Can't locate an inventors group in your area? Start one of your own. The United Inventors Association (UIA) offers these tips for forming an inventors group:

  • The group's primary mission should be to build and improve members' business skills. Other intentions may include networking, brainstorming, and providing resources and feedback to inventors.
  • Strive to organize the group as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. As such, your group may qualify for tax-exempt status and grants.
  • Create a volunteer board of directors, and elect officers.
  • Ideally, a professional who is well-versed in the patent process will be an active contributing member or on the board of directors. Use discretion -- you don't want someone who is trying to generate business for himself.
  • Recruit at least one accomplished inventor to mentor the group. UIA studies have shown that successful inventors groups are mentored by successful inventors.
  • Have a reliable, secure meeting place, with a consistent location and set meeting times.
  • Publish a newsletter on a regular basis to keep members informed and involved.
  • Form close associations with other local groups. A nearby chamber of commerce, Rotary Club, or Lions Club may be able to supply a meeting place and be a good source for speakers. Work with other educational and government institutions, including your local Small Business Development Center and the Service Corps of Retired Executives.
  • Form a working relationship with an established, successful inventors group.
  • While membership fees should support the organization, make efforts to secure financial sponsors as well.
  • Forge a good relationship with the media. Inventors groups and their members should promote a positive and realistic image of independent inventors.

Sidebar: A Model Meeting

Steve Schneider runs the Idea to Market Network, a nonprofit in Santa Rosa, Calif. ITM's goal, Schneider says, is to give "honest and straight advice and resources" to help inventors develop their products.

He and his four-person board of directors produce ITM's monthly meetings, from recruiting speakers, to calling the caterer, to making name tags. The board is required to attend all meetings (they can be voted out if they miss two) and to stay in touch with members throughout the month.

ITM meetings are held on one Saturday a month from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Here Schneider offers a rundown of a typical meeting format:

8 a.m. Set up the room. Props include a camera, overhead projector, and whiteboard.

9 a.m. - 9:30 a.m. Greet attendees, and collect the meeting fee. Have each attendee sign a nondisclosure agreement -- all information shared during the meeting remains confidential.

9:30 a.m. - 10 a.m. Give an introduction. Schneider includes an overview of the club, announcements, and upcoming and ongoing programs. He also conducts a brief show-and-tell related to the invention process.

Attendees briefly introduce themselves and state why they are there. That helps the speaker streamline his speech, Schneider says.

10 a.m. - 11:30 a.m. The speaker takes the "stage." ITM speakers have included a product developer from the Sharper Image, intellectual-property lawyers, and professional Web designers.

Topics at ITM meetings have included packaging, the copyright process, the patent process, business plans, venture capital, sales reps, and trade shows.

11:30 p.m. - 12:30 p.m. Break.

12:30 p.m. - 1:30 p.m. Lunch and networking.

1:30 p.m. - 3 p.m. Brainstorming session. All attendees have 10 to 12 minutes, depending on the size of the group, to talk about their invention and to solicit feedback and advice from the others.