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Ideas for Money: Bring Your Invention to Life

What product idea is percolating in your mind? Could it be the next big thing? Is it time to take it to the next level?

Americans are inventive.  We come up with ideas all the time, ideas that make our lives easier, smarter or happier.  Inventions often solve a problem or fill a need.  Every single item you own was someone’s idea, their invention.

That’s how two American entrepreneurs, each in their early 40’s, made it to Forbes’ list of billionaires.  Sara Blakely took $5,000 in 1998 and started Spanx.  Today, she stands alongside 1,225 other billionaires.  What did she set out to do?  She wanted a better under garment – as simple as that.  Kevin Plank started Under Armour in 1995 because he wanted a better T-shirt, one that would remain lighter and drier throughout heavy sports.  He joined The World’s Billionaires list in 2011. 

Imagine life without light bulbs, mobile phones, digital cameras, magnetic stripes, bar codes, email or the internet.  Each of these American inventions changed how we live.  As we know from Blakely and Plank, inventions don’t have to be so serious.  Americans have also invented swim fins, dental floss, burglar alarms, video games and Tupperware.

Are you carrying an idea in your mind that solves a problem or makes things better?  Do you keep refining it?  Is it getting better and better?  Is it something other people will want as well?  If so, consider writing your idea down.  Think about it.  Wonder to yourself whether it might be a product.  Naturally, this means you’ll need to be judicious and realistic.  If it’s nonsense, admit it to yourself.  If it gets past your nonsense assessment, consider next steps.

What are some of the key steps in the process?

Sara Blakely offers Tips For Future Billionaires in a Forbes Magazine interview.  These are a few of the tips she shares with Forbes Staff Writer Clare O’Connor’s March 7, 2012 article, Undercover Billionaire: Sara Blakely Joins The Rich List Thanks To Spanx:

  • Differentiate your product.  While many have tried to imitate Spanx, other brands have not achieved anything close to Spanx’ success.
  • Visualize where you are going and the steps you will take to get there.
  • Don’t seek feedback if it’s just to validate your work.  Too often, those who know you best will skew their response in order to save you from failure.  Follow your gut.

There’s more.  Be sure to read the Forbes article and watch the video where you learn more about the steps Blakely took over time.

What else might you do if you’ve an idea you want to bring to life?

  • Due diligence means that before you invest time or money, you will conduct research to confirm that your idea is unique.
  • Protect yourself and your idea/invention.  Start by keeping notes of your process and your idea.  These can be used should you ever encounter a challenge.  Once you refine you idea to its final stage, be sure to file for a patent through the U. S. Patent & Trademark Office. The USPTO defines the three kinds of patents as follows: 

There are three types of patents. Utility patents may be granted to anyone who invents or discovers any new and useful process, machine, article of manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof. Here is the process for obtaining a utility patent. Design patents may be granted to anyone who invents a new, original, and ornamental design for an article of manufacture. Plant patents may be granted to anyone who invents or discovers and asexually reproduces any distinct and new variety of plant.

If you plan a unique name for your idea, be sure it is available using the Trademark Electronic Search System.   Filing for a trademark will also be necessary if the name is crucial to the success of the potential product.

  • Read everything on the subject of inventions.  Go to Entrepreneur.com for articles by and for inventors.   Read HowStuffWorks.com’s excellent article .  Use MIT’s Inventor’s Handbook.  
  • More research.  What materials?  What design?  How would your idea or product be manufactured?  Is that possible?     
  • Create your plan – every action and checkpoint that must happen.  Revise your plan. Revisit your plan.  Keep asking yourself the tough questions, the ones you keep praying no one else will ask. 
Idea Review Panels – Ways to Get Help From Others

Every day at Noon, DailyGrommet.com, launches one inventive consumer product or service.  They broadcast its story across the web.  People from all over the world send in suggestions for products explaining why theirs should be the daily Grommet.  Daily Grommet and its aligned organization, Citizens Commerce, test and curate the best ideas.  When Daily Grommet launches a product, they host a discussion board so people can chat with the creator.  When Daily Grommet launches a product, they sell it from their website.

Quirky.com operates a social product development site for inventors.  Each week, they use social review panels from all over the globe in addition to their in-house team of engineers, designers, materials experts, marketers and more to review all the design and invention ideas.  Each week, two ideas are chosen to begin the development process.  With all their relationships with big name consumer product chains, Quirky carries the product into full distribution. 

Again, remember your reality checks

We all have great ideas but not all of our ideas are destined to become best sellers.  All along your investigation, before you invest time or money, do your reality checks.  Yes, many people have invented hot items and they’ve made a lot of money.  What goes unreported is the number of people who’ve poured their hearts and their savings into product ideas that bombed.  Before you go too far:

  1. At every step, ask yourself a gazillion questions.  What is it about the product that makes it unique?  Is there anything else on the market that is “sort of like it”?  How is it different?  Why is my idea better?  What problem does it solve?  How much would it cost?  Would people pay that much?
  2. Remember, it takes time and lots of work.  Thomas Edison held 1,093 U.S. patents in his name for everything from the light bulb to a motion picture camera.   He worked tirelessly on every project, trying again and again til he got to the right solution.  He liked to say, “I have not failed.  I have just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”  He was also fond of saying, “Genius is 1 percent inspiration and 99% perspiration.”
  3. Protect yourself, protect your idea.
  4. Never leave your day job til you’ve proven that your invention will actually generate income.
America’s love for invention makes good television

Not only do we invent, we love to watch how others do it.  Soon, you’ll see Quirky.com develop products on their own Sundance Channel show – it’s in development for a Summer 2012 launch.  In the meantime, the History Channel’s Invention USA hosts test, assess and decide the fate for inventions they’ve uncovered.