It was seen that the works of founders of States, law-givers, tyrant-destroyers, and heroes cover
but narrow spaces and endure but for a time; while the work of the inventor, though of less pomp,
is felt everywhere and lasts forever.          - Francis Bacon Preface to a Treatise on Interpreting Nature




The Design of Everyday Things

Every inventor should take this free online course. Learn the basics of design and start observing and applying design principles.



How to Design Breakthrough Inventions

A CBS interview of IDEO founder David Kelley


How to Build a StartUp

In this free online course, learn the key tools and steps for building a successful startup (or at least reducing the risk of failure).

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

November 2010


“I don’t get no respect” – Rodney Dangerfield

Sound familiar?  Getting past the gatekeepers to someone who can license your invention can be a challenge.  Gus Bigos (product scout for Evergreen IP) explained why that is, and how a new-product development company (NPD) such as Evergreen IP, Big Idea Group, Edison Nation, Inventor Institute, inventRight, Pelham West, or The Carey Formula can ease your way.  (A list of other inventor-friendly resources is available.)

The problem
Most companies don't like to license an invention directly from an independent inventor.  Receiving disclosure of an invention (patented or unpatented) can harm a company’s efforts to patent its own similar inventions.  Licensing an invention untried by the market is riskier than buying a small company that has strong sales.  Optimal timing of a license agreement is hard to predict.  Coordinating expectations of a company and an independent inventor may require extensive negotiations and adjustments.  Legal work of licensing is expensive and time consuming.  As a result, no one in a company wants to be responsible for the licensing process, which thereby becomes indefinite, vague, and slow.  Licensing companies and inventors lose each other as productive partners in innovation.

The solution
An NPD adapts the independent inventor to the licensing company.  It selects a promising invention then submits it to licensing companies.  If no license results, it may decide to improve, patent, produce, and market the inventive product or method before trying again for a license.  The NPD benefits from payments it receives from the licensing company or inventor.  The inventor benefits from professional product development, credibility, and communication; from decreased risk in bringing a product to market; from no haggling; from transparency; from a quick decision on whether an NPD or licensing company will invest in the invention; and from a quick path to profit.  The licensing company benefits from a standard screening process, from no haggling, from absence of disclosures that might contaminate its intellectual property, from an expanded source of creativity, and from an opportunity to introduce revolutionary products into the market.

How it works
Submission of an invention
Inventors start the development process by evaluating their own inventions (patented or prototyped), which may be new products, new methods, or new uses of existing products.  Is the invention what both a company and a lot of customers would want?  Is the evidence for so thinking persuasive?  Is the invention a big improvement over what’s on the market now?  If the answers to those questions are encouraging, the inventor might opt to submit the invention to an NPD.

Screening
The inventor may think that everyone will want to buy any product that solves a problem.  The NPD knows better.  It refines the inventor’s reasoning by asking how many people have that problem, how many know they have that problem, and how many want to pay the inventor’s price to solve it.  The NPD predicts the answers to those questions by comparing the inventor’s invention to a model invention that the NPD thinks would sell well.  The degree of similarity between the two is calculated using a mathematical formula (e.g., the Merwyn Business Simulation [a specialized version of the Fourt-Woodlock system of decomposition sales forecasting] or InventionScore).  The formula may include variables that describe customer benefits, evidence of those benefits, and size of those benefits relative to the size of benefits provided by similar products already on the market.  If the degree of similarity is high, the NPD tries to turn the invention into innovation.

Development
The NDP tries to license the invention by persuading licensing companies that the invention has a market. Persuasion may require bringing the invention to market and showing that it yields high sales.  Bringing an invention to market typically costs the NPD about $250,000 in design, patenting, production, and marketing costs.  Of course, the NPD tries to recover its costs, and to make a profit, by keeping a portion of a licensing payment.

