Interview: Bill Lazaroff, Lifetime Brands Sr.VP, Product Design and Development on Got Invention Radio
Are you already an inventor or do you want to be an inventor?
What does an inventor act or think like?
When you call yourself an inventor, it can take on a whole new meaning to your life. You can live up to the title by being aware of how things work in deeper detail and this thought process can become second nature to you. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, here is the definition of an inventor, "to create or produce (something useful) for the first time". As any successful inventor will tell you, the research you do before you set out on your journey can help bring you closer to your goals. So let's evaluate "you" as an inventor by answering the questions below.
Do you have an inventive mind?
Do you come up with ideas and solutions to challenges on a daily basis? Inventive minds are always seeing the next logical step that could be taken, while the rest of the world simply shrugs its shoulders and makes do with things as they are.Do you say, "This could be done differently" or "that could be improved", "this could be modified a bit" or "that could be a big winner"? Inventive minds get excited when there is a puzzle to solve. Do you see opportunity everywhere you look? Inventive minds are positive and pro-active. They consistently ask themselves, "Why not?" when other people give up.
Do you have inventive habits? Check out these invention questionnaire
1. Are you curious?
2. Are you the kind of person who asks questions?
3. Do you find yourself wondering how things work?
4. Do you take things apart and see if they'll go back together in a different, more efficient way?
5. Do you make notes and sketches and conduct experiments?
6. Do you like to keep track of your ideas and use your notes and sketches to fix and tweak them from time to time?
7. Do you brainstorm with others and get them excited by your ideas?
8. Is it as much fun to talk about the process as it is to work on it?
9. Do you find yourself feeling energized when you share your ideas and get input from others?
10. Are working on some idea that you're nearly ready to talk about?
11. Have you done your due diligence?
12. Have you researched the market and compared your concept with others currently on the shelves?
13. Have you registered your patent to protect your concept?
14. Are you at the prototyping stage?
15. Have you created a sample that allows other people to see and touch your idea and believe in its possibilities as you do?
16. Do you have a design engineer who is willing and able to take your prototype and create a professional design?
17. Have you looked for opportunities to partner with a designer and take advantage of his established contacts?
18. Are you ready to go to the marketplace?
19. Have you decided whether you want to manufacture it yourself or license it to someone else and let them pay you royalties?
20. Have you registered your business and surrounded yourself with the best team to help you reach your goals?
Do you have a goal?
1. Do you want to solve problems and overcome challenges?
2. Are you driven by a desire to make the world a better place?
3. Are you searching for opportunities to beat the odds and win?
4. Do you want the personal satisfaction of a job well done?
5. Are you the kind of person who sets high goals and standards and consistently meets and surpasses them?
6. Do you want to be famous?
7. Are you looking for the recognition that comes with success?
8. Do you want to be rich?
9. Are you focused on the tangible rewards that come with high volume sales and repeat business?
Do you have what it takes to achieve success?
To take a great invention idea or concept from brain wave to prototype to marketplace, it takes more than dedication, determination and drive. To do your due diligence, to research and refine, to educate and inform, to overcome setbacks, to protect your work, to form partnerships and leverage your success takes more than perseverance and people skills.
Whether you're inventive and imaginative; whether you brainstorm or work alone; whether you're still thinking about taking that first step or you're already working on your big idea, the one quality you have to have in order to succeed as an inventor is patience.
You have a great idea and want to make money with it but perhaps your funds are low, your knowledge of manufacturing is limited and you're not ready to quit your day job to go into business with it. Licensing is an alternative way to bring your idea or invention to market with limited risk using someone else's resources and collecting a royalty payment. A simple definition of licensing is to rent your intellectual property, such as a patent, trademark, trade secret, algorithm or process, and partner with a company that has manufacturing capabilities and distribution to bring that idea to the marketplace with the ultimate goal of all parties making a profit.
