So, you have a great invention and you are all excited about taking it to a manufacture for introduction to the market. STOP! Before you take another step, you need to make sure you did your research. Many times people will submit their inventions for production only to find out that there is a similar product in the market already. Unfortunately, this is the worst time to make such a discovery.
In order to be taken seriously, it is imperative that you take the time and make the effort to conduct your research before you make your next move. Research will definitely help you save face, as well as, money. Why would you want to spend money and time developing a product that is already in the market (unless you are improving on an existing product). Your research will help you make some important decisions regarding your invention: (a) drop the project, it’s already invented and you can’t improve upon it, (b) make modifications to your invention to make it unique, (c) proceed with your invention as it.
Your research should consist of a combination of online and live in-store visits. All the information you gather should be written in your inventors notebook. You will be able to use this information in your marketing and sales efforts.
By the end of your research you will be able to answer a few question:
1.Does your invention already exist? If so, what is it?
2.What other products are out there that are similar, but not exactly like your invention? You should be able to list their features and benefits to know what sets your invention apart from the others?
3.What makes your product different? Again, list YOUR product features and benefits.
4.What retailers carry similar products to your invention? You should have collected names, addresses and other contract information
5.What is the price point of the similar items? This will serve as a guide for your own product pricing.
When conducting your research you should look for items use your everyday shopping skills. Remember all the effort you put into finding the right car to buy? You research all the safety features, gas to mileage usage, and more; use these same skills when conducting your invention research. You can start your research by simply sitting in front of your computer with Internet access. Search engines will become your best research tool. You will need to search a variety of keywords related to your particular invention. Browse through all the links that appear in your search and start jotting down detailed information. Which online retailers are carrying similar products? What are the product price points? Do they market to a particular population? What are the product features? Gather as much information as possible. Be sure to try different keyword searches.
To ensure you try a variety of keyword searches, I suggest you invest in a Thesaurus or use an online thesaurus like http://thesaurus.reference.com/. Let me just stress that this is definitely a trial-and-error process, you will need to try different keyword searches. If you are unsure where to start, try typing in the potential names you came up with for your product. The try typing in some of the features of your product and benefits. For example, if your invention is an instant lipstick, you could start by typing in instant lipstick. You should also conduct boolean searches. Boolean searches is a combination of word connected with AND, OR. For more information on boolean searches you can reference sites like http://adam.ac.uk/info/boolean.html and http://www.internettutorials.net/boolean.html.
Once you have exhausted all your online searches, it’s time to move on to live in-store research. If time is of essence you can conduct your research while running your regular shopping errands. Be sure to visit a different store types, not just store where you think your product would be marketed. You should visit box stores like Walmart, K-Mart and Target, grocery stores, hardware stores, boutique, and specialty stores. During each visit you should jot down basic information such as the name of the store visited, location and types of products the store carried. If you visit a store that has similar products to your invention, you will want to spend some time and jot down some detailed information. Spend time checking out product construction, write down the things you like and dislike. Check out the product packaging, warning labels and any marketing messages included on the package. Jot all this down along with the manufacture, price point and the number of items displayed along with location.
By completing your online and in-store research you will not only find out if there are similar products already on the market, you will also get a feel for your inventions category. Once your research is done you will be ready to move forward with your preliminary patent search. The preliminary patent search will help fill-in the gaps in your research and help you build a solid case for your patent application.