I’ve been writing a lot about innovation on this blog recently, mostly focused on the idea of innovating new ideas, methods or processes for your business. But what if, in the course of your innovation efforts, you come up with a product idea that you think could have commercial potential outside of its uses within your own company? In other words, what if you have an idea for an invention?
The world of inventing can be an intimidating one, with laws and regulations adding complexity and the fear of having your idea stolen lurking at every turn. Fortunately, however, there are lots of resources out there to help. As you decide to explore the possibility of bringing an idea to market, here are three good places to begin.
Created by inventors, for inventors, this site got its start in 2006 as a blog launched to discuss the TV reality series American Inventor (it was formerly named AmericanInventorSpot.com). Today, InventorSpot has grown into a comprehensive website for inventors. It features a blog with more than 30 contributors that highlights daily news on all types of inventions, from the serious (a new solid-state hard drive) to the wacky (Japanese vampire teeth). There’s also a free directory of companies that provide services for inventors; a gallery where you can submit inventions to companies that are looking for particular products; a forum where you can ask and answer questions or just network with other inventors; an inventor information section with a guide to all aspects of the invention process; and a calendar of invention-related events, conferences, trade shows and contests.
Although InventorSpot doesn’t sell its own products, it also has a store where you can buy books from its affiliates. While some aspects of inventing can be deadly serious and dull (patent application process, anyone?), InventorSpot offers a good mix of valuable information leavened with lighthearted articles and links to fun sites like MentalFloss.com.
There’s strength in numbers whenever you undertake a new business venture, so let an industry association help you learn more about inventing. The oldest and largest nonprofit inventors association, the UIA, is dedicated to education and outreach about inventing. The site includes links to inventors’ clubs nationwide; if you can’t find one in your area, the UIA’s Inventor Clubs Across America program will help you search and, if necessary, advise you on how to start one.
Becoming a UIA member is free for inventors and gives you access to informational videos and radio interviews, documents to help with the invention process, information about funding sources and the ability to search “inventor-friendly” manufacturers that have been certified by the UIA as ethical and honest. Because fraud is a big concern in the invention industry, being able to access certified providers is a valuable benefit.
Speaking of fraud, the National Inventor Fraud Center and its website, InventorFraud.com, has some valuable advice on dealing with fraud, protecting yourself and reporting fraudulent providers. However, this site also offers much more, including a list of inventor tools, advice on how to conduct a market analysis and a marketability evaluation of your idea, how to patent your product, and the difference between licensing your product and making it yourself.
One of the most useful sections of this site is its extensive list of resources in four categories: General Inventor Information, which covers inventor groups, shows and more; Fighting Inventor Fraud, which explains the laws against fraud and lists websites to help; Patent Information, which includes links and resources related to patent searches, patent offices and law firms; and Profiting From Your Idea, which includes resources related to invention evaluations, marketing your product and getting financing.
With these three sites as a launching pad, you’re on your way to learning more about how to commercialize your ideas.