You're a patent owner. You came up with an invention that is truly unique and novel. Congratulations! Obtaining patent protection requires hard work, patience, and -- of course -- money. When you discover your application has been approved, you feel fantastic. There's a grin on your face. It's official: You're an inventor.
Now the real work begins. How are you going to commercialize what you've come up with? Because there's a significant chance all you may end up owning is a very expensive plaque. To bring your invention to market, you will need to think like an entrepreneur.
You should have considered the commercialization question before obtaining patent protection. Unfortunately, many do not, or at least not fully -- which explains, in part, why most patents fail to result in a commercial product. Inventing is fun. Commercialization can be a slog, and requires a radically different set of skills.
I've been coaching and mentoring product developers for nearly 20 years at inventRight. In my experience, most inventors are lousy entrepreneurs. That's okay. With a little insight, you can still commercialize your intellectual property.
First, know that there are a couple of routes available to you.
You could build a company to bring your patent to life, also known as venturing. Venturing an invention requires time, money, determination, and most of all, experience. There's a reason startups are founded by teams. Your patent is just a starting place. You will need to seek out and bring together individuals with different know-how, including marketing, finance, and sales. You may need to raise capital. Bringing the simplest of inventions to market can be prohibitively expensive.
The other route is less demanding. You can commercialize your patent by licensing it to a major player. What is licensing? You can think of it like renting. If you do not want to make and sell your invention yourself, you can license it to an individual or company who does.
The key to licensing a patent is packaging. To attract interest, you must package your invention correctly.
Let me be blunt. Most inventors are clueless about how to do this. In fact I'd go so far as to say the more brilliant you are at inventing, the less likely it is you have marketing chops. That's okay! Accept it and move on. Don't let your ego get in the way. If you're an engineer, scientist, researcher, or doctor, there's a very good chance you're extremely talented at what you do. That doesn't mean it will be easy for you to forge partnerships with industry.
In fact, I can almost bet you're terrible at sales and marketing. Don't frown. No one can do it all. If you're a dreamer, you like to build prototypes, and you can readily identify problems and come up with solutions -- fantastic, you're an inventor. Inventions do not sell themselves, not even great ones. That's where entrepreneurship comes in.
Rarely do I meet individuals who possess both sets of skills. So, you will most likely need someone to help you commercialize your invention.
When It Comes To Licensing, The Most Important Factor Is Fit
You need to identify potential licensees that can benefit from your invention. Cast a wide net at first. Then hone in. Closely study what these companies produce, and for whom. Where would your invention add the most value? If they're selling apples, you don't want to show oranges. I cannot overstate how important this step is. You must tailor the packaging of your patent to specific potential licensees. (Writing your patent with a specific licensee or acquirer in mind is a smart strategy.)
You will need to be able to describe the benefit of your invention in one sentence, which is not easy to do. However, it's crucial. Benefits open doors. The shorter and more concise yours is, the better. I'm serious. When you receive an email from someone you do not know, how often do you read more than a sentence or two? You will use the sentence you come up with everywhere -- on your marketing materials, subject lines, and in person.
The mechanics of how your invention works is fascinating to you, but not to others. Not initially anyway. The technical aspects will come later. You must engage your audience first. You want your audience to be curious. To wonder, "How does that work?" People are only motivated to inquiry if they care. Think of the headlines you click on. It's because there's something you want to find out. Steve Jobs was a master at selling benefits. "1,000 songs in your pocket." I'll never forget that.
A good sell sheet makes the recipient want to learn more.
Include The Following Elements On Your Sell Sheet
-- Put your one-line benefit statement at the top.
-- Next up: Your beauty shot. I'm talking about your prototype. Don't have one? Have 3D computer graphics made so your invention looks beautiful. Anytime you require help from a service provider, make sure to have them sign a non-disclosure agreement that includes work-for-hire language. You do not want anyone making improvements to your invention and later claiming co-ownership.
-- Three to five bullet points that list features.
-- At the bottom, your contact information. State that your invention is patented, but don't include the number -- make them search for it.
Test the effectiveness of your marketing materials by showing them to someone you don't know. Do they get it? If they ask questions like, "How does this work?" or look confused, you need to head back to the drawing board. Test your marketing materials until they work.
If you have a prototype, I highly recommend creating a minute-long video using a problem-solution format. This way, you're telling a story. And good storytelling is the key to selling. Devote the opening 10 seconds of your video to the dilemma at hand. Make it as relatable as possible. (After all, this should be a problem they, or their customers, face.)
Then, spend about 45 seconds showing off your solution. Include your contact information at the end.
Make sure there's a button on your sell sheet that says, "Watch demo." Follow up to confirm the recipient of your sell sheet has watched your video.
When you begin reaching out to potential licensees, be polite and professional. I recommend using Linkedin to help you identify the right people. Be brief. You need to get your sell sheet in front of someone who can comment on it. That's all!
You can license any invention using the tools described above. After you get some initial interest, provide additional information to help potential licensees quickly evaluate what you've submitted.
Later, Provide Potential Licensees With Additional Information
- More information about the problem your invention solves.
- The size of the opportunity. What are competitive products and how are they lacking? Describe the size of the market and revenue potential.
- More information about how your solution will provide them with a competitive advantage. What is your point of difference? How about from an IP standpoint?
- Costs and price point. Getting a manufacturing quote from someone in the United States can be very helpful. What will your invention retail for?
Infographics can help explain complex ideas quickly. Make sure yours are easy to understand at a glance.
The evaluation process will go much smoother and faster as a result, meaning you're one step closer to a term sheet. Only supply a potential licensee with this kind of detailed analysis after they've seen your marketing materials (sell sheet and video) and have asked for more information. At this point, you might also consider asking them to sign a non-disclosure agreement.
Your patent has tremendous value, because it makes potential licensees less fearful. Consider filing a design patent, or maybe even a trademark, to give your invention additional value. Keep innovating. You can file a provisional patent application on any new improvements, further establishing your ownership.
The strategy outlined above works because at every step of the way, you make it easy to get a yes. The focus is on furthering the conversation. You're thinking like an entrepreneur.
There are no tricks or easy solutions to licensing a patent -- just opportunities to be identified and pursued with determination.