The 5 Steps of Invention Development
Category Inventing Advice
1. Document Your Idea
2. Prove Your Concept
3. Protect Your Intellectual Property
4. Conduct Market Research
5. Manufacture, License or Sell

Documentation is very important because it establishes a conception date. This is most important in the United States because the U.S. is the only industrial country in the world where in which you have one year to file your patent application after you have reduced your invention to practice, disclosed it publicly, or offered it for sale. In most other countries, however, if you don’t file your patent application prior to public disclosure, you lose your right to obtain a patent on it.

It is not enough to simply scratch your idea on a piece of bar napkin. You must describe your invention in a way that another person will understand what it is and how it works. You must also sign and date the document and have one or more witnesses unrelated to you or your project sign a statement that they have read and understood the invention that you are describing, and that they agree to keep the information about your invention confidential. A notary signature alone, without making such a statement, is not sufficient.

Also remember to keep a running record of all variations, improvements and modifications to your invention, and have these witnessed as well.


If your invention is a concept that up until now has not been heard of or contemplated, if the invented device performs a certain function that has never been performed before, and if your invention is technically sophisticated, you may need to prove your concept. This might include doing scientific research, building a working prototype, or submitting your product to third-party testing and critique. In cases like these, the time, effort, and financial investment put into proving your concept are essential to catapult you to the next step and increase your chances of having a commercially viable product or technology.

There are, however, many products and concepts that do not require any type of extensive prototyping, proving or scientific evidence. For example, if you have a very simple concept that is easily understandable, uses readily available materials and standard engineering principals, or is a variation on products and technology that already work, it may be sufficient to have a written description and maybe a drawing or illustration of your invention to prove your point. This may be all you need in order to have a commercially valuable invention. You also don’t necessarily need a working prototype in order to get a patent.

3. PROTECT YOUR INTELLECTUAL PROPERTYSo far in our hierarchy of invention development we have not made reference to patenting or protecting your idea other than documenting it. This is because when and how you patent or otherwise protect your invention depends on your situation.

There are a couple of factors that dictate when and why you would file for a patent.

One is the marketplace and manufacturers in your field of invention. For example, if you have an invention that will apply strictly to original equipment auto manufacturers, such as General Motors or Toyota, these companies will only consider an invention that is patented – and has defendable patent rights. In the absence of a patent, unless you’re already a vendor supplying products to the automotive industry, you will have little chance of making headway in selling your invention to major automotive companies.

On the other hand, there are other circumstances where manufacturers and companies put little emphasis on the strength of a patent. Rather, it is more important for them to be first in the market with a product while staying one step ahead of their competitors. Companies move products in and out of the markets more quickly then you can even get a response from the patent office. In cases like these, although you may still file a patent application, it may be more a matter of formality when it relates to the overall commercialization strategy.

Another possible reason to not initially file a patent application is that many times there are products on the market that would render your invention redundant or inferior. Most consumers in the course of their lifetime only see a small portion of all the total products and technology being offered in the world. If you look past the store shelves, you will learn that there is a plethora of products and technology that never make it to the mainstream markets.

In light of different industry and company requirements, the weighting you give to your patent is an essential element in your invention development strategy. In the case of the automotive original equipment market, it would be best to investigate the patentability of your invention as soon as possible, perform an extensive patent search, obtain a good patentability opinion letter from a reputable and experienced patent attorney, and start the patenting process sooner rather than later.

So how do you learn whether you’re in a product and technology category that puts emphasis on patents? Research your industry and obtain advice from someone familiar with the market.


The simple fact of the matter is, with doing a minimal amount of in-the-field market research -- more or less the equivalent of intensive shopping -- it’s common for many inventors to learn that their invention is not worth pursuing because it’s redundant or inferior to products and technology currently on the market.

Your research may take as little as a few days and the cost for you to travel to a few locations -- far less expense than pursuing a product that won’t succeed.

Inventors often avoid this step because they think their invention will be the next best mousetrap. It’s bad enough to learn that your invention will not succeed; it adds insult to injury to spend $20,000 to $50,000 before finding this out.

We are now at the last step in the invention commercialization process. You’re at a point where you feel you can show a third-party company a document that quickly and easily illustrates what your invention is and how it may benefit them.

At this stage, you’ll start to find a lot of conflicting advice regarding licensing your product, finding manufacturers, and the pros and cons of starting your own company. When people suggest that you ‘have to’ do this or ‘have to’ do that to get your product to market, they’ve typically had experience using that particular methodology. The problem is, you could read books by 50 successful entrepreneurs and each one would have a different path to success.

Still the principles of successful product marketing are the same: identifying your market, who it is, where they are, how do they purchase, their likes and dislikes, and how much they are willing to pay. With information such as this, you can start to consider market positioning, branding and other techniques used commonly by most major companies. For individual inventors, the scale is normally smaller.

In The Inventor’s Bible, and on MY DIMWIT, we teach you more about the principles involved in bringing your invention to market, knowing that individual situations and circumstances may require different strategies.


To get started, read The Inventor’s Bible and the articles on this website. For more personalized help, try MY DIMWIT Self-Help for Inventors Free. All of these resources contain the details you need to move through the invention process.

WARNING: Keep your invention confidential. Share it only with trusted friends and family who have signed a confidentiality agreement, your attorney, a reputable patent search firm, a patent attorney or agent registered with the USPTO, or a reputable invention marketing or commercialization company or agent that has signed a confidentiality agreement.

Contributed by Ron Docie, President, Docie Development, LLC, Copyright 2009, All Rights Reserved.
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