Licensing has always made sense to me on a fundamental level. I believe anyone who uses consumer products is capable of coming up with improvements to them. At the same time, companies are out there actively looking for new product ideas. In that way, licensing is really about forging a partnership. It's mutually beneficial, which I love.

But too often, the process can seem shrouded in mystery. What are companies really looking for? Why won't they just tell us? (For the record, I'm not sure.) The good news is that there are product scouts out there like Warren Tuttle, a longtime kitchen industry expert, who are actively looking for your ideas–as well as willing to provide you with feedback.

Tuttle has been in the kitchen industry for more than 35 years now. After graduating college, he began buying housewares for a New York City department store. Later on, he began his own collection of kitchenware shops. When Tuttle helped an inventor bring Misto--a gourmet olive-oil sprayer--to market, he said his life changed forever. The product ended up selling millions of units; Tuttle was hooked on helping inventors. Today, he oversees Lifetime Brands' open innovation program. Lifetime Brands is the largest kitchen utensil manufacturer in the world, manufacturing about 18,000 products a year.

As I've said before, the kitchen industry is on fire. This is a great industry to try to license an idea to. I sat down with Tuttle to learn more about what he does and what he's after.

So, what is it that you do exactly, Warren?

"Well, Lifetime Brands is always looking for new products. The company does a lot of in-house development. What I'm responsible for is anything that comes in from the outside. All leads get turned over to me. I'm also out and about actively scouting for ideas. We get a few thousand submissions a year, and it's my duty to vet them. My job actually begins by talking to the company's division heads about what they're looking for, though. What I'm trying to do as I look through submissions is identify a good fit."

What is a good fit for Lifetime Brands?

"We're looking for something new, disruptive, and unique--something that can come in different sizes and colors, ideally. We're primarily looking for products that solve problems and add quality to consumers' lives. We want a unique approach, typically something that is patentable. When it comes to housewares in particular, we're looking for things that make a task easier or simpler. Products that save customers money are great. For instance, if you came up with an innovation that improved how bags are sealed, resulting in things being kept fresh longer and the consumer not having to buy as much produce--that would be great. Heart-healthy products are popular. If your innovation helps prep healthy food, that would capture our attention. To be honest, there are new food trends all the time, and I'm continually searching. At this point, I kind of know a winning idea when I see one.”

How do you help inventors?

"I try to give people counsel. People come to me with a lot of enthusiasm and really great ideas. They may not have a works-like prototype yet, but I'm able to determine if they're on the right path. 'This is what you need to do next to get ready to make a presentation,' I might say. Some inventors aren't up to speed on patent issues. Some are just a little early on in the process. Ultimately, if I think the idea has merit, I work with them to further their projects. I might also say, 'This isn't going to make it.' Part of my job is getting people enthusiastic, excited, and willing to come forth with their ideas. We try to treat everyone with respect, like the individuals that they are. We try to make the experience personal. We respond to everyone. Most of the time, there's a lot of back and forth, actually."

How do you filter ideas?

"I have anyone interested in submitting an idea fill out a very simple questionnaire that can be found on Lifetime Brands' website. You don't have to give away your heart and soul. Usually the questionnaire is enough for me to decide, 'This looks very unique and interesting--keep me in the loop.'"

Do you require ideas to be protected by intellectual property?

"No, you don't have to have it at the beginning. You should have filed a provisional patent application though. Most people use their advance to help pay for intellectual property."

What should inventors not do?

"First of all, let me say that most inventors are very nice people and behave themselves just fine. But there is a small percentage that end up hurting their cause. If I get the sense that a person is going to be difficult to work with, I'm out--I don't care how great the product is. If people ask for things that aren't appropriate or realistic, I try to educate them. But the reality is that if someone is belligerent and demanding at the beginning of our conversation, a deal is never going to get done. It's kind of like dating. I run for the hills."

What should inventors do to become more familiar with an industry?

"I strongly recommend they go to the industry's trade show. Inventors Digest is worth checking out. I also suggest joining and getting involved in a local inventors' club."

I love what Tuttle is doing, partly because it highlights just how important it is to get your idea out there. Do what you need to do to start shopping your idea around to potential licensees as quickly as possible, because the reality is that you'll end up perfecting your idea together. Too many inventors sit on their ideas, choosing instead to spend eons of time working on their prototype. That strategy is outdated. You don't have to spend a lot of money or time upfront to license a simple idea. What you do need is feedback from companies that might actually want to license the idea from you.

In addition to kitchenware products, Tuttle is looking for power-tool innovations and innovations that are a good fit for As Seen on TV.