Example – Evergreen IP (EIP)
EIP, a United Inventors Association-certified patron, is interested in technologically simple products (such as a recyclable popup trash can) that have a large potential market.  It provides an inventor with transparent licensing and development processes, offering quick acceptance or rejection of an invention and a standard deal for accepted inventions.  In the standard licensing deal, EIP recovers its investment in the invention from the licensing payment and splits the remainder with the inventor: 65% EIP, 35% inventor.  The inventor pays no money upfront.

EIP is actively seeking inventions (natural cleaning compounds, agglomeration technologies, healthy foods, and disinfecting technologies) from independent inventors for Clorox.  EIP guarantees that it will get an invention to Clorox within 30 days of submission and will get Clorox’s decision on licensing within 60 days.  Clorox pays EIP to screen inventions using EIP’s Product Capitalist model (based on the Merwyn Business Simulation model).  This standard licensing deal has 3 levels, based on patent status of the invention.  The inventor gets at least $35,000 and 1% of net wholesale, and up to $750,000 and 3% of net wholesale.  Again, the inventor pays no money upfront.

Thank you, Mr. Bigos, for helping us understand the licensing process and for telling us about all the benefits that EIP offers inventors.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

October 2010

"To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment."
     - Ralph Waldo Emerson

"You can learn how to be you....  All you need is love."
     - Paul McCartney and John Lennon

Sometimes, less is more.

Imagine a dark June night in the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee and a hillside full of fireflies.  At first, each flickers independently.  Then pairs, then threesomes, flicker together.  Soon tens of thousands flash as one, in rhythm.  They have no leader, yet their synchronized light show couldn't be better.  Just individual fireflies being themselves.  As glorious as these creatures are, they aren't unique.

Nature is filled with self-organized complex systems.  Rhythmic breathing synchronizes the heartbeats of a mother and her unborn child.  An athlete playing "in the zone" amazes onlookers.  Doctors use sandwiches of spontaneously synchronized superfluids (Josephson junctions) to noninvasively pinpoint brain tumors or sources of epileptic seizures.  Can independent inventors self-organize, to level the playing field of innovation and compete with big corporations?  Albert Schinazi thinks so, and offered to help us synchronize ourselves into a lean mean innovation machine.

The Idea - Intentional Sharing
Spontaneous order goes by many names in the business world - self-organization of complex adaptive systems, chaord, collective intelligence, crowd sourcing, grass roots organization, open innovation, open sourcing, open space technology, self-help groups, wisdom of crowds, etc.  In this case of a group of inventors, each person would think and act independently while sharing in a process of deciding how to profitably bring inventions to market.

     "Fish got to swim, birds got to fly." - Oscar Hammerstein II
Inventors who want to self-organize need to have two traits.  One trait is a commitment to innovate, actively and productively, in one way or another.  The more diverse the people, the better.  People who know accounting, business, creativity, different technologies and designs, human behavior, intellectual property law, manufacturing, marketing and public relations, product development or distribution, regulations, sales, or anything else related to innovation all have something to contribute.

     Dialog
The second trait is a commitment to dialog - to gathering and sharing information about innovation and to working toward a consensus on how to innovate.  At each moment, each person is learning (listening), teaching (speaking), or both.  Conflicts and mistakes help everyone learn about the environment of innovation (which changes over time) so they can keep trying to succeed.  Everyone brings something to the table and shares in the potluck dinner.  One person brings two loaves of bread, another three fishes, another only hunger.  Sharing multiplies the loaves and fishes so that no one goes away hungry.

How It Works
A meeting facilitator tries to create the conditions that help people self-organize.  A day-long meeting might go like this.  A facilitator, such as Mr. Schinazi, starts by explaining how the meeting will proceed.  He asks everyone for problems that they want people to work on during the meeting, and for a time and place to work on them.  Each person then decides which, if any, discussions to attend.  Each discussion group works on its problem and decides which post-meeting actions to take.  Someone in each group records the important points of the discussion and, by the end of the meeting, the facilitator combines all of the recordings into one summary document.  Just before the meeting ends, everyone gets a copy of the summary document and gathers to talk about the highlights of the meeting and the actions they will take.

