for not taking up unsolicited ideas is that businesses do not see how they can make any money from your idea.

The best route to market if you really do have a good invention is to make it (or get it made) and market it yourself. That means going into business with all the hazards that entails.  I won't tell you how to do that.  There is already plenty of good advice on the Business in You website.   If you want a business advisor you can find one through Mentorsme.  There are great local resources built on city central libraries such as Business and Patents in Leeds and the Business and IP Centres in London and Newcastle.  You need to consult those resources even if you want to license your invention because your potential licensee is much more likely to take you seriously if you can produce a business plan which shows how your invention will fit into his existing business and make him money.

Whatever you decide to do you are likely to need a lot of help with patent, trade mark and perhaps design registration, licensing, distribution agreements, joint ventures and the like. If you need to discuss any of those matters feel free to call me on 0800 862 0055  or use my contact form. You can also contact me through FacebookLinkedin, twitter or Xing.