Be Prepared Before You Present Your Invention Idea
Now take your invention idea and bring it up to a point where you have some intellectual property protection, conducting your own basic search and/or a professional patent search. Reference previous answers.com article for more information on claiming your idea: "Start Here With Your Idea" You may consider starting with a provisional patent or design patent filed. Once you file you have patent-pending status. Sometimes you may not need any formal intellectual property protection and may want to just start with a confidentiality agreement or non-disclosure agreement to present your idea. This way is possible, however you are at your own risk and not every company may want to look or hear about your non-protected idea.
Imagine Your Idea in Retail
While doing your research, think about what type of stores or retail channels you can imagine your product in such as big box brick and mortar retailers, specialty stores, boutiques, catalogs, home shopping channels, online retailers or craft fairs. You can start by walking up and down the aisles of the stores where you imaging your product being sold. Keep an eye on what is already being offered and where your product would be placed. Flip over the packages to find the company name and information to later research the company background online. Browse their product line, read up on their management if available, find out where they are located, what stores they distribute to and if they have a section on their website for new product submissions.
What is a Licensee and Licensor?
The manufacturer with distribution is called the licensee and the inventor presenting their invention is called the licensor. The Licensee can have their own manufacturing facility that they run or they outsource their production to an outside factory. They can have a built in distribution team that presents the products to their current retail accounts or may pitch new accounts for distribution. If they choose not to have an in-house sales platform, they may have sales reps or agents which usually have established accounts in a specific category and industry.
Presenting Your Idea to a Licensee
It's time to start making some calls to the companies you researched and feel may be good candidates for your idea. Call their corporate number and ask if they review outside invention ideas and if so, how you could present yours to them. Be prepared when they ask for what protection you have on the idea. They may ask for an exchange of non-disclosure agreements. It may take some navigating through the receptionist or gate-keeper to find the person or department responsible for licensing, product development or other titles that differ in each company. You may get through to the person directly or be given an email address to send your information to.Be prepared to deliver a quick elevator pitch on what your idea does and what makes it unique. They may ask for photos, a sketch or prototype or whatever you can show. You can also have a very short homemade video ready to email to the potential licensee.
If the company is interested in your invention, you the licensor, would be paid a royalty which is a percentage of sales that is usually received in quarterly payments. There are other provisions that may be included in a licensing agreement could be exclusivity, countries covered, guarantees of minimum sales, advances against your royalties and terms of the agreement. Most of the time the licensee, your new partner, will involve you with certain steps of the design modifications, packaging designs, activity of production, placement into retailers, however your involvement may be limited.If the potential licensee tells you they are not interested, try to get feedback to see what they thought and why they are passing on your idea. Be respectful of their decision and keep an open door to be able to present your next idea to them.
Finding a Licensing Agent
There are also licensing agents within industries that can help you make a match to a potential licensee. You can find them at industry trade shows, industry magazines or direct distributors and manufacturers in the industry can direct you to their contacts. Another resource can be networking through inventor clubs in your area.
Continue on your quest to find the right partner to present and license your invention to. Remember that just because a licensee or potential partner tells you that they are not interested, doesn't mean that you need to abandon your idea or be discouraged. It may be that they were not the right partner and you need to keep looking. Listen to what feedback you are receiving from everyone and keep an open mind on making adjustments along the way to bring you closer to making that deal.
By Brian Fried
You have been keeping your idea or many of your ideas a secret all this time and now ready to bring them to reality.
This may require you to search for outside help, which means that you will have to reveal what you are working on or thinking of at some point. So how can you protect yourself and your idea from getting ripped off? Let's see who you might need involved and how to take certain measures to keep your idea confidential with others.
Who Would I Need To Help Me With My Invention?
It could be your inner circle of friends and family that you want to ask of their opinions about your idea. If you're considering filing for a patent or other intellectual property, you may want to hire a professional patent attorney or agent. You may want to develop a computer engineered drawing (CAD) and may need the assistance of a product designer or an engineer. Perhaps you want to make a prototype and will need to send those CAD files to a 3D modeling service or get a quote for production from a factory in the United States or overseas. There may also be an opportunity to show, sell or license your invention to opportunities that come along and they may want to see everything you have been working on.
