“Ryan, I can’t wait to tell you about the product I want to license!” my new inventRight student proclaimed to me in an email prior to our first meeting. “Nothing like it exists!” he went on to explain.
The following day, I took the student’s call. He explained the product to me with the same excitement and exuberance that he had displayed in his email. Unfortunately, my fears that he had done little to no research about the viability of the product were immediately confirmed.
I had to give this new student some advice that he wasn’t likely ready to hear, an all-too-often occurrence. I told him that identifying a problem and the accompanying solution to that problem are quite essentially the most basic components of bringing a product to market. It’s the fun part, the part we all love. But in the most simplistic terms, the idea or product is, quite literally, just the tip of the iceberg.
As a novice inventor, your idea/product is all you can see. Like the tip of an iceberg, the big, beautiful, gleaming product entices you. Its magnificent benefits awe you as you approach them. Countless people will journey to the ocean to get a glimpse of it – or purchase it – you are just sure of it!
However, I’m here to tell you that what’s truly important is what lies below the surface. 90% of an iceberg’s volume is underwater. Nobody ever sees it. What nobody else wants to see and which so few are even willing to try to uncover is what I am concerned about. You must look deep below the glimmering beauty of your majestic idea and see just how many hurdles are submerged below in the darkness.
My fellow inventRight coaches and I are often asked, “Is this a good product?” On its surface, it may appear like a wonderful idea. However, an experienced product developer knows there is much more to consider before deciding to work on a project. The idea or product itself almost takes a backseat to the analysis of the barriers to entry and additional hurdles, which my fellow inventRight coaches and I can identify almost immediately because of our experience.
One of the first crucial considerations you should make is determining how many potential licensees there are for this product. Are there one or two mega companies that dominate the market products like this? If so, you may be spinning your wheels for a very long time. Are there more than 10 potential licensees that manufacture and distribute something within the same category? Do products in their lines share some degree of similarity to your idea? If so, you are in good shape.
Another important early consideration is the question of whether your product or idea solves a problem that actually needs to be solved. Solutions to problems that don’t exist or that are not a major concern for a large segment of the population are highly unlikely to be licensed. I cannot stress the importance of this enough. Truly, will people want this? Or have you fallen in love with the tip of the iceberg?
Approximately how much will your product cost to manufacture? If the cost to manufacture is likely to exceed what a customer would be willing to pay for the product, that’s a big problem. Remember, the companies you are going to show your idea to are already in the business of manufacturing similar items. You do not need an exact manufacturing cost. They will know the approximate cost almost immediately after viewing your product. If the licensee markets items which are predominately made of plastic and retail in the range of $9.99 – $19.99, do not think it is okay to bring them your highly complicated, alloy-based product that will have retail for $100. They will not change their business, which has operated a certain way for decades, just for you.
Prior art is a complex subject. Frankly, it scares a lot of people. However, searching for prior art is a crucial component of this process. In Stephen Key’s December 2018 Forbes article titled, “Why You Should Search For Prior Art Yourself” he describes the simple methods he uses. First and foremost, he seeks to answer the question, “Does my invention already exist?” Stephen goes into a prior art search with the assumption that the product has likely been attempted before. Prior art exists for just about everything, he says. What he’s truly after is insight. Namely, why the invention isn’t on the market. Stephen uses Google to sift through images and shopping results. If he does not find his product on the market, he then uses Google Patents to search for prior art and then, depending on what he finds, does an even deeper search via the USPTO search engine.
As Stephen explains, “The only way to invent an improvement to an existing product that consumers will pay for is to truly grasp the landscape of the category. Is it stale? Crowded? Are there opportunities for innovation? Where? For example, can you make the product cheaper, easier to use, or greener? You need a point of difference that offers a big benefit to succeed in the market.”
Lastly, I recommend taking a broad look at the category itself. Is the category notoriously inventor friendly? Pet, kitchen, home, and simple hardware have long welcomed the creative minds of inventors. In other more complicated categories like electronics, expect for much more resistance and the necessity to bring a fully developed product along with strong intellectual property to the table. These types of products tend to be “big ideas.” You can expect “big ideas” to be long term projects that may take significant financial investment and upwards of five or more years to complete!
As discussed above, your ‘idea’ truly is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to launching a product onto the market. Going about this journey without a clear understanding of what you are doing or where you are going will be incredibly detrimental, potentially costing you a lot of money with little to show for it. The infamous Captain Edward Smith of the RMS Titanic had no idea what was below the surface and he ultimately crashed in to it. We all know how that story ends!
Prepare yourself accordingly and don’t get blindsided by the beauty of what only you can see.
There’s much more to discover deep below!