You have an idea. A good idea. No, a great idea! You may not have all the pieces in place but the concept is a good one, it’s been scrutinized, tested, analyzed, reverse-engineered and vetted. So now what?
Well, you can’t copyright an idea. Ideas are all around you. Innovation is more than a buzzword, it’s a business mantra. So, how do you turn that great idea into capital money that provides an improved standard of living for you and your family?
The road from concept to capital is bumpy. There are scam artists, pitfalls unseen by the uninitiated and challenges that will, no doubt, be new to you. However, if that concept is a good one (and it is) you must take the initial steps toward greater financial security and reward for your far-horizon thinking.
Formalize the Concept
Put it in writing. Fill in as many blanks as possible. Questions to consider at this first stage of concept development include:
What benefits does this product or service deliver to the end user?
What problems does this product or service solve and for whom? The “for whom” part is the target demographic for the concept the ideal buyer.
Do you have title (ownership) of the idea or concept? Researchers in both the academic and business realms may not have complete, legal ownership of an idea. By contract, the idea may actually belong to the institution paying your salary. Good to check that out early.
If the concept is, indeed, the intellectual property of an institution, contact the university’s office of commercialization for details on submitting your concept for peer review and consideration for university cooperation in bringing the concept or product to market.
If you’re certain the idea is wholly your own, prepare a formal report describing the product specifications, schematics, illustrations, test results and other data. This report should be as detailed and as professional as you can make it.
Have the report dated and notarized. Make copies and keep them in a secure place.
Do NOT tell others about your idea. Again, you can’t copyright an idea and at this early stage, you still don’t own anything at least not legally. Intellectual property (your idea) theft is common in highly competitive or vertical markets so keep your idea under wraps for the moment.
Your Partner? Your University? Your Employer?
If your concept is, in fact owned in part by your employer a university or business you already have a partner. Chances are, there’s a clause in your work contract or university regulations that claims ownership of any concept developed while in the school’s employ and using school or business facilities. Obviously, this prevents innovators from exploiting the resources of others for their own gain. Fair enough, and in fact, not a bad way to go.
Partnering with a deep pockets stakeholder like a successful business or the university solves a number of business headaches that you don’t need, and may not be able to overcome. In fact, many universities have departments and programs to bring concepts to commercialization available to current faculty, staff and students and past academicians and alumni seeking a reliable, knowledgeable partner.
The university or employer usually assumes ownership of the concept and takes the necessary legal steps to protect their property your concept. School or business legal staff apply for a temporary patent, file a copyright, or trademark the brand. These intellectual property legal experts are tasked with protecting the institution against various infringement exposures. And they can do it faster and more efficiently than you, the innovator, can.
At this juncture, you are contractually required to notify the university or business of your concept. However, before you do, contact a professional familiar with both intellectual property law and commercialization the successful development of the concept to product launch and beyond.
It’s important for the innovator and the co-owner of the work to cooperate. Legal battles over ownership are counter-productive, expensive and unnecessary.
Most innovators are not strong in the ways of the business world. Not part of the skill set.
So, even if you are actually the sole “owner” of the concept, with no contractual strings, you may not have the experience and acumen to fully commercialize your product.
The Lone Wolf
The concept is formalized, notarized and locked in a secure location. You are 100% confident that you are the sole “owner” of the idea. Bringing that concept to commercial reality is going to require experience, skills and contacts that aren’t in your Rolodex.
You can try to be the lone wolf but that means taking crash courses in venture capital, intellectual property law, best business practices, marketing, distribution, order fulfillment, customer care is this the way you see your future?
There’s a great deal of risk in bringing a concept to a successful, profitable launch. Even if you have your own deep pockets, you’ll find there’s a lot of outgo before there’s virtually any income.
Still, it is your baby and some innovators are unwilling to give up control of that concept.
Okay, but at least contact an agency that can serve as a consultant as you pass through the phases of product development, manufacture, warehousing, order fulfillment and all of the other tasks that are, ultimately, your responsibilities even though these tasks are performed by employees.
The Business Partner
Finding the right partner to help with the commercialization is a time-consuming and potentially risky undertaking. Do NOT submit your concept to those companies that advertise on TV that they’ll help you commercialize your product.
Instead, use your network to link in with a like-minded individual, highly recommended by people you know, or people who know people you know. You know what I mean a referral.
In seeking a business partner, look for an individual who can meet the challenges defined in your written description of the concept. For example, if you don’t have a clue how to raise venture capital, your partner should be well-connected in that closed, little community. VC is the life blood of most successful start-ups.
Your partner(s) also must bring more to the table than operating capital. They must understand business management, project implementation, promotions and sales all of the subjects about which you know little. Your objective? A symbiotic, harmonious relationship.
And again, at this nascent stage up commercialization seek advice from experienced consultants who now how to maximize intellectual property rights and how to negotiate your rights when it comes time to come to terms.
Don’t Go It Alone
You can try, using the garage as your warehouse and the spare room as world HQ but is that what you really want? If you’re a creator, incubator for new, forward-thinking concepts, your time and energy is best spent hatching a few more commercially viable concepts and let you business partners handle the business aspects of sales.
However, do NOT enter into agreements or sign away rights without talking to a lawyer, or better still, a consultancy experienced in the early stages of commercialization. These experienced business professionals will help structure the best terms for you working with the university or business partner to ensure that you earn just reward for your creativity.