What Should You Tell Them Regarding Your Idea or Invention?
At first when you are evaluating companies and what they have to offer, keep the conversation general. They will most likely need to know more specific details before providing you a quote so find something similar that already exists and mention to them to give some estimate of what you might expect. Review this process with several service providers and get a feeling of how they conduct themselves, what their costs are and what you can expect from them.
The Trust Factor
It's important to consider that before speaking to anyone about your idea or invention in detail that you have an NDA also known as a non-disclosure agreement in place. This NDA serves to protect your idea and information you share as the disclosing party and anyone who signs it agrees to keep any related information they receive from you confidential unless you permit otherwise. Whether you are seeking help from service providers, discussing your idea with consultants, or gauging consumer interest, ask everyone involved in discussions to sign an NDA and keep a record of them filed away.You may also here the NDA also be referred to as a Confidentiality Agreement or an MNDA, which stands for a Mutual Confidentiality agreement.
Where to Get a Non-Disclosure Agreement for Your Idea or Invention?
There are some government sponsored organizations such as SCORE that offer a sample template on their website [score.org] that could work just fine for you.You can also ask an attorney for a blanket NDA that you could use and fill in the blanks as you present the agreement to the receiving parties. They may charge a fee for providing you their form or they could charge you for each use of the form you ask them to prepare for you.
You may have this initial fear of someone stealing your great idea and keeping it all to yourself. The options are to keep it all to yourself until you one day see it on the store shelves developed and for sale by someone else, saying that it was your idea back in the day or sourcing out the help you need to bring your idea to life and owning it. Taking the steps of researching and networking can also help with background knowledge of who you are about to collaborate with. Your risks can also be minimized by having the receiving party of your idea or trade secret on notice when asking and them signing an NDA, keeping track of correspondence and building a mutual respect for each other.
By Brian Fried
You brought your invention idea through the beginning steps of the process, preformed a patent search and now exploring various options of bringing your invention to market.
You could license your idea to a manufacturer with distribution which requires minimal risk and pays you a royalty or you may decide to go into business for yourself by manufacturing your product and taking a larger risk with potentially a greater return.
Responsibilities of Invention Manufacturing
Now that you decided to manufacture your invention...
there are some questions you need to ask yourself. Do you have the finances to invest for set-up, tooling, production, packaging, liability insurance, websites and marketing initiatives? Do you understand your industry and what the buyers or sales reps will expect of you? Are you prepared to handle shipping, warehousing, accounting, product safety testing and other responsibilities that come along with starting a business? There are entrepreneurs that forge ahead and find out these answers as they go along, perhaps learning lessons along the way and some may look to find a partner or partners to help in sharing the responsibilities.
Invention Manufacturing in the U.S. or Overseas
The entrepreneurial inventor may look to keep manufacturing in the United States or search for manufacturing overseas.
You will need to evaluate production costs, volume minimum order quantities (referred to as MOQ) and maximum capacities of production, shipping costs and overall comfort level of a local factory vs. overseas. With technology today, cameras can be honed in live on your production activities whether in the US or overseas through the internet.
Finding a Local U.S. Invention Factory
When searching for a local manufacturer, there are resources online with directories of manufacturers such as ThomasNet.com.
Filter what you are searching for by using the words "contract manufacturing" and include the generic industry or specific terms that the search would recognize. Contract manufacturing means that the factories are for hire and work with outside companies. You can also search by state and even by city to find a factory near you. Trade shows have manufacturers that exhibit and you can speak to them directly. Ask other people, including friends and family you may know that are involved in manufacturing or work in industrial parks may give you a lead. Also, finding a fellow inventor that may have taken their invention into manufacturing may have a factory they could share that work with inventors and possibly accept smaller orders to start.