Examples
Several websites use collective intelligence to solve difficult problems - Article One Partners (improves patents by finding prior art), Breakthroughs to Cures (improves medicine by improving the medical research system), FoldIt (discovers how proteins fold; people of average education outperform computers), Innocentive (solves problems for organizations by expanding their sources of innovation), and Quirky.com (develops product designs).

During a 3-day, 300 person, company-wide strategy conference, an idea from a security guard led to new products that netted Rockport Shoes $18 million during the first year of sales.

Dee Hock, founder and former CEO of the VISA credit card association, used self-organization to build a trillion dollar company.

Learn more about this kind of self-organization at The Chaordic Commons, Open Space World, or StartUp Weekend.  If you are interested in self-organizing with other inventors, please contact Mr. Schinazi.

Thank you, Mr. Schinazi for telling us about this interesting topic.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

August 2010

A patent can be a marvelous tool that helps you build and tap the market value of your invention.  Or it can be a useless burden that drains your time and money.  As with a hammer, you can hit the nail on the head or you can just injure yourself.  Patent attorney Elizabeth Shuster helped us understand what kind of tool a patent is by treating us to an overview of patents – what they are for, what kinds there are, what they are made of, how they are made, and how to use them.

Uses of a Patent
A patent gives you the right to prevent others from benefiting from your invention without permission.  That right to be negative can help you carve out a place in the market for the invention, persuade a business to license the invention, persuade potential customers to buy products that exemplify the invention, gain a reputation as an inventor and as a leader in your field, or stimulate growth of an industry.  But even though you have a patent, you might not be allowed to benefit from your own invention.  For example, if someone else recently patented a chair and you improved it by adding rockers, you might need to reach an agreement with the other patent owner before you could sell your patented rocking chair.

Kinds of Patents
Most kinds of useful inventions can be patented.  A utility patent for a machine, item, composition (such as an alloy, chemical, or food), or method of doing something lasts 20 years from the day you first apply for the patent.  The patent office may take about 3 years to approve a patent application, leaving an effective patent term of about 17 years.  The same holds true for a plant patent for an asexually reproduced plant.  However, a design patent for an ornamental design lasts 14 years from the patent’s issue date.

Ingredients of a Patent
A patent is a combination of things – a useful idea (an invention) that is new and nontrivial; a public definition and description of that idea; and a promise by the government to use its power for a limited time to protect the defined idea from intrusion.

     Useful
Your idea is useful if using a man-made physical form of the idea benefits someone.  You can show that your invention works by actually using a physical form of the invention to produce an intended beneficial result.  Or, because patents are granted only for useful inventions, you can imply that the invention works by filing a patent application.

     New
Your invention is new if you are the first inventor to think of it and are diligent - in showing or implying that the invention works and in filing a patent application.  But no U.S. patent for you if you publicly publish about, advertize, use, or sell products that exemplify your invention more than one year before you apply for a patent.  And no foreign patent for you if the public learns of your invention one day before you apply for a patent.

     Nontrivial
Your invention is nontrivial if, on your invention date, it would surprise (at least a little) someone of ordinary skill in your field of technology.  The government grants patents to promote progress (U.S. Constitution Article I, section 8, clause 8), not to keep a hamster running in place on a wheel.  Combining known parts in known ways to get an expected result is probably trivial.

How to Make a Patent
     Patentability Search
You may start the patent application process by hiring someone to look for inventions similar or identical to your own.  If some other genius invented your invention before you did, there is probably no reason for you to spend your money on preparing a patent application and on filing fees.  If the search suggests that you may be the first inventor, it will help you to prepare a patent application that more easily persuades the patent office that your invention deserves the broadest possible protection.

