Joyce Lain Kennedy

DEAR JOYCE: How should a person with a great commercial product idea move forward and turn an invention into cash? -- N.N.

The upside of bursting forth with ideas and inventions that are technological breakthroughs or improvements to how things work: You could reap fame and fortune.

The downside of inventing and trying to bring brilliant concepts to life: Most people lose money on their inventions.


When you think you have a genius brain-flash, first work it out from concept to development. Ideas, per se, can't be patented or copyrighted, and don't sell as stand-alones. If your invention holds true commercial value, it's an uphill climb just learning all you must master to succeed. Inventing is a complex, dense body of knowledge filled with puzzling terms. Never underestimate the level of sophistication you need to acquire about the bright-idea industry and how to protect and market your work.


A number of helpful guidebooks are available to make you wise and wary about moving your idea forward. Here are two I especially recommend:

-- "The Inventor's Bible: How to Market and License Your Brilliant Ideas, 3rd Edition" by Ronald Louis Docie Sr. (Ten Seed Press/Crown, 2010).

This definitive guide presents virtually everything you must know to promote and sell inventions without losing your shirt. Additionally, the book contains an exceptional list of resources for inventors, including the author's own Web site: Dimwit's Guide for Inventors (

-- "Patent It Yourself: Your Step-by-Step Guide to Filing at the U.S. Patent Office" by David Pressman (Nolo, 2009). In a concept-to-marketplace sequence, the author explains every detail of the art and science of inventing, including the legal aspects. The glossaries of technical and patent terms alone make the book invaluable for the inventing newbie who wants to turn pro without falling off a cliff.


As an invention rookie, you're a walking invitation to pitches from invention-marketing companies that charge thousands of dollars to do what you can do for yourself after reading the how-to books. While some invention-marketing companies provide helpful and legitimate services, others are sharks. Your challenge is to learn how to tell the difference.

Read "Invention Development & Marketing Scams" on InventNet (; click on Invention Scams).

To network with local investors who can help you make good decisions, hop onto the National Inventor Fraud Center (; click on Inventors Groups)

Important: Consult with a patent lawyer before signing up with a patent broker or developer who claims he or she will evaluate, register and market your brainchild.


Someone may have beaten you to the patent punch. You, or someone you hire, has to search for the existence of inventions similar to your idea, called "prior art." You can check out your idea at any Patent and Trademark Depository Library available in all 50 states; find a directory at

To cruise an online patent database, try the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (


When you'd rather just get your patent and then your money, you will want to find a reliable broker, whose references you'll certainly check. Many universities maintain technology-licensing personnel for their own inventors. These specialists can suggest good brokers who will work on a contingency-fee arrangement, meaning that the broker makes money only if your invention sells.


Luminaries such as H.G. Wells and Thomas Edison were willing to dismiss as useless or unworkable such things as electric lights, rockets and airplanes. The president of Digital Equipment Corporation declared in 1977 that "there is no reason for any individual to have a computer in their home." Consider this whenever you are ready to dismiss your next great idea!