If your own market research indicates your product is a winner, you’ll then want to take it to the professionals for their unbiased opinion.


To get the best advice, seek out the services of an independent product developer (IPD). For a fee, these companies will evaluate your idea (usually without requiring a prototype) and give you a report on its marketability.

But beware!

There are a lot of TPDs that are nothing more than scam artists. Warning signs include a hard and fast sales pitch, evasive answers to specific questions about how they perform their research, and too-good-to-be-true success statistics. Disreputable companies also usually ask for money up-front and tell you your idea has great potential—then try to sell you additional services. (For more information about IPDs, see “Independent Counsel,” right below.)


Roughly 100,000 patents are issued every year by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO). Some patent attorneys estimate that only one in one thousand patents becomes a profitable product. With the average patent costing close to $5,000, that means that around $500 million is wasted each year on patents that are essentially useless. Unless you just want a patent as a trophy, don’t rush into spending thousands of dollars to file a patent application until you have reason to believe your idea will he a commercial success.

You may have heard about the need to file your patent application as soon as possible to prevent someone else from beating you to the patent office. There is some truth to needing to be the first to file. If you know there’s someone who wants to file a patent on the same idea, I recommend you file a provisional patent application, which costs only $75. This establishes an official filing date for your idea with the PTO and buys you an additional year before you must file officially . Most patent applications don’t move quickly, however, so it’s best to take some time to research the viability of your idea in the marketplace before incurring the time and expense of a patent.

Let me leave you with one final thought: Coming up with a great idea is a wonderful, euphoric feeling. But before diving in headfirst, check how deep the water is. Carefully evaluate your idea for its marketability and potential for success. Such an approach saves time and money, an entrepreneur’s two most valuable resources.


Tomima Edmark is the inventor of the TopsyTail and several other products and is author of The American Dream Fact Pack ($49.95), available by calling (800) 558-6779.

 Questions regarding inventions and patents may be sent to

 “Bright Ideas,” Entrepreneur, 2392 Morse Ave., Irvine, CA 92614.

INDEPENDENT PRODUCT DEVELOPERS (IPDs) can give you—for a fee—an objective evaluation of your product’s potential, which may help you decide whether to pursue further development. There are three very reputable IPDs you may want to consider.

The first is the Wisconsin Innovation Service Center at the University of Wisconsin in Whitewater. (You don’t need to be in Wisconsin to use its services.) For $495, it will send you an evaluation of your product with regard to competition and tech-nical feasibility in about 30 days. It will also conduct a preliminary patent search. Call (414) 472-1 365 for more information.

Another IPD is the Washington Innovation Assessment Center (WIAC), which is affiliated with the Washington Small Business Development Center at Washington State University, Pullman. For $350, WIAC will select three evaluators from a pool of more than 300 to analyze your idea and give you feedback. For an additional fee, they’ll also conduct a preliminary patent or trademark search. The evaluators identify positive and negative characteristics of your idea and then provide a quantitative measure of its potential for commercial success. For more information, call    (509) 335-1576.

The Wal-Mart Innovation Network (WIN) is another option. For $1 75, the students at Southwest Missouri State University in Springfield will evaluate and score your idea for market potential . If your score is high enough, it may be viewed by Wal-Mart buyers for possible placement in their stores. However, WIN should be looked at primarily as a source for product evaluation. To find out more

call (417) 836-5671.

The best thing about these IPDs? You don’t have to worry that sharing your idea with them will release it to the public domain. All three will sign confidentiality agreements to ensure your idea is kept on the QT.

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