     Application and Fees
The associated or next step is to hire someone to prepare and submit a patent application along with your filing feesThe application describes the invention well enough for someone of ordinary skill in that technology to make and use your invention.  The application also legally defines your invention and determines what protection may be available for it.  An application for a utility or plant patent (but not for a design patent) may be provisional.  A provisional application is like a dinner reservation; it holds your place in line for one year while you decide whether to file a more expensive nonprovisional application which may lead to a patent.  During that year, you might test market or improve your invention, or save enough money to pay for a nonprovisional application (which can cost $8,000 or more).

     Prosecution
An examiner at the patent office reviews your application and approves, rejects, or asks you to modify it.  You can argue with the examiner about these preliminary decisions before the final decision to approve or reject your application.  A telephone interview is an excellent way to help you and the examiner understand each other.  You must be truthful and tell the examiner anything you know that might affect the final decision.  You may appeal a decision you don’t like, at the patent office or in court.

     More Fees
If the examiner approves your application, you pay a fee for issue of the patent.  And if you decide to keep your patent for more than 3 ½ years, you pay even more fees.

How to Use a Patent
All of those fees and expenses add up – a patent is an expensive tool.  So use your patent skillfully.
     Business Strategy
          Goals          Understand how your patented invention will help you achieve your business goals.
               Does your invention have significant market value?  Do some market research to find out.  If few people will buy products that exemplify your invention, a patent might not be useful to you. 

               Do you want to sell your patent to another business and be done with it?  Or invest in another business (usually in exchange for royalties on products sold) by licensing your patent to it?  Businesses interested in your invention might be willing to pay for the costs of getting a patent.
               Will you start a new business based only on this invention?  A patent can help you gain investors and increase the credibility of your marketing.
               Are you adding a new product to your existing business?  A patent can help you prevent others from copying the product.
               Do you want a reputation as an innovator?  A patent lets the world know that you solve problems.

          Ownership of Inventions
If you own a business, consider having your employees sign an employment agreement that specifies the ownership of inventions conceived as part of the company’s operations.  That lets everyone know what to expect so there are no hard feelings later.

          Tax Benefits
Indiana gives tax breaks to a small business for income derived from a patent.

     Marking
Mark products (not just their packaging or literature) you sell that exemplify your invention with:

     Patent Pending, while your patent application is pending before the patent office;
     Patent plus your patent number (e.g., U.S. Patent No. 1,234,567), while your patent is in force.  Remove this marking when your patent expires.

If you don’t mark your products properly, you forfeit any money you might recover from infringement that occurs before you notify an infringer of infringement.

If you mark your products without justification and with intent to deceive the public, you can be fined up to $500 per marked item.  A patent statute (35 U.S.C. 292) supported by a recent court case (Forest Group v Bon Tool Company, 2009) gives half the money to a bounty hunter who sues you because of your error and gives half the money to the government.

     Enforcement
One way to enforce your patent is to give others permission to benefit from your invention, usually in exchange for something (like royalties) you want from them.  You may grant an exclusive license to one company, or grant nonexclusive licenses to several companies.

Another way to enforce your patent is to deny unauthorized access to your invention by notifying and, if necessary, suing infringers to prevent them from benefiting from your invention.  This method can be expensive and time-consuming, but you may be able to recover revenue lost because of infringement, as well as attorney fees and court costs.

Thank you Ms. Shuster for sharing your patent expertise with us!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

June 2010


Abby Appelt (president of BlingToGo and owner of Out Of The Box Thinking, LLC) helps heal people by lifting their spirits.  Her ornamental wraps return to ailing people some control of their lives, by helping them turn their institutional medical equipment into a fashion statement.
           
Invention
     The Need
Finding herself on crutches for the fourth time, Ms. Appelt decided to cheer up herself and her commiserating friends by decorating her crutches.  The warm response and good feeling she received led her to explore ways of extending that benefit to others.  Why settle for decorating crutches when you can also beautify bed rails, canes, IV poles, hospital tables and trays, and walkers?

