When an inventor tells me, "There's nothing like my idea out there!" I cringe. Usually it's said with pride, but in my mind, that statement is worrisome. For one, I think, there's a good chance you're wrong. Products that are similar to your idea most likely do exist--you just haven't studied the market, or studied the market thoroughly enough, and found them. If your idea is truly one-of-a-kind... well, I begin to wonder, is there a reason for that? Maybe the idea isn't really needed. Maybe there isn't demand for it.
The value of simple ideas has been confirmed to me over and over again throughout my career. What do I mean by simple ideas? I mean ideas that are essentially small improvements, tweaks, and/or additions to existing products. I'm referring to ideas that combine two products or concepts in a new and novel way. Simple ideas are those that offer a tangible, be it potentially small or incremental, benefit to the end user. Simple ideas can also be fun, whimsical, and inspire joy. When I hear about a product idea and think, "I can't believe that doesn't already exist. Why didn't I think of that?" I know the inventor is on to something good. Simple ideas are like that. They smack you over the head with their ingeniousness.
If you want to license your ideas, I strongly encourage you to focus on simple ones, especially if you're just starting out. Always remember that potential licensees are risk-averse. Your job is to reduce risk-to make it as easy as possible for a company to say, "Yes! We need that idea."
So, why do simple ideas rule?
1. A market for them already exists.
An essential aspect of studying the market-which is one of the most important steps of bringing a product to life-is determining whether or not significant demand exists. Will consumers want to buy this product? How many of them? When you invent an improvement to a product that is selling on the market already, you can be sure that demand for it exists. That's a great first step in the right direction. Less test marketing is required.
2. You don't have to educate the consumer about them.
One of the issues with complex product ideas is education. When you invent an idea that falls under an entirely new category of products, you run the risk of having to educate the consumer about why they need the product. You may even have to teach them how to use it. Marketing campaigns that require education are costly. Companies don't want to take on so much risk. Your idea might be too ahead of its time, which happens.
3. They are more likely to be able to be manufactured at a competitive price point.
Your product idea will never see the light of day if it can't be manufactured at a competitive price point. If you focus on building upon an existing product, there's a better chance your innovation will be able to be manufactured affordably. Of course, you'll have to confirm to be sure. Make sure your product idea doesn't have too many bells and whistles, because those add up.
4. Manufacturers can easily slip them into their existing product lines.
That's an attractive quality. It makes the decision seem seamless, natural. It's a no-brainer. If a company is selling apples, don't approach them with an orange. Show them how to do what they already do better. Potential licensees want to hit the ground running with an idea.
5. Most patented ideas are exactly that, anyway--or so research says.
"Most new patents are combinations of existing ideas and pretty much always have been," a Sante Fe Institute report recently concluded. Why fight what is clearly true? Technological advancements have revolutionized our societies, to be sure. But revolutions occur over time. So many great minds have contributed, step by step, to our most valuable innovations.
If your goal is to live the licensing lifestyle, keep it simple.
Stephen's book about the power of simple ideas, One Simple Idea: Turn Your Dreams Into a Licensing Goldmine While Letting Others Do the Work, has been translated into five other languages.