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How to Sell Your Invention Idea to a Retailer

I licensed several products to companies in the past, so I can tell you how to have a manufacturer or retailer bring your idea to market.

How to Sell Your Invention Idea to a Retailer

How to Sell Your Invention Idea to a Retailer

This is a review of my experience finding and working with a manufacturer to sell my invention to retailers. I discuss what you need to know to get your product to market.

Most inventions are the result of products we envision to solve problems we encounter in life. If you tend to think of innovative ideas for new products or improvements to existing products, you are an inventor.

How to Get Started

If no one else has thought of your idea, and you have not shared it publicly, and no one else has a patent on it, then you own the rights to your design, and you can sell those rights.

It’s vital to understand you will lose your rights to your idea if you divulge information about it to anyone without a non-disclosure agreement. If you do that, you will no longer be able to get a patent on it, and no manufacturer will accept the idea for review either.

You have to confirm you have the rights to the idea and have never shared it with anyone in any form – in person, in a video, or in a written description.

Many people prematurely spend a lot of money on patents and never investigate to find out if other patents already cover most of their claims.

Before you go any further, it's crucial to check for existing patents. I had many ideas for new products, only to discover someone else already thought of them too. They even registered for patent protection.

Knowing that ahead of time will save you a lot of agony and frustration with wasting time trying to sell your idea. Any company that might be interested will do their own search. When they discover that other patents already exist, they will have nothing to do with you.

You can easily check if your patent is unique and none of your claims are covered by other patents. There is no need to pay someone else to do that for you, as I'll explain.

Beware of Companies That Sell Patent Protection

Many people make the mistake of paying expensive attorney fees to do a patent search and for filing an application before they even investigate how marketable their idea is. Besides, patents are only helpful if you have the money to bring a lawsuit against a plagiarist.

Did you know that Coca Cola never patented their soda? If they had, they would have given away the secret recipe, because the information would have been publicly available on the United States Patent and Trademark Office website.

Many companies will be glad to take your money and help you get a patent. They aren’t crooks. They're just selling you what you wanted. They don’t bother to tell you that your product won’t sell, or how to improve it to make it marketable. That’s not their business.

Inventing new ideas is not a quick way to become rich. You’re lucky if you even succeed in getting an idea on store shelves.

Remember, you don't need a company to protect you. Not at this stage anyway. Do your own patent search with Google and see if your idea is truly unique.

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What if Your Idea Has Already Been Patented?

If you discover someone else already has a patent on your idea, then it might be too late for you. That depends on the specific claims in their patent.

If they didn’t include claims that relate to your idea, you might have a chance. But you’ll need to talk with a patent attorney to review the specifics and determine how complete their patent is with describing all their claims.

For example, suppose your idea has additional features that serve the potential user, and those features are missing in the other person’s patent description. In that case, you might be able to file for a patent with your additional claims. But only a qualified patent attorney will be able to determine that.

If their patent has been written well with claims for every possible configuration and all possible features and modifications, then it’s best to move on and try to work on another idea.

Before spending any money on legal fees, it would help if you scrutinize their patent. Be honest with yourself if you find matches to your idea and dismiss any plan to go forward with it. If you do, you’ll be wasting your time.

Your Invention Is Your Intellectual Property

Your idea is legally your Intellectual Property (IP). If it's a novel idea that's non-obvious and is patentable and marketable, then it's worth something.

You don’t necessarily have to build your idea yourself. You don’t even need to spend money to make a prototype. You can license your idea to a manufacturer who will develop and sell the product.

How to Find a Manufacturer for Your Product Idea

Before considering retail companies, you're better off looking for a manufacturer. If you find one willing to work with you, that will negotiate with retailers to market your product after they complete the development. Here's what you need to do first:

  1. Search the Internet for manufacturers related to your type of product. Do a Google search for "online manufacturer directories." These are usually broken down into domestic and overseas directories, so choose the one you prefer to work with to develop your product.
  2. Look for companies that offer open innovation opportunities. They are more prone to license new product ideas, but they have strict rules you need to follow. So look for that on their website and study it carefully.
  3. Before you give them any information about your idea, get a signed Non-Disclosure Agreement. Many manufacturers have their own pre-written NDAs, but read every clause to ensure nothing can hurt your rights. This is also where you should have an attorney help you.