     The Solution
A nurse told Ms. Appelt that any ornamental wrap used in a hospital would have to be sanitizable and removable, easily and without leaving a residue on the equipment.  So she looked for and found a suitable commercially available fabric coated with pressure-sensitive adhesive.  She hired a graphic artist to design decorative patterns based on ClipArt and found two printers to print chemical-resistant designs on the fabric – one to manufacture up to 2,000 items per week, and another to fulfill larger orders.  The nurse tested the wraps in a hospital for free and found that patients liked them.  The wraps made medical equipment uniquely attractive and less frightening.

Product Development can be costly, but Ms. Appelt showed us how to save money.
     Legal
          Copyright
Even though her designs, like all eligible works, automatically received copyright protection the moment they were created and fixed in a tangible form, Ms. Appelt decided to register them as a group with the Copyright Office.  She read a simple tutorial, filled out a registration form, and filed it with a $50 fee payment.  Registration gave her the option of suing any infringer and became prima facie evidence of her copyright.  Although no international copyright exists that could protect her designs throughout the world, the U.S. has reciprocal agreements with most countries (Canada, for example) for enforcing copyrights.

          Patent
Ms. Appelt hired an attorney to file a provisional patent application for her invention.  That bought her time to identify her market and to determine whether that market would likely return enough profit to justify a more expensive nonprovisional patent application and patent.  Her attorney also helped her to increase her business assets by creating a legal entity that will own any patent that issues.

          Trademark
Legalzoom.com offers an economical way to get a trademark, but be sure to closely monitor your application.

     Marketing
          Elevator Pitch
You have to be your own champion if you want your business to succeed.  A workshop at Eureka Ranch helped Ms. Appelt realize the value of an elevator pitch (a 30 second explanation of her wrap for people she meets).  A pitch doesn’t cost anything and can open unexpected windows of opportunity.  She suggested preparing slightly different variations for different audiences and trying out the pitches on strangers.

          Public Relations
Starting a business requires a lot of work (12 hour days in Ms. Appelt’s case) and lasts about 3 years.  Rather than spend time learning and practicing the intricacies of public relations (press releases, magazine and newspaper articles, social networking, radio interviews, etc.), she hired a professional (Rachel Jackson) to start and maintain a lively public conversation about her wrap.

          Web Site
Likewise, Ms. Appelt delegated the design and maintenance of her profitable commercial website to a professional (Jerri Coverstone).  Why spend your time worrying about domain names, keywords, and Google’s 200 factors for ranking a website when so much else needs to be done?  She noted that meaningful links to and from a website contribute to its rank.  So find websites related to yours by typing key words into the Alexa website, and then ask the website owners to exchange website links with you.

          Revenue Sharing
Revenue sharing (rewarding another business for bringing you sales) helps Ms. Appelt turn potential competitors into partners.  This form of marketing is efficient – its cost is directly related to resulting sales.  She displays her wraps on medical equipment sold by another, and that person displays her medical equipment wrapped in Ms. Appelt’s designs.  Each pays the other for referred customers.  She also uses affiliate marketing (an internet version of revenue sharing) to increase her profits.  She earns a commission each time someone follows a link from her website to a partner’s website and buys there.  In turn, she pays a commission for sales on her website that originate at a partner’s website.  Win/Win – how great is that?

     Distribution
Ms. Appelt bought barcodes (patterns of bars and spaces of varying width that represent data and can be read by machines) to help track her inventory and to show the business world that she manufactures and sells.  She paid only $20 apiece by buying the barcodes from a reseller who has no annual barcode renewal fees (because the UCC, now GS1 US, assigned the barcodes to the reseller before 8/28/02).

     Sales
Manufacturerrepresentatives.com helped Ms. Appelt create a national network of professional salespeople who sell her wraps in return for only a commission (15% of the wholesale price; this percentage is high because the price of her wrap is low).  Job advertizements on this website cost her $30 per month.

Wrap on, Ms. Appelt!  Thank you for sharing your enthusiasm and methods with us.  Best of luck with BlingToGo.