Searching For an Overseas Manufacturer for Your Invention
Exploring overseas factories can be just as easy as finding them locally.
There are many online directories to explore such as a popular international portal called Alibaba.com. Search for a similar product compared to yours that can direct you towards a matching factory. Pay attention to the vendors on the website while doing your search by referring directly to manufacturers. There are many distributors that simply sell product inventory from factories and there are brokers that represent many factories. Indicate which are factories, connect with them with an online chat feature, web video call, call by phone (many of them speak English well) or email them for more information and a time to connect. Do research away from the website on a search engine to learn more about them or go to the direct website of the factory and get familiar with what they offer. Be sure to ask if they own the factory, if they're an employee or a broker. Ask questions about what type of products they manufacture, get references and call US companies that they work with. Also, as mentioned earlier, check with other resources and referrals to connect you with overseas factories.
Requesting a Quote
When approaching a manufacturer for a quote, they most likely will be asking you for computer engineered drawings (CAD) or 3D files that the factory will be able to review in development software tools to evaluate how much material and labor may be needed. They may also help in assisting to identifying what type of materials you could use and estimate a cost for the tooling or set-up costs to mass produce your product.
Finding a manufacturer may be one of the most important decisions you make. Think about the time and costs associated with starting with production. Once you start with a factory, it may be complicated to start moving around your production and equipment used including tooling or molds. You can look at your selected factory as your partner and work towards open communication, understanding and expectations to have peace of mind for you to focus on other steps of launching your product.
By Brian Fried
How to come up with an Invention Idea
When you take on a new challenge it can take time, patience and practice before it becomes more second nature. It's similar when trying to come up with an idea or invention and may require a different approach. Be aware of your environment and pay attention to what's happening around you. Look at how people are doing things and think about how they could do it better or how you are using a daily product or doing something regularly and see how it could be improved upon.
Invention Idea Tip 1: Think.. Problem and Solution
How are people using their cell phones, tying their shoes, holding their purse or bag, playing a game, typing on the computer, able to see from a distance with poor vision, navigate to their destination, reducing their salt intake, making foods taste better and we can go on with so many examples of this. Ideas can be a product, service, plant, experiment, process or anything you can imagine. Think about how the following examples evolved and look around at that the products you are using may have been modified many times to how they are being used today. Playing football for fun without pads and having a simple catch could hurt, so Minnesota Vikings kicker Fred Cox invented and introduced the NERF football in 1972 which was a lightweight ball made out of a foam material. The Nerf Football can now be played in the dark with a light up and glow-in-the dark version Nerf football. Look at how there is a now Yo-Yo for everyone. First, it was a toy that required a bit of skill to get that string in between the round discs which was fun for some and frustrating for others. Now there is an automatic wind up Yo-Yo that is a ball with a string inside that you throw down and returns right back to into the ball and to hand where it started from.
Invention Idea Tip 2: Problems Create Ideas
Many of us look at problems as a negative though process and others look at those challenges as opportunity. These problems can be the start of solutions, finding ways to make what that problem was easier and better.Start to write down what you think the solutions can be. Is what you are thinking of make it easier to accomplish? How and why is your solution better? You are most likely asking and answering these questions to yourself. Think about checking-in with the public from a broad prospective and see what they think.
Invention Idea Tip 3: Continue to Keep Your Solutions to Yourself
You want to do some general research and figure out if your solutions will be something that others would potentially use. Go online and lookup what it is you are dissatisfied with and keep your solution in mind to evaluate if others are complaining about the same thing. Are they talking about why it is happening or what should be improved upon? Ask others you know if your problem is happening to them. Keep a list of your research and findings and evaluate if this idea has potential.
