I have an invention that is a simple tool to help make a task easier. There are other versions on the market but all are online and cost more than I think they should. I made a better version of this product. I want to license this product to a company but do not know where to start. I am looking for companies to license my invention. Where do I start?

First, the global view: You’re rowing upstream. You’re facing several real problems.

  1. First, the real value in business isn’t the idea but rather the building of the company to create, market, sell and manage the idea. That’s where the money is.
  2. Second, ideas are very hard to sell as just ideas, because companies that can implement them understand that first point. It’s hard even to make the right contacts, because companies in the general area you’re working in might also be working on something similar, and they will avoid even talking to you because if they do, they’re potentially creating legal problems for themselves in the future if they ever develop something in that same general area.

So that’s not very encouraging, but I realize it doesn’t answer your question. Here’s the process.

  1. Develop a plan. It should include good research on which businesses could be potential buyers, what their benefits would be and how much money they could make, given their existing business, if they had your tool. Make sure you explore their history with building new things vs. buying new things, and their history of reverse engineering new things to get around working well with others. Your plan has to include their costs and their benefits, which means a pretty good study of their market. And how to contact the potential buyers as well.
  2. If the plan looks promising, then get going with the patent. If it’s an invention, you can patent it. Expect to pay a lot of money–five figures–for the legal help to get a patent that will really work for business, because that involves exploring a lot of existing patents and writing it up in a way that will actually protect you from people getting around your patent. That’s hard to do.
  3. When your attorneys give you the go-ahead, then implement your plan in step 1.

And although I am discouraging you on purpose (it’s the best thing I can do for you), you and I both know there are exceptions to the rule. Some people make it in the way you want to make it, with an invention. It’s a small chance.

I hope you’re one of the exceptions.

Tim BerryTim Berry

Tim Berry is the founder and chairman of Palo Alto Software and Bplans.com. Follow him on Twitter @Timberry.