As a serial entrepreneur, I’ve learned a lot of valuable lessons I wish I’d known when I conceived my first idea and began searching the internet for “how to sell a patent.” As someone who once abandoned an invention after a failed crowdfunding campaign , then sold another hardware startup for eight digits, I know there are more than a few blind spots new inventors have when they generate their first idea. It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of making something out of nothing, and it’s tempting to believe that – once you’ve patented an original invention – someone will automatically pay millions of dollars to bring it to market for you. But this is hardly ever the case.
I believe new inventors should understand how to sell a patent from start to finish, from the very onset of their creative undertaking. And they should invest in adopting a frame of mind that is conducive to generating the most marketable ideas possible. Here are a few career-boosting concepts new inventors can learn from my mistakes, so they don’t have to learn the hard way.
Avoid the silo mentality.
Before you’ve filed for a provisional patent, it’s important to maintain the novelty of your idea by avoiding disclosure, which is describing your invention in print or online. At the same time, you should thoroughly research whether someone else has already executed your idea through the United States Patent and Trademark Office. By investigating existing patents similar to your invention, you may uncover ways to refine and improve your own technology before applying for a patent.
Once your idea is patented, you should end your creative silo and solicit as much feedback as possible. One of the most important lessons I’ve learned throughout my career is how not to be a selfish inventor. So many engineers believe they know what people want and try to build a revolutionary product in their basement without it ever seeing the light of day. Often, however, the inventor discovers that just because they desire a certain product or feature, doesn’t mean everyone else in the world does, too.
Prototype as soon as possible.
Selling a patent is usually not feasible unless and until you have actually built a prototype. Prototyping and asking people for feedback is often the only way to hone your idea into a marketable product that generates excitement and attracts the attention of investors. Depending on your invention, you might begin with a “looks-like” prototype – which simulates the feel and aesthetic of a design – or a “works-like” prototype – which tests form and functionality. Eventually, you’ll merge both prototypes into a production-quality prototype – but often not without hundreds of iterations.
You may achieve a compelling or marketable prototype before you arrive at a production-quality prototype. Once you arrive at something that helps investors quickly and easily imagine your invention in the hands of consumers, you stand a much better chance of selling your patent. The value of a prototyped idea should be self-evident. It doesn’t require investors to read through a patent and use their own imagination.
Abandon the pursuit of perfection.
One of the biggest issues I see with inventors is that they’re too obsessed with achieving perfecting before trying to sell their product. There is actually no such thing as perfection. There is only improvement, which is achieved through constantly iterating and seeking feedback on each iteration. In fact, culture and technology are evolving so rapidly that – even if you could achieve a perfect version of your product – it wouldn’t perfectly fit your users’ needs and the market’s demands for very long.
Inventors must understand that they will never “get it right the first time.” As soon as you send your idea into the world – no matter how many hundreds of prototypes you’ve agonize over – you will want to change it. And that’s okay. This is all part of the learning process. Save your ideas for your next iteration, which will come soon enough.
Inventors should focus on finding the appropriate cadence for iteration, which depends on each individual team and technology. Some industry giants may be able to iterate at rapid speed, because they have such large teams that are constantly prototyping. Smaller teams might want to take longer. You may create a prototype, talk to your market for 30 days, and then implement a new round of changes.
Remember that inventors have infinite ideas.
It can be hard to give up on a patent that ultimately isn’t marketable. But the earlier you realize and accept that you should pull the plug, the easier it will be. Having spent several years and hundreds of thousands of dollars working on an invention I eventually had to shut down, I know how painful this process can be. Many inventors invest in their ideas as if they were their babies, and giving up on an idea can feel like stopping the heart of a baby.
Many inventors, especially newcomers, take too long to abandon ideas because they fear their first idea is the only idea they will ever have. So they cling to it and resist testing it in the market because they’re afraid to find out there really isn’t anything there. They keep an idea under lock and key because they see it as something precious. But this isn’t how the creative mind actually works.
In reality, even million-dollar ideas are a dime a dozen. If you find that your product is weak, you simply have to look for another idea. In this way, ideas aren’t like babies; you can have more than one, or two, or ten. And the best way to conceive just one idea that will change the world is to generate as many ideas as possible. This is why I’m happy to be a part of a community of inventors and willing to offer support to any newcomers hoping to market great ideas.