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Tips for aspiring kitchen counter inventors
January 27, 2013
This posting is a quick introduction to topics we’ll examine in more detail as we go along. Each bullet point below is a study in itself. Many suggestions are best accomplished with the help of a lawyer that specializes in Patents and/or Trademarks.
Protect your ideas
- Inventor’s Notebook: Protecting your idea should start way before a prototype or marketing plan. It should start with an inventor’s notebook. Make sure your notebook is spiral bound (no pages in or out). Each entry should be dated. If possible,have a friend or colleague initial the entry to confirm the date and the contents.
- Non-disclosure Agreement: The Internet has lots of examples of non-disclosure agreements. Most good agreements offer mutual protection. NOTE: If you talk about your idea to everyone from your hairdresser to neighbor, an NDA will not provide much protection. While it is understandable that you want to bounce your idea off some trusted confidants, these conversations should be limited. Once you start pursuing the idea, the details should only be discussed with service providers under NDA. A secret is only a secret if you treat it that way.
- Patents and Trademarks: These subjects are too important and too detailed to provide specifics here. The most important thing for inventors is to protect, protect, protect. I learned the hardway with trademarks, that while anyone CAN apply for a trademark, your success in acquiring the mark is much more likely with the help of a professional that understands what the US Patent and Trademark Office is looking for.
Invest time before money
- Research: Use search engines like Google Advanced Patent Search to confirm the uniqueness of your idea.
- More Research: TESS is a search engine from the USPTO that allows you to search existing trademarks. Just because someone has a similar word trademarked does not mean you cannot use the same term. If you are using the term in a completely different class of service (product type), you may still be able to use the mark. An attorney can advise you here.
- Keep Looking: Research the size of the market and the competitive landscape.
- Prototype: Make a prototype and seek out qualified sources of feedback. Your family and friends are often either too skeptical or not critical enough to provide honest insights.
Protect your idea from the outset. Yes, this is worth repeating. You do not have to spend a lot of money to start protecting your ideas. An inventor’s notebook offers some initial protection. Even if you have not yet applied for a trademark, you can use the ™ symbol behind your brand name as a placeholder. It has limited enforceability, but at least it puts people on notice.
Finally, innovation is iterative. Your first prototype is just that, the first. Just because it misses the mark doesn’t mean the concept is a failure. The key, as Forbes has stated many times is to learn from your mistakes and Fail Forward. In next week’s post, I’ll share a high flying example of this concept. FrozenPeaz hot and cold packs had many iterations before we had a patentable concept that did what it said – stayed colder longer; hotter longer; was as convenient as a reusable gel pack and most importantly was as flexible as a bag of frozen peas. Follow us on facebook if you want to see the first version of the PeazPod. At the time, we were quite serious. Now, it makes us laugh just a little bit.