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Inventors get tips on whether to go forward with ideas

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Friday, April 19, 2013, at 6:10 p.m.

Inventing and selling the next egg peeler or medical prosthesis can be difficult and expensive for a lone tinkerer, but it could also be a ticket to financial success.

How does one know whether to go forward?

Louis Foreman, one of the most prominent names in the inventor community, knows pretty quickly which product has promise, because he’s seen thousands of them through his television show, “Everyday Edisons,” and website, Edison Nation.

“Most great ideas are just the solution to a problem,” he said.

Foreman spoke to a collection of Kansas inventors at a conference sponsored by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on Friday at the National Center for Aviation Training.

There is a constant demand for new products, he said. Nearly 50 percent of the revenue of consumer products companies comes from products that are less than 2 years old.

“We are always looking for something better than we bought last time,” he said.

At the same time, he said, most big retailers and manufacturers have relatively generous policies for returns, which reduces the risk of buying something that’s new to the market.

“That allows unknown brands to enter a space if they are more innovative,” he said.

He cited Vizio, which over the past decade has displaced giants such as Sony and Samsung to become the largest maker of flat-screen televisions.

But most new product ideas won’t work for various reasons, he said. There are five basic questions inventors should ask themselves:

• What makes the product unique and better than what already exists?

• Who would buy it?

• What would make your potential customer buy it?

• How much will it take to develop?

• Where will the money come from?

If the product looks viable, patent it, he said.

“If the numbers don’t add up, don’t do it,” he said.

Foreman’s company Edison Nation evaluates inventions or ideas submitted through the website, develops the best, takes all the financial risk and licenses them. The inventor receives half the profits.

It’s not for everybody, he said. Some inventors want to go it alone, and that’s great.

“Everybody here has a great idea, but the problem is life gets in the way,” he said. “You realize you don’t have the time; you have a full-time job. You realize you don’t have the money; you don’t want to cash in your 401(k) or risk your kid’s college fund pursuing that idea. Or you realize that you don’t understand that process.”

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