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    Tuesday, November 25, 2008

    So I'm an inventor, what now?

    You have invented the new widget. You have decided to seek patent protection. What now? Does the money just come when the invention is patented, or the application is filed? Does corporate America send you green mail when you notify them of your impending rights? Not hardly.

    Patent attorneys are frequently asked for direction on how to take the invention from the patent stage to the market stage, but the fact is, patent attorneys are generally not business people and have little, or no, marketing and product development sense. Ultimately, the inventor turned budding entrepreneur either needs to be a business person, including marketing and financial savvy, become such a person, or hire/partner with such a person.

    But first things first. How to go from invention to product. If you can, make a prototype. If you cannot, make a drawing. Here, the patent application can come in handy because if your patent attorney was sharp, he or she would have made sure there would good drawings to help support the patent application. Nice perspective, exploded, and/or perspective-in-use drawings can pay dividends, not just in understanding the invention, but in explaining what you want to a product developer. Remember, a picture is worth a thousand words. In either case (preferably after a patent application is filed), take the prototype or drawings (with serial number, title and filing date redacted) to the relevant professional for commercial product speccing (and make sure you use a very good, attorney vetted NDA). Who is the relevant professional? That depends on the art area. There are tons of plastics, machine shops, rotomolders and design shops around, many providing services specifically to inventors. If you need help, start with the Inventor's Digest magazine which has a host of ads and classifieds from such professionals, and which also has useful articles. You can also go to your State small business center. In Washington, the State has several Small Business Development Centers with certified business specialists whose very purpose is to help and point you in the right direction. The U.S. Small Business Administration has similar services. Public universities and community colleges also have business departments that can usually send you in the right direction. But there is no getting around the fact that you are going to have to use some elbow grease, make calls, and attend meetings. Remember Edison's adage: Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration. This applies equally to entrepreneurship.

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