The objective is to find a manufacturer that will commercialize your idea. If they offer open innovation, and determine that your idea is patentable and marketable, they will do the following at their expense:

  1. They will do research with your product in the lab to make improvements.
  2. They will build a prototype, if needed, to show potential retail buyers to determine interest in the product.
  3. If it’s not marketable, they might tell you what's wrong with your idea. That could be helpful to know since you can apply the lesson to future ideas.
  4. If it's accepted, they most likely will work on the development phase without your input. You'll need to appreciate that and not give them any hassles. If they reach out to you for any further information, be ready to respond quickly.
  5. Some manufacturers will handle all patent work and list you on the patent as the inventor. Make sure you know what to expect before any commitment.

You both need to agree not to disclose your idea. If you already told anyone about it or showed it to anyone, you may lose your rights. You need to verify that you had not done that when you submit an idea. They can’t waste time on an idea that you already disclosed to the public.

The objective is to find a manufacturer that will commercialize your idea.

The objective is to find a manufacturer that will commercialize your idea.

How to Submit Your Ideas to a Manufacturer

They will provide you with instructions indicating how they want you to submit your idea. Follow that precisely.

At the very least, it's necessary to explain how it works, its benefits, and why it's better than any competing product.

When I had submitted my ideas, I did the following:

  • I wrote a simple explanation of my idea, but with as much detail as I could imagine.
  • I drew design specs and images of my idea.
  • In one case, I created a prototype to show my idea in action. I made a video of it functioning that I took with my iPhone.

Constructive Criticism Is Beneficial

Some manufacturers will give you feedback in the early stages if they conclude that your product is not marketable. Here are some examples of reasons my ideas were turned down. It's part of the business. Use it as a learning experience.

Existing Patent Was Found

I had a case where I received feedback telling me that they found an existing patent that described my idea. I had missed that when I did my own patent search.

Too Large for Store Shelves at Price Point

Another time they explained that a product I invented would be too large and take up too much retail space for the low selling price that it would require. For that reason, no retail store would be interested in it.

That’s good to know. You may feel upset if this happened to you, but the truth is that you now would have the opportunity to either redesign it, or move on to envisioning something else and not waste your time on something that may never sell.

Constructive Criticism for Improvement

Without that kind of feedback, you might be spinning your wheels, never getting anywhere, all because no one was honest enough to tell you what you need to hear.

Are You Serious About Your Success?

If you're serious about getting your product on store shelves, then the ability to accept constructive criticism is crucial. I find that to be a gold mine.

Unfortunately, some inventors think their idea is the best thing since sliced bread, and they can’t understand why no one wants it. You need to be able to take constructive criticism.

If this bothers you, then the business of marketing your innovations is not for you.

Not All Ideas Are Successful

Thomas Edison tried hundreds of methods to get a filament to burn for an extended period before he made the light bulb function well. He never really found the best solution, even though he patented his idea in 1879.

Patent laws only protect claims one makes. If you file for a patent and don’t include all the claims you can think of for your invention, then someone else can get a patent on additional claims that may improve upon the idea.

Edison had competition with his light bulb. Another innovator, Joseph Swan, had also successfully filed a patent for a light bulb in the same year, claiming use of a carbon rod filament.

Swan’s light bulb was the first to be used in homes and public buildings, but it used a lot of electricity. Edison used bamboo filaments with high electrical resistance. That helped reduce the current needed to glow.

Final Thoughts

When a manufacturer takes the responsibility to research your idea, create a prototype, assume the cost of development and distribution, and handle the legal aspects of patent protection, you need to appreciate their efforts and do everything their way.

