Fall's Advice Article
The inventor Coach
Brian Fried is an inventor, author, radio host. He is a consultant, mentor and advocate for inventors. He is often invited as a guest speaker on innovation and invention topics at major trade shows, government agencies, schools and libraries across the nation. He offers an insightful perspective for inventors to keep in mind as they pursue intellectual property protection.
Robin Hylton: The old saying “Necessity is the mother of invention” seems to hold true for at least one or two of your inventions—Knot Out and Pull Ties. Would you say that is true and why?
Brian Fried: Inventing is more about people being in different places and having different experiences. Some people are more aware that things can be done differently. Others accept things as they are. If you can think about how to use or who can use a product, how it can improve the life or experiences of others, your product has a better chance of success.
RH: How do you come up with your ideas for inventions?
BF: I look for solutions to problems. I am also a people watcher. I observe how people respond and react to situations. Sometimes people simply respond and accept a situation as if there is no better way. At other times, people react and show frustration. It is within those reactions of frustration that can lead to inventive ideas to make a ‘better’ product. However, you must not make things more complicated but easier to use.
Most importantly, remember that it does not matter who you are. You can invent. You simply must be aware of your environment and experiences.
Because there were limited resources available, I decided to share my new found knowledge with other inventors. In 2008, I wrote my first book entitled “You and Your Big Ideas.” The purpose was to provide a roadmap for inventors that would enable other inventors to achieve success more quickly than if they did it on their own. My intention in my second book, “Inventing Secrets Revealed: Guidance from a Successful Inventor to Make Your Ideas a Reality,” was to provide a basic guide of how to move from the idea stage to protecting your intellectual property (i.e., your idea), to marketing and production. My third book is at the press right now, “Invention Playbook for Inventors with Big Ideas.” It is intended to help inventors with a play-by-play of picking up where they are in the idea process and taking them to their goal of earning royalties or going into business with their invention.
Learning lessons from others can cut down on the time it takes to get your idea from your head to the public.
People started asking me lots of questions on these topics which eventually led me to speaking in public libraries and schools. Now I speak to large audiences and at tradeshows. I even had a radio show that I plan to re-launch soon.
RH: Did you have a mentor or coach to help you? If not, is that the reason you decided to become a coach for independent inventors?
BF: I did not have a coach or mentor in the beginning. I read books about inventing, marketing, etc. when I started out. However, the content felt too general and limiting. I realized I needed to surround myself with like-minded people. Thus, I joined a local inventors group so I could network and learn from others.
Thus, my recommendations to inventors from the production standpoint is to make mistakes and learn the lessons in order to move forward. Don’t be afraid of not getting things right the first time. The lessons are in the failures.
The basic premise is “if I can, you can.” I help inventors realize that their ideas may not be viable and probably should not be pursued because there is not enough difference between the proposed product and existing ones or there is an infringement possibility. By not pursuing such products, inventors can then focus efforts on more viable products. Once you have one idea, you are more likely on track for the next one. That has to be the mindset of any successful inventor.
RH: Besides setting up a consultation for a coaching session with you, what would you tell inventors to get started?
BF: Start by writing down your idea. Ask yourself “what makes it different from other products on the market?” If it is not different from other products or will make someone’s life better, it may not be marketable.
Take your time to do your own research. Use generic descriptive words in the various online search engines such as Google, Bing, and Yahoo to see if there are already products like the one you have envisioned. Look at the images and not just the description. You want to be sure that it is not similar looking or functioning. Search the USPTO search tools available on the USPTO webpage such as the Search for patents and Global Dossier. You should also search both U.S. patent and U.S. patent application full text and image databases as well.
If you are unfamiliar with patent searching, you can start by watching a web based tutorial How to Conduct a Preliminary U.S. Patent Search: A Step by Step Strategy to help you get started. There are also Patent and Trademark Resource Centers (PTRCs) located around the country where you can get search assistance.
Your searching does not end there. Search online stores and visit retail stores. Products can be found in one or both of these locations. Be sure to visit those places where you are likely to find your product.
You should do your own search. Don’t rely on anyone else. Is the product different enough from existing products to make life easier for others? Search to find your product. This could save you time, money and frustration over time. You must put aside your emotions to be business-minded.
When I work with inventors from the beginning of their process, it helps them the most from disappointment and I can keep them on track and help them make better decisions.
RH: What other areas are important for inventors to consider?
BF: Licensing is another area of consideration for inventors. Licensing is going to a manufacturer with distribution and adding your product to their product line. Keep in mind manufacturers are interested in unique items that will diversify their product offering and to appeal to their buyers. It may not be necessary to perfect your product before presenting your idea since they may make slight modifications to the product(s) should the licensee accept your product into their product line.
Protecting your product can be important – either via a patent, a trademark, or both. Again, doing your own research will determine if your product is indeed different from others currently known. You do not want to infringe on someone else’s intellectual property.
Another important aspect of intellectual property protection is increasing asset value. If you truly want to build a brand and a business, choose a good product name and apply for a trademark. Similarly, apply for a patent and be sure to follow through on the steps necessary to get see it to the end as an issued patent.
RH: What was your most important lesson?
BF: It is important to do research on the opportunity. That includes knowing who you are working with. Get references and talk to people who have been in your shoes. Learn what to expect. Do your due diligence with regard to people and resources.
When discussing your product, or idea, with a potential licensee or manufacturer, you are not obligated to work with them. However, be sure you have vetted the manufacturer as recommended. A licensee or manufacturer may be interested in adding your product to its product line, but may change your product slightly. This could be to fit certain specifications or to make the product easier to manufacture. Thus, you do not have to perfect your product if you plan to license it.
RH: What is your proudest moment?
BF: I actually have two. Being on television representing and promoting your very own invention now a product and seeing it on a store shelf is amazing. Also, when I work with an inventor to bring his or her product on the shelf is also rewarding. Bottom line, seeing a product used as intended by others is satisfying and exciting.
RH: Do you have any final words for our readers? Perhaps a check list of “must dos”.
BF: Sure. I tell the inventors that I work with several key things:
- Keep an open mind
- Listen to what people say, especially those you are working with
- Do your own research and due diligence
- Follow your dreams
- Bringing something to life and sharing it with others IS the ultimate goal
- Look at your idea as a business. Separate your emotions from the business in order to make clear decisions. BOTTOM LINE – will you make money from your idea?
- Timing is everything. The market may not support your idea today, but months or years later the idea could take off. For example, I began selling “Eggstra Space” via various distribution methods. Today, there may be an opportunity to sell it in a retail store.
Attendees of Invention-Con 2018, the United States Patent and Trademark Office’s (USPTO’s) conference for inventors, makers and entrepreneurs had the opportunity to hear Brian speak about his experience. Many inspiring inventors that attended the conference were also able to speak with Brian during the breaks and after the daily events to receive his expert advice and tips for success.
The USPTO gives you useful information and non-legal advice in the areas of patents and trademarks. The patent and trademark statutes and regulations should be consulted before attempting to apply for a patent or register a trademark. These laws and the application process can be complicated. If you have intellectual property that could be patented or registered as a trademark, the use of an attorney or agent who is qualified to represent you in the USPTO is advised.