Note:    Our secretary, Mr. Robert Brand, recommends the book Inventing for Dummies to new inventors.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

May 2010

Inventors usually need to describe their inventions - to other inventors, to business associates (designers, distributors, engineers, investors, manufacturers, marketers, patent office examiners), and to customers.  A detailed drawing of an embodiment of an invention (object or process) is one of the clearest and most concise descriptions of what the invention is, how it is made, how it works, what result it produces, and how it is unique or better than similar inventions.  Mr. Jerry Mandell of Sandhill Crane Design described the drawing services he provides to inventors by showing us some of his computer-generated 2- and virtual 3-dimensional images and animations.

Still images can be presented as exploded, cut-away, or transparent views.  The steps of operation and of assembly can be animated.  An invention can also be described by a virtual 3-dimensional prototype (rendered or photo-realistic), multimedia presentation, or video for a trade show.  Drawings can be saved as stereolithography files, facilitating rapid prototyping of an invention.

Mr. Mandell grants full ownership of the copyright of his creations to the client.

Thank you for sharing your works of art with us, Mr. Mandell!

Monday, April 5, 2010

March 2010

Inventors often license their inventions because they understand technology, but not business.  That’s fine if you just want to get paid for inventing.  But what if you also imagine a world transformed by your invention, and want to create that world by using business?  Business professor Mark Motluck of Anderson University offered us some advice on how to get started.

First, realize that not every great technical idea is a great business opportunity.  Not many people will buy a cart if they don’t have a horse to pull it.  So find out whether your invention has, or or can be modified to have, economic value by using a:

     Survey. Ask people whether they would buy your product, and how much they would pay for it. Ask them in person at places where they would buy your product (say at a shopping mall), or indirectly by mail, telephone, or through your website.
     Focus group. Bring people to a neutral site and watch how they react to your product. What do they like or dislike? What changes would they make? A panel from your local Rotary Club might make an effective focus group.
     Personal interview. Ask individuals who represent your potential customer population what they think of your product.
     Observation and field trial. Give your product to potential customers. Let them use your product under real conditions so you can see whether it works and how it can be improved.

Second, plan your business. This forces you to think about profit, to think about whether you can really tap the economic value of your invention. Get help from others - from SCORE (see below) or from books such as “Entrepreneurship : Theory, Process, Practice” by
Donald F. Kuratko (of Indiana University). But write the plan yourself, so that you really understand it.

Third, consider allying yourself temporarily with a business expert. You and the expert want different things from this alliance, but combine your complementary strengths to achieve them all. Before entering into an alliance, ask yourself whether both you and the expert will benefit.

Such experts include:
     Business incubators (e.g., IUETC or Purdue’s Research Park). This is a good starting place for a small business. An incubator improves the economy by providing a promising small business with subsidized rent, reduced cost of duplicated activities (such as document copying, telephone and internet service, and climate control), advice from business professionals, and networking opportunities.
     Venture capital (e.g., Heron Capital) or angel investor (e.g., Stepstone Angels) firms. These firms offer business expertise, networking opportunities, and investment dollars in exchange for partial control of your company.
     University schools of business (e.g. Anderson, Butler; ask any university business professor at any university about these community outreach programs). These schools help your business (e.g., with marketing strategies, or with writing a business plan) in exchange for the real-world experience you give to their students.
     Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE). This group improves the economy by helping you succeed with free or low cost advice on all aspects of business.
    
Small Business Administration (SBA). This government agency improves the economy by providing guaranteed, but hard to get, loans.
     Kauffman Foundation. This organization promotes innovation by offering entrepreneurs money, knowledge, training, and business networks.

Thank you, Mr. Motluck, for sharing your business insights with us and for your efforts to connect inventors and students to reality.