If you made it that far and found a company that will make your idea into reality, then accept the opportunity. But remember to check out everything you can learn about that company. Internet forums are helpful places to search.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2017 Glenn Stok


Glenn Stok (author) from Long Island, NY on August 01, 2020:

Cremancon - You have only a year to file a non-provisional patent after you have a provisional patent. So you need to work fast.

The only way to know if you qualify is to submit your idea with a non-disclosure agreement and wait for a decision. Some manufacturers prefer to file for you. If your provisional patent did not cover all possible claims, they won't be interested.

Cremancon on August 01, 2020:

Do I qualify if I provided information/description of my product when I filed my provisional patent?

Glenn Stok (author) from Long Island, NY on May 27, 2020:

Sankar Krishnan - Providing a solution for something that people need is always the best strategy to get a product licensed. You just need to make sure no one else already filed a patent for the idea.

Sankar Krishnan on May 27, 2020:

Do the chances of a product being licensed tend to increase when the solved problem becomes a need rather then simply a product.

Heath McGaha on August 20, 2019:

I literally have 20+ ideas I have had over a year span. I have google patent searched them all. My issues is getting them from paper to product. dealing with PPAs, prototypes, etc. some could be a win and some may not go anywhere I just need help and time getting to the next step.

Glenn Stok (author) from Long Island, NY on May 20, 2019:

Carmen Rowe - If you don’t have a NDA with the person or company that you gave details of your idea to, then you no longer can get patent protection. No other company will want to get involved for fear of litigation. The company you gave the information to might go and manufacturer the product in their name since you didn’t protect your rights.

If that happens, you’d have an expensive litigation on your hands to recover your loss, but you’d probably lose the case since you have nothing in writing.

Carmen Rowe on May 20, 2019:

What if you have not singed anything yet. But they know what i have in mind

Glenn Stok (author) from Long Island, NY on May 06, 2019:

Omotunde Temitayo - Your letter in your comment is not something you should be posting online. It looks like you intended to send it to an agency or manufacturer who will collaborate with you. Did you actually read my article? If you did, I don’t think you would have posted your letter here. If you are serious you need to read everything and educate yourself.

You said you posted your inventions on Instagram. Unfortunately that means you no longer can license the idea to a manufacturer. No one will touch it now.

You gave it away to the public domain by publishing it. You no longer have rights to patent the invention, and no manufacturer will patent it in your name since you already disclosed it on Instagram.

If you ever come up with another idea for an invention, you need to protect your rights by not disclosing it to anyone without a non-disclosure agreement.

I did not approve your comment for listing here for your protection, since you included your personal information.

Glenn Stok (author) from Long Island, NY on October 03, 2017:

Larry W. Fish - Thank you so much for your description of your experience. I'm curious to know what compensation you got for developing this solution for your company.

Before I started my own company, when I was still employed in a large firm, I did something that brought them a lot of money. I asked my boss what part of that do I see? His answer: "Sorry, you're on salary."

That was when I learned it's better to create inventions outside of employment and then license the idea to a large firm.

So I'm wondering if this is the same way you were treated for your riveting machine modification.

Larry W. Fish on October 03, 2017:

An interesting article, Glenn. I worked in manufacturing for 30 years so this article kind of hit home. I worked as a production worker, a machine set-up person, and as a maintenance machinist. In my one job I worked closely with engineers. I once developed a riveting process to rivet a contact to a part that the company had been trying off and on to do for 30 years with no success. I worked on an off for quite some time and hit on the success when I realized it was in the type of riveting machine used.

Glenn Stok (author) from Long Island, NY on September 30, 2017:

Nell, now go to "Google Patents" and do a patent search. It's easier to use than searching the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Go to and do a search there.

Nell Rose from England on September 30, 2017:

I did just look up on google the one thing I remembered having an idea for, even though it was years ago, its still not there, so you never know! lol! thanks again.

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