Monday, March 30, 2009

Some Important Factoids

Things are finally becoming clearer, a little more into focus each day. I'll give some information that I've learned this week that is very important if you end up doing any of this stuff.

Patents and Trademarks
Patents are a way to obtain an offensive (and expensive) stance on a utility, design, or plant invention that you may have. There are other ways to protect an invention... like a trade secret, but if your end product is meant to end up in the hands of consumers, it can most likely be reverse engineered. For example, if you are inventing a new bike, and do not file a patent within one year of your first sale or introduction to the public, anyone can create the same bike by "reverse engineering" to figure out how its made, and then sell it.

The Coke formulation is a trade secret, but has worked this way because of the large amount of ingredients used and specified process to produce. However, if Coke had filed a patent for their formulation, their recipe and method of manufacture would be public knowledge, and after 20 years would be open for public use. As it can be seen from these examples there are benefits and drawbacks from each method of protection.

A provisional patent can be filed up to a year before the regular patent. The provisional patent is not published, but merely filed away for safe keeping, and is only referred to again once the regular patent has been filed. In order to file a useful provisional patent that will offer you protection in court, the provisional patent must explain how to use and make your invention. Another important note is that you MUST file the regular patent within one year that the provisional patent is filed. If it is not filed within one year you LOSE your right to patent your invention, and it becomes public domain.

An Idea needs enough sunlight to grow, but not so much that it bakes in the sun

What do I mean by this? It's important that your idea doesn't end up in a closet, hidden away from everyone so that it dies from the lack of light. People can add insight and needed criticism to your project. It needs a healthy amount of attention from people who know about your field of invention and business but are not out to harm it in anyway. It is important that you don't publicly display or publish your invention because then you can lose patent rights, if the paperwork hasn't been filed. If you tell too many people, who can't positively effect your outcome, you could be creating more competition in the space in which you are trying to excel in. It is all a balance, and maintaining the one that is right for you.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

So, I have an Idea, now what?

Do you have the "So, I have an Idea, now what?" syndrome? I've heard this a lot, and all I can respond is there is no easy answer for that. I bet then you've also heard the saying that an idea is a dime a dozen. I know some people consider it "easy" to come up with an idea, though I think it's less trivial to come up with a good idea. In my world a good idea is not just one thought, it is a stream of consciousness built from a problem, followed by a logical solution that is well supported against all sides of argument.

Unfortunately, most of us are not Major Nelson with Jeannie besides us to blink us a finished product. In order for our dreams and ideas to become a reality, it does take time.

There are many carefully set up ploys that will quickly get other companies rich. I don't know of a single company that is out there to get you rich. If it sounds too good to be true, it is. From what I've heard, the resources advertised on TV like hooks you up with a series of people which of whom you pay for their services, and they are definately not the cream of the crop. So in the end, the services win because they have a steady stream of business, but the inventor... not so lucky.

And then there is the occasional casting call for TV shows such as American Inventor, and Everyday Edisons. Keep in mind that if you show off your product on national television without a patent, your product now becomes public domain and you are no longer eligible for a patent. Funny how that works. So, if you really think you have the next huge idea, it's probably not the best thing to wait in line with 40,000 other contestents. If you want to wave to your mom... then stand in line. If your idea is something you aren't serious about pursuing unless you make it to the finals, then it might be worth it too.

Competitions arrise here and there for products. My sister sent me this one:
It's an interesting concept. Smart advertising for bed bath and beyond, similar to Fox's American Idol. They gain publicity just by having this contest, and it costs them practically nothing to run it. Edison makes out because they charge a $25 screening fee per product. For the inventor, it is small risk, a low probability of return, but with a high reward. If you have a good concept but would not go through the trouble of going through the process, it would be good to submit it here and try your hand at success.

Lastly, if you have the energy/passion/stubborness to do it yourself. It is the highest risk and highest reward thing you can do. If it doesn't work out you can say you've tried it, and probably learned a wealth of knowledge. And if you make it big you can look in the mirror and know that you've beaten the odds and can be proud of yourself for having the chutzpah to make it happen.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Progress on the Entrepreneurial Front... Playing the Game

Being an entrepreneur is definitely not a job of quick rewards. If you are thinking of starting a company, or being your boss, and expect things to happen at a snap of a finger, you'll be disappointed. But, if you are willing to be persistent, stubborn, and combine some naiveness with passion, you may just have a shot.

I've been at this thing seriously for 7 months now. In that time I've taken classes, networked, gotten familiar with the area and what it has to offer, familiarized myself with Stanford, and have taken action with my projects. I feel that I've been setting up my chessboard. I'm getting all my pieces set up so when I really start playing I'll be prepared for any obstacles my opponent throws my way. I've researched and inquired about everything from the patenting process to funding, technical development to marketing. It's less costly and timely to learn from other people's mistakes then making my own.

As a result of doing a large breadth of activity at once, opportunities keep showing their faces like that whack-a-mole game at the arcade. So, at that moment, I need explore the opportunity as it presents itself. The whole thing is a game. The reason why I need to be so vague in my posts is because as in poker, you can never show your full hand and still expect to win.

Right now I'm in stealth mode with a product I'm developing. I cannot tell everyone I come across because much of a competitive edge is in the 'first to market' strategy. That is how Amazon made it big. They were the first on-line book store and they had time to make mistakes so they could get it right, leaving all the brick and mortar stores in the dust. If you are too late in the game, you run the risk of becoming a copycat brand, trying to ride on the coattails of another's success.

The only exception to that rule would be if you can vastly improve upon or redesign what is currently on the market. Apple with its ipod was certainly not first to market with their mp3 player. But they did greatly improve and redesign the industry. They incorporated a music player (itunes), with a store where people could easily buy and download their music onto their uniquie player. The ipod's design along with the buying and listening experience were for the first time streamlined, making their product a total sensation.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Even MORE fate!

On February 26th 2009 and October 10 2008, I blogged about the bits of fate that brought me out to California that involved IDEO and Tom Kelley's book, "The Art of Innovation: Lessons in Creativity from IDEO, America's Leading Design Firm". Then I mentioned how I found out about Tom Kelley speaking, and had the opportunity to meet him. And how I ran into David Kelley, and had the opportunity to meet him.

The Art of Innovation: Lessons in Creativity from IDEO, America's Leading Design FirmYesterday I had lunch with an IDEO employee whom I met through a mutual friend. I met her in Palo Alto and we decided to eat at a local Thai restaurant. The host shows us to our seats, a very small two person booth, right next to one other small two person booth, that is nicely tucked away in a corner of the restaurant. After 10 minutes of sitting down and talking about IDEO and what had brought me out to California...the host seats two people in the booth right next to us. I moved my backpack for the person who would be sharing a bench with me. To my... disbelief, Tom Kelley was sitting next to me. Of all the restaurants, of all the seats, of all the time, Tom Kelley was right next to me. I laughed to myself. Seriously I think it's a bit of 'too much coincidence' at this point. Its fate telling me something, time will only tell what it is!