Friday, February 26, 2010

February 2010

Mr. Patrick Turley (president, ballsystems technologies) told us about a very useful service that his 40 year old company offers to an independent inventor -- affordable help with the customized design, low- to mid-volume manufacturing, or detailed technical description of an invention (e.g., electrical, electronic, firmware, mechanical, packaging, software, 3D animation, or data packaging for service level agreements).

Talented engineers at the company are practical (all having worked at companies such as Delphi, IBM, and Raytheon) and spend most of their time working on projects for Fortune 500 (e.g., Allison Transmission, Delphi, Hewlett-Packard, Honeywell, or the U.S. Air Force), and other, clients worldwide.  But between those major projects, they help individual inventors.

Mr. Turley offered us some advice on how to minimize the cost of those services.
  1. Do as much work as you can, before hiring the company, and be flexible about timing.  Quick projects that fit nicely between major projects are billed at the lowest rates.
  2. Give the company a clear and definite statement of work.  Focus on features that will persuade your potential customers or investors that your invention really works; worry about the bells and whistles later.  Tell the engineers exactly what you need, so they don't waste time trying to figure out:
    • what you don't know or understand;
    • what you want designed or manufactured;
    • your specific requirements (fit, form, function, technical specifications, etc.);
    • when you want your project completed.
  3. Realize that jumping straight from low volume production of a prototype to large scale production of a sales order is risky.
This company wants to help individual inventors protect their intellectual property, by signing nondisclosure agreements.  But remember that your strongest protection lies in filing a patent application.

Thank you for offering, and for telling us about, this very useful service, Mr. Turley!

Saturday, January 30, 2010

January 2010


Although each independent innovator's path to market success is unique, successful innovators tend to share 2 complementary traits - the ability to act on incomplete or inconsistent information, and resilience.  We help manage risks to our market success by learning from other innovators and participants in the innovative process, by networking at trade shows with representatives who can open doors for us, and by thinking carefully.  But we can never eliminate risk.  For example, the timing of getting a new product to market is important to market success.  The market's rule often is "first come, first served."  In order to synchronize our innovative efforts with market demand, sometimes we must act before we have a perfect plan, before we have all the answers.  So we sometimes hit unexpected bumps in our path.  When that happens, resilience (keeping our eyes on the prize) helps us to learn from our mistakes, to recover, and to continue on our path.

Mr. Robert Dunlap (founder of The Cement Solution LLC; inventor of a reusable bag for mixing concrete; holder of the world record for fastest cement mixing) exemplifies those 2 traits.  Based on what he learned while traveling his bumpy path, he recommended 5 ways to help us manage our product distribution risks.

1.  Trust, but verify.
If a distributor places a large order with you, dig for the details.  Know what you are getting into.  Is the order subject to any unstated conditions, such as a particular kind of packaging or a variable price?

2.  Get it in writing.
Conversations are a necessary and helpful part of negotiating a deal, but an agreement is not usually final until all parties sign a written, binding contract.  So don't spend any money on manufacturing an ordered product until you receive a signed purchase order from the distributor.

3.  Show me the money.
What net income does your distributor guarantee to you?  Are there any unstated conditions on receiving that income?  For example, a distributor may intend to pay you only after it recovers all of its distribution costs.

4.  Don't get in a hurry.
Business deals can take time to negotiate, especially if the company you are dealing with is undergoing internal changes.  Developing a strong distribution network for your product might easily take 6 years.

5.  If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
  Don't forget that you are the little guy.

Mr. Dunlap also recommended investing in a good patentability search before starting work on any nonprovisional patent application.  It's usually better to spend $2-3,000 on a search and find out that some other genius already thought of your invention than to find out the same thing by spending up to $20,000 on a denied patent application.

Thank you for sharing your hard-won knowledge with us, Mr. Dunlap.  Good luck with your product distribution!

