For the purposes of a paid deal, Avery is looking for new, novel and patentable storage and organization products that will be of use to students, professionals and small business owners in office, home office and school environments. Avery will consider some closely adjacent areas that leverage their current capabilities, but unless it’s through a partnership with an established company that can offer complementary strengths (i.e. collaboration with Martha Stewart), Avery will not consider markets that are too far afield from their professional office/home office core.
An idea is the starting point for an invention. An idea becomes an invention when you, the inventor, figure out how to translate your idea into a real working product that satisfies unmet consumer needs in a unique way. Of course, if the product you come out with is already in existence, then it really isn’t an invention. And, if it is already patented and can be found anywhere in public records, then you won’t be able to claim that it actually belongs to you.
Walking down the aisles and noticing what’s not there can be a useful exercise for figuring out what to invent, but don’t get too excited yet. There are literally millions of patented, useful products that are not on shelves because they failed to sell well and were discontinued, cost too much to manufacture and turn a profit, or that serve such a specific purpose that they can’t maintain the sales velocity required for stores to want to carry them. There are lots and lots of reasons why a product might not be on store shelves. Not having been invented yet is only one of them. Doing a patent search is a crucial step at this stage.
A patent gives you legal ownership of an idea for a product, design or process. A utility patent is expensive and takes years to get, but is usually the best to have. Here is an example. A design patent grants ownership of a specific ornamental design. They are usually fairly easy to design around and therefore are not usually very useful to an inventor. Here’s an example. A provisional patent application records the date of an invention and is kept by the USPTO for one year. Within that year, an inventor can convert the provisional patent application into a non-provisional utility patent application. Many inventors use the year to gauge interest and decide whether to take the next step. If you’re serious about inventing professionally, read the book "Patent It Yourself" from Nolo Press.
We recommend Google Patents. It’s a very intuitive patent search engine. Brainstorm a list of keywords and phrases that you think might be associated with your invention and start searching. If you don’t find anything similar to your invention, then you probably haven’t done enough searching. Once you find relevant patents, click on the links in the reference and citations sections of the patent to find additional relevant patents. Searching in this manner creates a snowball effect that will give you a pretty complete picture of the IP field around your invention in a couple of hours. If you find patents that are very similar or the same as your invention, then it’s time to hang up the towel and move on to the next project.
The purpose of a prototype is to demonstrate that your invention works the way that it is intended to work. Until you can prove this, you’re going to have a difficult time convincing anyone that they should license your invention. Neither EIP nor our partner companies will make an investment for you to develop your own invention. If you are unable to make a prototype yourself, there are a number of companies that offer prototyping services. Do an internet search for “prototyping” or “fast/rapid prototyping” to see what may be available in your area.
Licensing, outright sale and taking it to market yourself are some of the most common methods. But there are as many ways to go about commercializing an invention as one can imagine (and even more ways to lose lots and lots of money). There are a few conditions that generally have to be met in order for you to have a shot at making any money. 1) Your invention must be something that other people would want to buy. 2) You’ve got to own something in order to get people to pay you for it, whether it’s a retailer who is going to resell your product or a company who is considering purchasing or licensing. 3) The economics of making and selling the product ultimately have to “work”, for you to either make money on your own or convince a company that it’s in their interest to license or purchase.
A licensing deal is an agreement by which a company pays for the rights to produce and sell your product. Typically payment is based on a per unit or percent of sales calculation. However, you may also encounter a one-time fixed payment, multi-year fixed payments, or combinations of the above. The typical terms and percentages paid vary from industry to industry.
Selling a product is different than selling an idea. Just because people might buy a product doesn’t mean a company would buy the idea for the product. You can’t sell what you don’t own. Have you ever heard the quip, “Hey, I’ll make you a great deal on that bridge over there!”? The irony of course, is that the salesman doesn’t own the bridge, and has no ability to transfer ownership to you. The bridge was built for the public and anyone can use it for free. It wouldn’t make any sense to pay the salesman for the bridge. Licensing an invention/idea is the same. Say you have an idea for a product that would make money if put on store shelves. That’s a start, but what if somebody else already owns the idea, or what if the idea is already free for the public to use? Even if a lucrative business could be built around a product, if the idea is already owned by someone else or by the public, then it’s not yours to sell.
If your product may be a fit for one of our clients’ brands, we will provide feedback to you when we respond to your submission. The following resources may also be useful: United Inventor’s Association, My Invention Score (run by a former head of the UIA), and InventRight (run by a successful inventor, Stephen Key.
Evergreen IP creates a safety layer between our client companies and inventors. We protect our client companies from the risk of IP contamination while at the same time protecting the rights of inventors. When a product is submitted to EIP and it is of potential interest, we go to work asking any necessary questions, doing patent and competitive product research and determining how it might be a fit for one of our client brand’s needs. If it jumps our hurdles, we will discuss the deal that our client is offering with you and send you the appropriate paperwork to review by yourself or with your attorney. If you agree to the proposal, then your product will be evaluated by the client company for 90 days. If they countersign the agreement, then you’re off and running. If they don’t, then the agreement simply expires and you are free to do as you please.
We certainly like it if you do. Getting a patent is a difficult, long and uncertain process. An issued utility patent means that we know without a doubt what you own and what asset our client company stands to gain by licensing your product. Having a patent is not a requirement for consideration, but your product must be deemed to have the potential to be patented.
Even if you have all the best protections you can get things can still go wrong. At the end of the day, our best advice is to protect yourself to the best of your ability and then to deal with companies that you feel are trustworthy before dealing with those who seem more questionable to you. That being said, Evergreen IP will not share any confidential or proprietary information that you share with us with anyone outside of EIP without your agreement, especially our client companies. See IP contamination below for more detail on this issue.
Once you submit an invention, you will usually get a response within a couple of days. If a product is of potential interest, then it will usually take us 1 to 3 weeks to do our research and to test any prototypes you are able to provide. If your product makes it past that, we’ll discuss the deal that our client company is offering with you, and you will be able to go over the paperwork. Take as much time as you like in that part. After paperwork is signed, our client has 90 days to evaluate your product and say yes or no to it.
Every good invention has an insight behind it. Initially, we’re more interested in the “why” of your invention than the “how “. We want to know what problem your invention solves for the consumer and why the consumer cares about having this problem solved. We want to know if you’ve tested the concept or if it’s just an idea at this point. We want to know if you use your own invention on a regular basis and whether or not you have done a patent search to ensure that your product is actually unique. The more work you’ve put into it, the greater credibility your submission will have.
For the same reasons other large companies don't sign NDAs (IP contamination), we don't sign them either. We see too many ideas, and managing the NDAs just isn't worth the hassle. Our business is matching great inventors and great companies, and you can rest assured that we have no interest or time in running with your idea without you by our side. We really want to focus on the market insight initially, so you can keep your "secret sauce" on the guts of your invention to yourself for the first phase. If we're intrigued on the insight/problem, we will sign an NDA to get deeper into your specific solution.
Imagine for a moment that you are a big company which received thousands of product and idea submissions every year from external sources. Yet, you may already be working on similar inventions, so external inventors may feel that their invention has been stolen. The risk of confusion (and lawsuits) over ownership – which is called IP contamination -- only grows as a company sees more and more submissions. So, companies work hard to put in appropriate safeguards at each stage of the process of dealing with external inventors. Some companies even refuse to accept unsolicited outside submissions, or insist that you have an issued utility patent (so what you own and do not own is clearly defined), in order to protect themselves from IP contamination.