Most people are inventors without realizing it: using problem-solving skills to figure out how to stack items in the refrigerator, organize the bills or get past a fitness plateau. The key to coming up with an invention that performs well in the business world lies in finding new solutions that are timely and appealing to consumers.
Think about how great inventions like the wheel, the compass, the printing press or the steam engine changed history and probably directly or indirectly impact your life today. It is not just that those were good inventions but also that they were marketable and timely and brought in a steady profit.
Determine Your Skills
While it might be fun to invent a new app or the latest and greatest mascara formula, you might not be the best person for the job if you do not have computer coding skills or a background in cosmetics chemistry. Begin with your own areas of expertise. Ask yourself the following questions to get an idea of where to start:
- In what have I earned formal education?
- What things do I competently do on a daily basis?
- What do I do in my career?
- What happens routinely in my personal life?
While you could potentially come up with an invention pertaining to something in which you have no competency, chances are better that your own daily activities, education and career will inspire you to create something great.
Invent a Product That Solves Problems
With your skill areas in mind, think about the things in your personal or professional life that are regular problems. It could be something that is routinely a hassle, but it could also be a problem you do not realize needs solving. Perhaps something could be faster, easier, smoother or add value to what you are already doing.
Maybe customers are asking you for a product you do not already produce, or maybe they are complaining about something, and you want to fix the problem for good. Listening to consumer complaints, suggestions and request is an excellent way to invent something that fills a real need and will be in demand. If existing customers would purchase your invention, you might have a built-in customer base at launch time.
Market and Patent Research
Understanding your skill set and a few good problems that need to be solved is just the beginning of coming up with invention ideas that work. It is just as important to come up with a budget and do some market research to determine whether your potential product will be in demand, scalable and profitable. Feasibility studies help you take legal, financial, practical and marketplace demand into consideration before you invest a lot of money into product development and testing.
In addition to feasibility studies, you need to conduct some patent research to determine if your invention ideas have already been executed by someone else. You can do patent research on your own by searching the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) databases as well as searching overseas. Patent research can become complicated, so you might also hire a patent researcher who knows the ropes to help take some of the guesswork out of the process. Before you can conduct patent research, you will need to know how your invention ideas work, come up with prototypes and describe them in great detail.
Test and Release Your Product
After the feasibility and patent process, it is time to work on the bare bones of getting your product on shelves. Lawyers, manufacturers and experts in your field help cover your blind spots, and then product testing will be required through venues like:
- Focus groups
- Trade shows
After product testing, marketing professionals can help you design a product launch to give you a timely and solid start in the marketplace.
- Interesting Engineering: 19 Great Inventions That Revolutionized History
- Business News Daily: How to Turn Your Idea Into a Product (and Launch It!)
- Investopedia: Feasibility Study
- Jeffrey Dobkin: 89 Brief Questions for Inventors
- United States Patent and Trademark Office: Search for Patents
- Nolo: Getting a Patent on Your Own