Patent Drawings by Richard McVicker

Some inventions patented by our members:

Bob Brand
3,179,907 Tuning system for television receivers
3,219,933 Television tuner switching system
3,241,072 Tuning control system
3,538,466 Television tuner cast housing with integrally cast transmission lines
4,503,740 Optical cutting edge locator for a cutting apparatus
4,503,896 Dog system for veneer slicer
4,601,317 Veneer slicing system
5,511,598 Veneer-slicer with remotely controllable blade angle adjustment
5,562,137 Method and apparatus for retaining a flitch for cutting
5,590,700 Vacuum flitch table with self-cleaning vacuum valve
5,678,619 Method and apparatus for cutting veneer from a tapered flitch
5,680,887 Veneer slicer with timing belt
5,694,995 Method and apparatus for preparing a flitch for cutting
5,701,938 Method and apparatus for retaining a flitch for cutting
5,819,828 Method and apparatus for preparing a flitch for cutting
5,868,187 Method and apparatus for retaining a flitch for cutting
7,395,843 Method and apparatus for retaining a flitch for cutting
7,552,750 Method and apparatus for cutting veneer sheets from a flitch

Kenton Brett
6023685 Computer controlled event ticket auctioning system
6704713 Computer controlled event ticket auctioning system
6907405 Computer controlled priority right auctioning system
7647269 Computer-based right distribution system with reserve pricing
7698210 Computer-based right distribution system
7720746 Computer-based right distribution system with password protection
7747507 Computer controlled auction system
7769673 Computer-based right distribution system with request reallocation
7992631 System and method for seasonal energy storage
8073765 Computer-based right distribution system with password protection
8128407 Method and system for teaching math
8538856 Computer-based right distribution system
8732033 Computer-based right distribution system with temporal variation
9614733 Methods and systems for reducing burst usage of a networked computer system
9900220 Methods and systems for reducing burst usage of a networked computer system

Rick Hanson
6,240,579 Unitary pedal control of brake and fifth wheel deployment via side and end articulation with additional unitary pedal control of height of patient support
6,253,397 Deployable siderails for a wheeled carriage
6,256,812 Wheeled carriage having auxiliary wheel spaced from center of gravity of wheeled base and cam apparatus controlling deployment of auxiliary wheel and deployable side rails for the wheeled carriage
6,264,006 Brake for castered wheels
6,507,964 Surgical table
D474,446 Sterilizable battery component

Bob Humbert
4,281,368 Keyhole illuminating apparatus

Ron Jackson
4,886,110 HVAC zone control system
4,943,039 Adjustable clamp
4,987,409 Level sensor and alarm
5,132,669 Level sensor with alarm
5,381,989 Adjustable spring clamp
5,944,098 Zone control for HVAC system
6,145,752 Temperature monitoring and control system
6,322,443 Duct supported booster fan
D347,596 Audible security alarm
D376,747 Door security device

Jerry McQuinn
D689,343 Universal Nutcracker

Richard McVicker
3,261,937 Three position snap switch utilizing interference blade means
3,319,477 Timer Escapement
3,332,704 Manually propelled treadmill vehicle
4,625,616 Thumb pick
6,309,076 Light barrier, screen or reflector
D240,237 Sculpture or the like
D356,653 Yard light
8389839 Thumb pick

Bill Pangburn
5,943,831 Device for Hauling Objects

Al Robbins

3,882,960 Ride quality control for surface effects craft
3,946,689 Air dynamo pressure regulation and modulation device for surface effect ships and air cushion vehicles
6,588,702 Lighter-than-air device having a flexible usable surface

Matt Thie
4,844,446 Multiple-compartment currency stacker-sorter
4,940,162 Rolled coin dispenser
7,298,280 Lighted fluid flow indication apparatus
7,617,826 Conserver

Richard Tucker
5,833,751 Powder coating booth having smooth internal surfaces
6,840,367 Material handling and manufacturing system and method
6,976,835 Manufacturing system and process
7,018,579 Manufacturing system and process

Don Walls
D707090 Torque key lever
RE36209 Door lock apparatus

Dave Zedonis
5,637,926 Battery powered electronic assembly for wheel attachment

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