Invention Idea Tip 4: Captivating Invention Ideas
Ideas can come and go and be sure to capture your thoughts immediately by writing them down, text messaging yourself, recording a voice message on your cell phone or any which way to capture it before it disappears or you get distracted. Organize them in categories such as housewares, hardware, apps, novelty, scientific, electronics, toys, games or other categories related to your ideas. Prioritize the ideas on your list that have the most potential and which may not be a big enough difference or solution.
Practicing this exercise of focusing on problems and solutions to everyday life will find you being continuously aware of what you and others are doing in common or unusual situations. Sifting through these ideas to find the ones that have the biggest potential may be the most rewarding. You are on your way to taking your idea and turning it into an invention.
Here are some quick tips to get you started on your invention idea. Following these steps will help you to be prepared when you have an idea, evaluate the window of opportunity and focus on the ideas that could have the best chance for success.
Keep That Invention Idea Close
Capture that idea immediately by writing it down, sending yourself a text message, an email or leaving yourself a voice message describing your idea. How many times do you find yourself in the middle of something and you get distracted, maybe the phone rings, someone calls your name and you lose your train of thought only to forget what you were just thinking about.
Visualize Your Idea
Draw what you envision your idea looks to the best of your artistic ability and think about how it would be made. Use a simple piece of paper, sketch it on the computer, your tablet and start to think about what material you could us such as plastic, wood, recyclable material or metals.
Your Idea Used By Others
You may be emotional attached to your idea, however you should think about how others would feel about it and if they would use it. Why would someone buy it? What do you think it would cost in retail? Who is your target audience? Is your idea for the masses or limited to a select group of potential clients or customers?
Is it Your Idea or Someone Else's?
Perform a search to reveal if your invention idea already exists by check online stores, going to local boutiques, watching home shopping channels during your product category airings, looking through popular print or online catalogs, visiting specialty or big box brick and mortar retailers where you think your product may be sold. Also search online by typing in various descriptions of your idea on several search engines such as Google, Yahoo and Bing, which will show you search results of websites and images to review. Also visit the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office website or Google Patents, enter various titles to describe your idea in the search field and look at the drawings and descriptions on existing patent results. Start by looking at the artwork and then review the patent holder's claims to their invention.
Track Your Facts
Keep a log of what you find by jotting down the stores that had similar or the same type of products, the brand names, patent numbers, was that and your thoughts to compare and research relative to your idea.
Moving Forward or Moving On With Your Idea
Did you find your idea out in the market already? Is there a big enough difference from what you were thinking to what already exists? Did you not find anything at all that looks like or describes your idea?
Claiming Your Idea
The answers to the questions above may require professional help by a patent attorney or agent for them to read through the patent records and review the products you found. You can find a list of registered intellectual property services in your area on the [U.S. Patent and Trademark Office] (http://www.uspto.gov/) website mentioned earlier. This step may cost you a few dollars but may be well worth it. Imagine skipping over this step, starting on your idea and then finding out that you are infringing on someone else's patent. You should ask for a letter from the lawyer or agent that will give their opinion if your idea may have a chance for intellectual property protection with a patent or other form of protection.
Coming up with your idea, evaluating the opportunity and taking the next steps of turning it into an invention requires some attention. You may be considering putting your time, money, energy or other resources into this idea or deciding that this wasn't the one and move on to your next idea. Remember to put your emotions aside and envision when you come up with an idea that you are starting a business and this is part of the market research and development process.
By Brian Fried
Home shopping channels may also be a good way to gauge interest and make money when launching your invention. Spend some time watching the format of these channels and look at their schedules for the show times that are similar to your product. Go to the shopping channels direct websites and sift through the required product submission process or call someone that already has a relationship there that can make the process easier and quicker to get to the appropriate contacts. Finished products, demonstrations and pricing should be available to present to the buyers when called upon for next steps.
Be prepared when presenting your invention to companies by knowing your product and industry, who you are presenting to and determine what your expectations are as well as your potential distribution partner. Keep your emotions out of your decisions and put yourself in the marketer's position. Think about what's in it for them first, who their audience is and then make your decision to move forward.