Making that Brilliant Idea Real
March 20, 2006 12:59 PM   Subscribe

Inventionfilter: Lets say I've come up with a brilliant idea that will change the world as we know it. How do I go about making this idea a reality?

For the sake of argument lets say it involves taking hair gel, individually packing it in single-serving sizes, and then selling it to the masses through different venues.

- do I need to create my own recipe for hair gel or can I use a well known brand name and still benefit from the success?

- How do I go about packaging the product (i imagine each packet to be the same dimensions as a ketchup packet)

- Can I obtain a patent for an idea like this?

- What would likely happen if i proposed this idea to an existing hairgel company?
posted by ZackTM to Work & Money (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Your most likely avenue of success would be to work the idea so it's patentable, then patent it and shop it around to various companies that have existing hairgel lines. Ideally, you'd want to sell for a lump sum plus a small percentage of all future sales.
posted by Jairus at 1:06 PM on March 20, 2006

You can't patent an idea. You must find something unique about what you're doing - is it the design of the packet? The mechanics of filling it? The business method of selling the packet? You must find something like this and further refine your idea before you can patent it.

If you need a patent lawyer, please contact me (email in profile). I can refer you to a number of very experienced, highly-qualified attorneys.
posted by MeetMegan at 1:19 PM on March 20, 2006

You can't patent an idea.
Actually, that's apparently up for debate right now.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 1:22 PM on March 20, 2006

Talk to these people.
posted by fionab at 1:28 PM on March 20, 2006

I don't know about that - the patent at issue still remains a process - not a general idea. I draw the distinction between the "idea" of individual-use hair gel and the "method" or "process" of production, the "design" of the packet, the "composition" of the gel, and so on.
posted by MeetMegan at 1:31 PM on March 20, 2006

Anti-frizz serum. Cabot Styling Packets.
posted by fionab at 1:47 PM on March 20, 2006

Just to make it clear, my brilliant idea is NOT single-serving hair gel. Although thats a pretty brilliant idea in and of itself...
posted by ZackTM at 2:26 PM on March 20, 2006

How much money and time do you have? More money than time - file a patent straight away. More time than money - perfect the product, in secret of course, then see if you can get a company to front you some money to pay for patent preparation and filing, perhaps in exchange for an exclusive right of negotiations for some time period, say six months to a year. You will still need an attorney for the second course of action, but less attorney time.

Having filed already for a patent, through a competent patent attorney, will enhance your ability to negotiate with hair gel (or whatever) companies. You will look more serious. You will have shown that you have some skin in the game by already paying for a patent application. You will have some protection against unscrupulous companies which might try to steal your idea and use it without paying you for it.

Patent applications are expensive though. For something simple like a hair gel packaging application it might be less than $5,000 to get something on file, perhaps even closer to $3,000 with the right attorney. Shop around, but seek quality.

Think like a company. How can they make money with your invention? Higher margins, more sales, replacement parts, new markets etc.?

To protect your patent rights you of course want to keep this idea secret until you file. (It is not hair get is it?) If it is hair gel you have already hurt yourself potentially, depending upon the details. Regardless, the US has a one year grace period for filing after public disclosure or offer for sale just to help out the solo inventors. Even if you are not ready to pay for a patent now I would seek an initial consultation with a patent attorney. This might be free, or at least won't be too much. Find out what they think about patentability of your particular invention (they need a prior art search to give much of an opinion here but can give you a general idea about this type of invention), how much the patent will cost, how to protect yourself in the meantime, etc.

DO NOT CONTACT AN INVENTION SUBMISSION COMPANY. They are almost all scams. They may all be scams. The US PTO has some info on their website which you might find interesting, but I would stick with an attorney who can give you advice directed to your particular situation.

