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To sell an idea, focus on these 4 things


What do you really need to sell an idea? The conventional thinking is to pay for a patent and an expensive prototype, then shop your idea around to find out if anyone likes it.

This strategy doesn’t work well for an obvious reason: Most ideas fail because they aren’t marketable. After you’ve spent your resources developing an idea, this is a brutal discovery. 

While patenting and prototyping are important, they are only a piece of the puzzle. Here’s what inventors and startups really need to focus on to sell their idea. 

Testing for market demand

Market demand takes away risk and protects you. To sell an idea, it must be a product or service that people will purchase – but the problem is, no one has a crystal ball. Developing an idea that no one wants is a waste of time and money.

The solution is to test your idea for market demand before. While this isn’t necessary for simple ideas, it’s important for ideas that require ample time and money to commercialize. 

Here’s your best strategy. Show your idea to a retail buyer for their input using a sell sheet with a realistic-looking 3-D rendering. Would their customers purchase it? 

If there’s no market demand, why bother doing anything else? 

Filing a provisional patent application (PPA)

Filing intellectual property makes sense when there is demand. At the end of the day, you must ensure the claims in your patent application line up with your business objectives.

The only way to do this is by testing the market first. What you learn from retail buyers could impact what you decide to file on.

Knowing how to sell an idea is not a requirement for becoming a patent attorney. It’s up to you to make sure the right information is included to take away risk and make others confident in you. 

First, teach yourself how to search for prior art, which is evidence your invention isn’t new. This is the most important thing you can do to draft better intellectual property.

To get a patent, your idea needs a point of difference that is unique from the prior art. The only way to know your idea’s point of difference is by studying the prior art, and there is prior art on everything. 

The prior art will dog you forever if you don’t address it adequately. If you don’t find it, your patent examiner will and you will learn in an office action this is why your patent will not be issued. Potential licensees and investors will find it and say this is why they won’t pay you.

If your patent issues and is later challenged at the USPTO’s Patent Trial and Appeal Board, your opponent will find it and use it to have your patent invalidated. 

If you cannot find your idea selling anywhere, there will still be patents describing similar inventions. Maybe not exactly like yours, but close enough to make an argument. You must get rid of this argument.

You do this by finding holes in the prior art. Basically, what can you claim that is still novel about your idea? This is what most attorneys do.

Go further by discovering the most efficient process of manufacturing your invention and including that too. If you cannot find your invention for sale, there’s a very good chance no one has manufactured it.

Now your PPA has a point of difference. Consider filing a design patent on what your idea is going to look like after manufacturing. 

The two most important questions you will hear are, how do we make it and what does it cost? Written this way, your PPA starts addressing these questions right away. 

Finding a partner

Your best protection is to sell first, sell fast! Licensing your idea to a company that already has everything in place – including distribution, shelf space, marketing and manufacturing – helps you get to market much faster than on your own.

The right partner carries a bigger stick. Their size can force retailers to do the right thing. Sometimes, they have the muscle and will to help defend your product from copycats.

If your product is popular and has the potential to do large revenue, there are going to be copycats. Plan ahead so you are ready to fight to be paid.

Telling your story

Before your product launches, get ready to shout from the rooftops that you are the first, the original. Today, the fight is no longer in court; it’s in the court of public opinion. Social media helps keep people honest.

Start building a network of fans who support you early on. They will complain when someone is doing something inappropriate. Don’t forget to take photos of every step of your product development journey.

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