Forget the Patent. Forget the Prototype.

27 Nov 2010

Stephen Key

Stephen Key is a successful award-winning inventor who has licensed over 20 products in the past 30 years. He is a board member of Accudial Pharmaceuticals and has a new book "One Simple Idea: Turn your dreams into a licensing goldmine while letting others do the work" due to release in Spring 2011 from McGraw-Hill.
Along with business partner Andrew Krauss, Stephen runs InventRight, a company dedicated to education. Teaching inventors and entrepreneurs the skills needed to successfully license their ideas.

Latest posts by Stephen Key (see all)

Do you really need a patent or prototype?

Conventional logic argues yes, absolutely. But it’s my opinion that this type of thinking is outdated. It simply doesn’t make sense for inventors and entrepreneurs to go through the lengthy and expensive processes of filing for a patent and building a prototype before determining if there is initial interest in their idea.

It is even more absurd to wait until after a patent has been received or a prototype built to contact a potential licensee. Unfortunately, many individuals let the fear of their idea being stolen cloud their judgment.

I believe it is important to have perceived ownership – not necessarily a patent. Given the backlog at the United States Patent and Trademark Office, it can take up to three or four years to be issued a patent. That’s far too long to wait to make a move! And furthermore, filing for a patent can cost tens of thousands of dollars.

Let me put it this way: I’ve never met a patent attorney who didn’t think my idea was brilliant. When you’re first starting out, it’s much smarter to file for a provisional patent application, or PPA. You can file for a PPA, which is very inexpensive, yourself.

I recommend using a software program like Patent Wizard to help you. Is a PPA perfect? No. That’s not the point. For a year, you have the freedom to test out your protected idea, without having to file for a patent. If a company IS interested in your idea, let them decide to file for a patent! 97% of all patented ideas never make enough money to cover the cost of filing for the patent. Don’t join this statistic.

Do you really need a prototype?

It depends. I’ve met too many people who think that they “need” to build a prototype and instead of contacting potential licensees, spend years perfecting the prototype with design after redesign. If you need to prove that your idea actually works, then yes, you may need to create a prototype. But you don’t need to spend thousands of dollars! A rough, simple model can suffice. I prefer using a sell sheet to sell my ideas: it’s easy to create and efficient. I include a brief benefit statement about my product, a photo or rendering, and my contact information. Boom. Getting your idea out there as quickly as possible counts the most.

The most important thing I want to stress here is that business has changed: being first to market is much more significant than anything else. Our appetite for newness is insatiable. Products rapidly file in and out of the marketplace. Because ideas come and go very quickly, waiting for a patent to be filed or a prototype to be built just doesn’t make sense.

Patents can be designed around. Prototypes are going to change. Focus instead on doing what really counts: selling your idea to a powerful licensee.