Friday, January 27, 2012

The Road Well Traveled

I was reading an interesting article yesterday by patent attorney Andrew Spriegel about the realities facing inventors who approach him with what they are sure is the “million dollar idea”. You can find it here. After reading it through, I was struck by the many parallels to our own business and went back to it again with that as a focus.
And you know I love me them there realities…for instance:

For every 1,000 patents, only four or five will actually make it to the market and make any money; the rate is less than ½ of 1 percent. I’d say that in design licensing the percentage making it out of those portfolios would be similar.

Many inventors are too close to their idea and rely on family and friends for opinions instead of doing the market research to see if it there is a demand for the product, and as a result end up spending years and thousands of dollars on something with little or no market appeal. Boy does THAT sound familiar…

There is a network of “for-profit” invention mills that promise results but are only out to take the inventor’s money with no regard for whether the product is actually marketable. Hmmm….

Occasionally the best ideas that seem to have great promise don’t go anywhere. He stresses that the invention/patent process is often frustrating and you just need to keep moving forward. In our business this is absolutely true, and when (not if) it happens to you, stop and use what you’ve learned to retool, reinvent and then relaunch – either an improved version or a whole new idea. Sometimes our pet projects just are not going to work and that’s OK – fail fast, fail early and move on is the mantra.

He cautions inventors about selling out to a big box store like WalMart or Home Depot because their distribution models will produce only a small profit percentage for the IP owner. Well, ain’t it the truth. While big box retail margins stay high, we have seen a steady and relentless erosion of the royalties generated by products sold into big box markets (see the previous post) and there is no end in sight.

The point here is not to “dash dreams or slay hope” as he says, but rather to keep those alive by pointing out that your roadblocks are generally not unique, but instead typical of what one encounters while pursuing a successful creative life. Expect them, scramble over them and keep creating. Cast a wide net when looking for information and inspiration – you never know what will be useful and we can learn much from all those inventors, musicians, writers and others on similar but divergent paths.

And I bet we'll have a few things to teach them as well.

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