Technical Help with Your Invention

"So You Think You Have a Hit?"

New inventors often expect that everyone will see the potential of their invention if they only had a working model. Some have been irritated when a product developer didn't jump at the chance to share in the wealth from their "sure-fire success" in return for developing the prototype.

The comparison to drilling for oil falls short when trying to explain how investors view inventions. Getting someone to help drill for oil isn't too difficult because production companies will want it once you prove you have it. They know what to do with oil, but it's usually not clear what to do with an invention even after you prove it.

Understanding the risky economics of new product development isn't easy. It's helpful to use a more familiar subject to quickly illustrate what must be considered in the invention business. The struggles for success and the failures in the entertainment industry get more publicity than stories about the new product development business. However, there are many similarities.

"The first step is an intuition — and comes with a burst, then difficulties arise. Time, hard work, and some good luck are necessary."Thomas Edison

Rock StarConsider someone who has an "idea" for a song, but can't sing it or play it. They go to a recording studio and ask them to find someone to finish the lyrics and the music, get a copyright, provide the studio time, hire musicians and record the song in return for a percentage of record sales. The "idea person" only has a hunch that the song will do well and doesn't even know anyone at a record company. This work requires a huge contribution by the studio. Meanwhile, the money for marketing, distributing and promoting a CD is only a dream — and so far you only have a single song (not a whole product line).

Everyone knows that there are thousands of talented musicians without a record deal. The recording studio has seen many who spent hard earned money on demo tapes. They may have already donated time to promising acts that are still waiting for their big chance.

Why should the studio do all of that work for a chance to profit from someone else's longshot idea? Even after the work is finished, they must trust that many other people will do their job right before the song has a chance of being a hit. And, if a record company does become interested, they'll probably have some "input" and want changes before they make a decision. Finally, after others put up all the money, did most of the work, and took the risk, how much was the idea worth? How many other ideas would have done just as well if executed properly?

Though good new product ideas are valuable, thinking of one costs a lot less than developing it. And, development costs less than mass production, marketing, distribution and sales. While many product developers — like the recording studio — are skilled at what they do, they usually don't have the funds to get the product to the market. If the inventor doesn't, then it's a waste of effort until you find someone who does.

There is another side to this. If you had a great track record at making hits and everyone believed you would make another one, people would fight to work with you. However, few people are going to listen until you prove that you can produce that kind of winning streak.

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Ron O'Connor, P.E.

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