Tuesday, March 03, 2009

INVENTION: Sailing to the Product Land

So there I was, driving down the road, chatting with my wife on the way to work, when I had a brilliant idea. I can’t tell you what the idea was, because I signed a confidentiality agreement. But trust me. It was brilliant.

But what do you do with a brilliant idea? Let’s say you do invent the next lightbulb. Having an idea is swell, but how do you get it from your noggin to store shelves? Well, there’s a whole section of the internet out there that deals with these issues, and I have stumbled onto it.

Over the next few weeks, I hope to share all this new knowledge with you. And by doing so, also ensure my ability to prove "first invented". But more on that later. Let’s go back to that eureka moment.

I wasn’t trying to invent anything. I was complaining. And in the middle of complaining, the solution to my problem hit me. It was so obvious. Why had no one thought of it before?

Once at work- and thankfully early so I could do some quick research on my own time- I began to investigate the uniqueness of my idea. I began several web searches for existing products. Nothing on eBay. Nothing at Amazon.com. Yahoo nor Google produced any results.

Okay, maybe this is a new idea. Or maybe it just hasn’t been made yet, but is patented. Easy peezy. Just do a Google Patent search. At lunch of course- it was time to get to work.

By lunch time I was convinced that my idea was brilliant, and I was a little angry I couldn’t just go buy one. Quite frankly, I have no desire to start a business, to prototype, to beg, borrow or steal for funds to start production. I just want one of my doodads for myself.

Lunch time proved that I wasn’t going to be able to buy one anytime soon. Nothing on the patent search. I did find a vaguely similar product- similar in the way that oranges are similar to apples; they both being round fruits that grow on trees. But no doodad analogs.

Now what? Well, thankfully, I have a wide variety of friends. Including some attorneys, a guy who loves watching invention TV shows and a guy who started his own business and has a machine shop. I contacted all three of them.

"Brilliant! I want one!" my lawyer, and fellow shared doodad-problem attorney friend said. "That happens to me all the time! You should patent that and get it made! And I know a patent attorney!"

"Pretty cool!" my inventor-wannabe friend declared.

"Oh, my gosh!" My business friend declared. "That is brilliant!"

Okay, ego stroking done. Now what?

A prototype. Luckily, I carry a leatherman tool on my belt all the time. Oh, sure, folks mock me for this, but when they want something fixed, who do they come to? And my desk was stocked with paperclips, rubber bands, pens, and a whole lot of other junk.

I had a protoype put together in under 5 minutes. Well, not really a prototype, more of a proof-of-concept. Oh, yeah, this could work.

By Day Two, I knew I had to pick a destination and how to get there. Having a great invention in my head, and a cheesy, MacGyver prototype in hand isn’t enough. What to do? Not to worry, work was so hectic I couldn’t do much. And after work it was time to go home and unwind.

Part of my unwinding is my beloved friend, television. And one of many shows I watch regularly is a BBC production called "Dragon’s Den". Again, let me state that I never wanted to be an inventor- I just enjoy watching them shoot down stupid ideas.

Now at this point, you might think I got the idea to try and go on a TV show for inventors. But no, I was too dense for that. But before retiring to bed, I decided to check the internet for when the next season of Dragon’s Den starts. In reading the wikipedia page for the show, I saw that there were similar shows in the U.S.- including one called "Everyday Edisons" on PBS.

Not that I want to be on TV, but I thought I’d check out their website. I'm glad I did.

Turns out that www.everydayedisons.com sponsors inventor contests. You submit ideas, without the need for patents, and companies pick the best ideas. There are cash prizes and even a cut of profits should your idea be the one that actually gets made. And remember, my idea is brilliant.

My lawyer friend was not enthused.

"You should patent it yourself! This could be a steady source of income over the years!"

Maybe. Or maybe I could own 100% of nothing (one of my favorite lines from Dragon’s Den). And I don’t have the time for that. I have a day job, two kids and I occassionally try my hand at this writing stuff. Oh, and then there's my Xbox. That takes a LOT of my time.

Everyday Edisons is perfect for slackers like me.

So here I am, one week after my epiphany, and I’ve set sail on the SS Invention. My idea is in the pipeline. Maybe I can win some money, maybe I have just blown $25 on the entry fee.

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