7 ways to protect your idea and future income

Innovation can be a gift that keeps on giving, but only if you legally safeguard your invention from being stolen or copied.

  

Innovation is a beautiful thing. It leads to the discovery of new technologies and improvement of people’s lives. However, if you have come up with a great idea, turning it into money is a completely different matter. In situations like this, you have a couple of basic options: manufacture and sell your product yourself, or license it to somebody else.

Licensing can save money and time, but it's a risky process. Here are some of the things that innovators need to keep in mind when trying to find the right partner to bring their products to market.

  • Be sure about licensing before approaching a third party

Before you start contacting agents or retailers, ask yourself whether licensing is really the best option for you. Licensing can take a lot of the work out of getting your product onto the shelves, but it inevitably entails losing control over the project. You could well lose out financially too, although with the promotional power of a big retailer behind you, sales volume can make up for loss of exclusive rights.

Then again, if you go it alone, you can dictate your terms, choose your sales channels and keep complete control. If you have the energy and skill, being your own boss could mean bigger profits and more satisfaction. It also minimises the chances of someone stealing your idea before it comes to fruition. There's a choice to be made, so think about what you want to achieve before taking the licensing route.

  • Sort out your patent as soon as possible

Whatever field of innovation you work in, use all means at your disposal to protect your idea from competitors. This usually means applying for a patent which, if your product is truly innovative and useful, should not be a difficult process. However, it can be expensive. For more complex electrical items, a well-written patent can cost upwards of USD 3,000 (AED 11,000). It pays to create a detailed application as well. The more detail you can provide, the more difficulty competitors will have in court, if it ever comes to that stage.

  • Secure the right legal support

Accessing legal help is expensive, but if you have a strong product idea that you know will make money, bringing in lawyers to guide you through the licensing process is essential. At every stage in the process, companies will seek to limit your royalties and steal your idea. They know when entrepreneurs lack high-quality representation (and you can be sure that their legal team is well funded). If nothing else, consulting a business lawyer is a good idea. They may be able to offer invaluable pointers without coming on board for the duration.

  • Carry out in-depth research

The Internet is a fantastic source of information for entrepreneurs seeking to license their products or go it alone. From YouTube licensing channels such as InventRightTV, to local MeetUp groups for inventors, honest advice is always available for anyone with a bright idea and a lack of licensing knowledge.

  • Be cautious about handing over money

There are plenty of companies on the web promising to license your products to clients, saving you all the hard work. However, as with all things in life, if something seems too good to be true, it probably is. Licensing companies are no exception. If they ask you for money upfront, that's always a good sign to run for the exit. Some of these firms are just looking to exploit vulnerable entrepreneurs and may steal your idea and money, so exercise caution when dealing with middle men. Instead of companies that ask for money upfront, go for agents who prefer to split royalties. When agents are willing to split risk, it suggests that they are serious about helping clients to succeed, and not just in it for a quick buck.

  • Try an emailing campaign

One of the biggest challenges when licensing your products is actually getting a foot in the door at companies that might sell them. Unless you have a strong contact with a retailer, there's no magic bullet to this part of the process, but some ways of making contact work better than others. For example, many entrepreneurs report that email campaigns work really well.

Write a professional, clear email about who you are and what your product has to offer, but don't provide too much information about how your product is made. Provide just enough information to arouse interest without exposing your secrets. The aim is to attract curiosity and project a professional, competent image. It's not easy, but with the right email pitch, you can make that vital first connection.

  • Create a virtual prototype

Many innovators choose to create prototypes to showcase their inventions, but for some products, that is not feasible. A more up-to-date method is to create "virtual prototypes" – with the assistance of a professional graphics studio – that can be attached to emails or shown in presentations. Done well, this kind of representation can add value to your sales pitch and could sway retailers into signing you up.

Turning a great idea into income shouldn't be hard, but it is. Great ideas don't automatically translate into generous rewards and there's a whole world of people who make a living out of taking a cut from the inspirational achievements of inventors.

Despite that, dealing with them is often a necessary evil. Think hard about whether you need to license your product, file your patent, take legal advice, create email campaigns and prototypes, and consult online experts - and don't lose heart. If your idea is strong and you stay determined, you'll find the right marketing niche to turn it into profit.

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