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Posted: October 01, 2009

Guest column: The five big lies of inventors

Common misconceptions can cause the best ideas to fall flat

Thomas Frey and Thomas Franklin

The economic downturn has forced us to rethink our lives. For many, this means a time of stepping into the workshop to give shape to ideas that have been waiting for the right opportunity to emerge.

While Hollywood likes to portray inventors as the wacky mad-scientist type, nothing is further from the truth. Inventors may be wired differently, but for the most part they are very dedicated, hard-working individuals bent on making the world a better place.

But in the business world, few things go according to plan. New products are especially prone to commercial failure. Many of the failures stem from common misconceptions that steer us radically off course. Here are five big lies that will give you a more realistic picture of how to make the grade in the world of invention:

1.) "I have many ideas, so naturally I will be a successful inventor." - Great ideas are only a small part of business success. Inventors tend to have an incessant drive to make their product successful and often a history of ideas that never met with commercial success for one reason or another. A penchant for invention must be bolstered with a varied skill set to protect and market to have a reasonable chance of commercial success.

Inventors can be fiercely independent and like to think they already know everything they need to know when it comes to commercializing a great invention. No one is smart enough to go it alone. Hire an engineer, attorney, marketing firm or manufacturing expert if they possess skills that are not in your tool box.

2.) "Everyone will love my invention." - Not only does the world have a built-in bias toward ignoring the invention you are working on, for the most part, there is a built-in bias for ignoring you as well. No matter how clever your invention is, you have to give people a reason to care. As an inventor, your job does not end with creating something the world needs. You need to both manage and evangelize the product, and continue to champion it for years to come.

3.) "There is no competition." - While there may not be a competitor selling a product in your particular niche, there is always some form of competition. You can always count on competition for people's attention, competition for the outcome, and most importantly, competition for the money. Your biggest competition is simply the word "No!"

4.) The great patent lie. - We have heard them all: "You don't need to hire an attorney;" "Patents aren't worth the paper they are written on;" "Patents stifle innovation;" or "The patent system is broken." Indeed, at times the patenting process can be painfully slow, and a patent does not guarantee business success. However, the reason successful companies are investing heavily in intellectual property protection is because they do have proven value. Using patents to create a barrier to competition will be the best money ever spent by your business.

5.) "My family and friends understand me." - Successful inventors are rarely well-rounded individuals and seldom realize the toll their passion is placing on the people around them. Friends and loved ones are almost always well-meaning, but invariably sources of bad advice. But they still need to be kept informed and involved in the dream. Surround yourself with the talent and expertise you'll need to drive things forward, but allow the people who care about you to continue to care about you.

ABOUT THE COLORADO INVENTOR SHOWCASE:
For anyone with an invention floating around in the back of their head or who want to become more involved in the invention community, the Colorado Inventor Showcase will take place on Nov. 3 at the Cable Center on the University of Denver campus. This event is a rare opportunity to meet the inventors, feel the intensity of their spirit and touch their creations. More information about the event is at
www.coloradoinventorshowcase.com.

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Thomas Franklin is a partner with the law firm Townsend & Townsend & Crew LLP, specializing in patent prosecution and counseling, and trademark and copyright law. Contact him at (303) 571-4000 or tdfranklin@townsend.com

Thomas Frey is executive director of the DaVinci Institute, a futurist think tank based in Louisville. Contact him at (303) 666-4133 or dr2tom@davinciinstitute.com

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