How do I apply a new technology to old products when I have access to neither, and make money doing it?
August 3, 2007 6:10 AM   Subscribe

How do I apply a new technology to old products when I have access to neither, and make money doing it?

Let's say there's this new, great technology just announced. Really brand new. The people who have come up with it really don't even know what to do with it. They have a few applications, but nothing extraordinary. And then I see a niche in the marketplace that this technology can be applied to. Consumers will pay lots of money if this new technology is applied to products already available. There's a lot of doubt that these products currently work properly. With the new technology applied, chances are that the product will be fool-proof and everyone will want one.

Now, I have access to neither the new technology, or the products. Just the idea to combine the two. How do I get a percentage of the profits from presenting my idea to the right people? Is this a patent lawyer thing? How do I get the best deal for myself from my idea?
posted by UnclePlayground to Work & Money (11 answers total)
This isn't what you want to hear but to answer your question directly: far from cutting a good deal, 99% chances are that you won't be able to wring any value out of the idea. I'm sure others will elaborate but basically there isn't much of a marketplace for product ideas, especially not one for changes to other people's products.
posted by Firas at 6:20 AM on August 3, 2007

1% inspiration, 99% perspiration.

I have a million dollar idea every week.
posted by LordSludge at 6:27 AM on August 3, 2007

1. Patent the idea/product.
2. Wait for someone else to come up with it and put it in production
3. Sell your patent to one of the professional patent troll companies out there.
posted by uandt at 6:37 AM on August 3, 2007

I dont think you can waltz in anywhere with just an idea, especially as an outside and wait for some big paycheck.

You will at the very least need the basic engineering skills to make a working demo. At that point you just have a product which is probably infringing on at least two patents. You now have to find a buyer for your product and hope that you can obtain licensing for the patents you are using. You also have to prove how your product is marketable.

The last thing investors want to hear is something like "Its like a flobee but with wifi." If you dont understand the tech enough to the point of making a working demo that is practical and might have a market appeal, well, you're wasting your time. Ideas themselves are a dime a dozen.

If your ideas are a simple modification to an existing product like 'A flobee with a hepa filter' then you really cant do much. The flobee people aernt going to let some third-party sell a variation of their product. Even if you write them a thousand letters and they do put this filter on there, then you're usually not entitled to anything for making a simple suggestion.
posted by damn dirty ape at 6:51 AM on August 3, 2007

Sometimes if you work for a company that makes one of the "old products" and you see a new technology which can improve that product, you can get a bonus for suggesting a workable improvement. That might be your best option.
posted by JJ86 at 7:12 AM on August 3, 2007

This question is asked so often it should appear in the FAQ. b1tr0t's got the only viable answer- your idea is worthless without knowing how to execute on it; its only value is as a Step 1 in learning how the rest of the process works. Hopefully by then you'll have another idea.
posted by mkultra at 7:28 AM on August 3, 2007

The first thing you should do is search the patent database for similar ideas.
posted by Eringatang at 8:13 AM on August 3, 2007

You didn't say anything having capital to invest in the process. One potential path is to go to the people who have developed the technology and secure an option to license the technology in a certain field of use for some amount of $. With rights to the tech you could then approach existing companies with outdated technology. There are a variety of directions you could go once you have some rights to the tech.

Also, seconding the suggestion that you do some serious homework and investigations at the uspto to see what's up. Consider that many industries and companies patent at the last moment to avoid disclosing ideas until they have to, thus will have lots of secret stuff - i.e. perhaps that very application of your new technology - hiding within the company labs/walls.
posted by striker at 9:24 AM on August 3, 2007

Patent is the least viable way of wringing value out of an idea.

b1tr0t is basically right.

You could use your idea as a pitch to get hired by the manufacturer, but that's a long shot. They generally will avoid even listening to you, if they know you have a product pitch/invention, primarily so they can avoid your future claim of infringement/stealing.

Another option is to buy stock in an appropriate company and then give them your idea, no strings attached. If it really is a fantastic idea, and it really will increase an appropriate company's sales, then you can let the stock value increase be your compensation.

Otherwise -- and this is what you should do if getting the idea in the market matters more to you than a quixotic attempt to make money -- you could give your idea away to the world at large. Publish it on your blog; enter it at the halfbakery; send it to an industry trade mag; etc. Get it preemptively published as declared public property under GPL or somesuch. You could at least get your name attached to the idea that way, to gain street cred or industry cred, if not money.
posted by yesster at 10:27 AM on August 3, 2007

One more thing --

Patent law allows exceptions for personal use. I can build any patented device, or follow any patented process, as long as I am doing it for my own personal use and not for commercial gain. If it were possible for me to do so, I could manufacture my own iPhone and not infringe on any patents held by Apple or whomever.

So if your idea is to plug Device A into Device B, and this is a relatively easy thing to do, your patent would effectively only cover the commercial enterprise of providing consumers with a hooked-up Device AB; it would in no way prevent Joe Consumer from buying A and B and doing the hooking-up himself.
posted by yesster at 11:53 AM on August 3, 2007

Man, if making money only required me to have an idea I'd be set.
posted by rhizome at 12:45 PM on August 3, 2007

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