Oh, and in response to MeetMegan, you could potentially patent single use hair gel. Ideas are certainly what is patentable. I think she meant methods of marketing, but business methods are definitely patentable. Further, single use hair gel could easily be claimed as something other than a business method. Of course, single use products are legion so there are some serious prior art issues with such an idea. Talk to an attorney about your specific idea and do not be too encouraged or discouraged about its patentability through internet discussions which do not even focus on the actual idea.
posted by caddis at 2:28 PM on March 20, 2006

I'm very interested in the idea that you'll buy branded hair-gel and repackage and re-sell it. I don't imaging the Acme Hair Gel company want you doing that. Surely you'd have to go to a wholesaler of that product? As hair-gel is a cosmetic, with all the possibilities for allergic reactions and so on, creating your own recipe would surely involve enormous expense in testing and some kind of certification?
posted by AmbroseChapel at 2:31 PM on March 20, 2006

ZachTM: Just to make it clear, my brilliant idea is NOT single-serving hair gel. Although thats a pretty brilliant idea in and of itself...
Also, how cool is it that OP's name includes "TM"? I suspect it's just an initialization, but still... you were born to invent, Zach! It's in your blood!

Things not to do: go on American Inventor. Hoo-boy. I'd say the patent attorney route is the only way to go; lawyers get a bum rap in general, but they are useful for just this sort of thing. It also depends on what you've invented. The "bed buddie"? Go to a patent attorney. Safe reliable cold fusion in an iPod-sized device? You might want more than just a patent attorney; round-the-clock security detail and a constantly moving undisclosed location would be useful. :)
posted by hincandenza at 2:39 PM on March 20, 2006

I'm not saying s/he couldn't patent single-use hair gel, what I said was that the idea needed considerably more refinement before it hit the patent stage. You cannot go to the USPTO and fill out a form for an idea - you must have a refined method/process/development for that idea. I have an idea for a flaming frisbee but I can't just run and fill out an application for it. I must come up with some technical drawings and specs, materials to be used to create the frisbee, etc. I can't just say I came up with the flaming frisbee first and I want the patent - I have to show some actual work towards the eventual product. Now, there are some funky patents (Rube Goldbergs) that probably never reach production (I think there's a flux capacitor) but there are significant techical specifications that accompany them.
posted by MeetMegan at 2:42 PM on March 20, 2006

"actual work towards the eventual product" is an unfortunate phrasing, but I can't come up with anything better right now.
posted by MeetMegan at 2:49 PM on March 20, 2006

You need to be able to describe the idea in sufficient detail for someone of skill in the art (someone who makes hair gels) to be able to make it. If you came up with a flaming frisbee you would have to enable it by showing one way of doing it, say a sterno (tm?) reservoir around the rim making catching of the frisbee more challenging (the old poke it up from the bottom and balance it spinning on your finger routine). You wouldn't actually need to show how to make sterno, just where to get it. A crude drawing would suffice for filing with a professional looking one being needed in short order for publication.
posted by caddis at 3:28 PM on March 20, 2006

Patents are not a panacea. First, for something to be patentable, it needs to be
1) new
2) non-obvious to an expert in that area
3) useful.
Getting a patent is 10% of the battle. No matter how much you spend, you never know if the patent is any good until you have it held up in court (budget mid six figures to get you through the first year of the lawsuit) -- patent lawyers come in here to make sure that the patent you're issued is as broadly applicable and enforcable. (IIRC, patents are also country specific, although there may be some automagical recognition, I don't remember any)

Now, business process patents are a twist on the above, and only allowed recently. Google can give you links to plenty of good overviews (search link).

Bottom line - I wouldn't count on a patent saving you $$ unless you have a helluva lot already.

For packaging, just dedicate a day to calling folks listed under food packaging and you'll eventually get somewhere - a lot of folks in manufacturing like talking about what they do / can do and would be willing to at least point you in the right direction.

Finally, depending on the industry, you may find it hard to get ideas into / out of the marketing division of any existing players unless the idea is so great it oozes money (in which case, sell your house and launch it yourself) or you already know some folks in the company UNLESS you already have orders / etc lined up and could tilt it as a 'co-branding' opportunity or something similar.

Best of luck!
posted by gage at 4:34 PM on March 20, 2006

I agree that patenting an idea (process) is only a fraction of the path you will need to take for profitability. You may want to find some angel investors who believe in you and your idea to take it to at least the prototype level before you consider the US$5000 it will take to get an actual patent and the US$100K it will take to defend it. I strongly believe that making (or repackaging in this case) a product and selling it is much more difficult than patenting it alone, and I would rather you pay for your US and WTO patents with the profit of the product itself.
posted by marc1919 at 7:28 PM on March 21, 2006

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