So You Want to Be an Inventor?

By Cathy Elcik

Tamara Monosoff invented the TP Saver™, a product to keep little ones from unraveling the toilet paper roll, and founded Mom Inventors Inc., to create a community of support for mothers like herself. Beth Besner launched her company, Neat Solutions Inc., with an invention called Table Topper™ and is currently in the middle of a product launch for her Shopper Topper™. And Nancy Cleary founded Moms Business Magazine.

These three mom-inventors all agree on one thing: Launching a successful product is harder than it looks. A lot harder.

“It’s easy to say, ‘Don’t get frustrated, and have patience,’ but you really do have to have so much patience,” Cleary says. “Timelines are so much longer than you think at first. You think you’re going to be successful in a year, but it takes five.”

From idea to store shelf, there are more steps to launching a product than we could ever hope to cover here (see Resources for further reading) but there are two general roads to take with your product idea: launching it yourself or licensing it to a company to launch for you. Both paths require a lot of initial market research on your part, but licensing puts many of the day-to-day concerns regarding your product on someone else’s plate.

“When you get to the crossroads about whether to launch the product yourself or license it, really think it through carefully,” Besner advises. “If the product takes off, are you prepared to go the full race and do everything it takes to make it a business? If the answer is no, then you may need to take the licensing road. It’s really a family decision.”

If you’re about to launch a product idea, here are some helpful tips from those who have gone before you:

Verdana">Developing Your Idea

al">· Choose a product that makes sense for you. Start out with a simple product that you can produce yourself. If you have no background in electronics, you’ll have to add technology to the long list of things you’ll need to learn if your first product is an electrical device, Monosoff says.

al">· Let go of an idea that won’t work. If you find out something similar is already being developed or that your idea is going to be too expensive to produce, be willing to drop the idea and think of something else.

al">· Be open to feedback from the industry. Talk to store owners and retailers about the product and listen to what they have to say. Are there mothers’ groups that will let you come in and demonstrate your product so you can get honest feedback from your target market?

al">Protecting Your Idea

al">· Be discreet. Have the people you talk to about your idea sign a nondisclosure agreement.

NT-FAMILY: Symbol; mso-ascii-font-family: Verdana; mso-hansi-font-family: Verdana; mso-char-type: symbol; mso-symbol-font-family: Symbol">· Do an initial patent and trademark search. Visit the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (online at to learn how to do an initial search before you have a lawyer do a more thorough search.

NT-FAMILY: Symbol; mso-ascii-font-family: Verdana; mso-hansi-font-family: Verdana; mso-char-type: symbol; mso-symbol-font-family: Symbol">· Know what you don’t know. “I always sought out experts in areas where I was not an expert,” Monosoff says. “With patents, I knew I could do it myself and get a provisional patent for $85, but it wasn’t worth it to me because I am not an expert in patent laws. After doing so much work to get my product out there, I didn’t want to shoot myself in the foot.”

NT-FAMILY: Symbol; mso-ascii-font-family: Verdana; mso-hansi-font-family: Verdana; mso-char-type: symbol; mso-symbol-font-family: Symbol">· Take your product to a patent attorney in the most evolved form you can. Someone only needs to change 10 percent of your product to patent an improved version. Plus, even minor design changes, such as changing a nail to a bolt, can mean a whole new patent application. In an early prototype, Monosoff didn’t include a locking device on her TP saver, and she was planning on making it available in a variety of fun colors. But retailers suggested it would be even better if it locked and they told her bright colors would only attract kids to play with it. So she went back to the engineer to design a lock on the prototype, and decided to put her product out in white.

NT-FAMILY: Verdana">Presenting Yourself to Others

· Don’t call yourself an inventor. You’ll sound more professional if you call yourself a product developer.

· Network with your market. If you’re not already entrenched in the target market for your product, get involved. Donate your services, your time, or join online groups.

· Don’t try to buy publicity. “A lot of new entrepreneurs don’t understand publicity,” Cleary says. “Be as clear as you can in your market about what you do and what you provide.” As you network and donate your services, your product name will come up again and again when people are researching that market, and eventually publicity will come looking for you.

Read all about 7 great product ideas launched by parents just like you!


On the Web

Juvenile Product Manufacturers Organization
- - If your invention is for babies, young children or parents, check out this Web site.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office - - The organization that has final say on your trademark and patent applications offers information and resources.


Entrepreneur Magazine: Bringing Your Product to Market, by Don Debelak, John Wiley & Sons, 1997. An insider’s guide to the manufacturing process, design, distribution, patents and licensing.

How to License Your Million Dollar Idea: Everything You Need to Know to Turn a Simple Idea into a Million Dollar Payday, by Harvey Reese, John Wiley & Sons, 2002. Tips from new product developer Harvey Reese, who has licensed more than 100 of his ideas.

Patents: A Practical Handbook, by the U.S. Department of Commerce, Dover Publications, 2000. The official guide to the Patent and Trademark Office provides an introduction to the patenting process - from defining terms to describing patent law.

Brainstorm! The Stories of Twenty American Kid Inventors, by Tom Tucker, Sunburst, 1998. Did you know that an 11-year-old boy invented the Popsicle in 1905? Or that kids just like yours invented the re-sealable cereal box, earmuffs and TV? This book proves that people of all ages can become inventors.

Can you be an inventor and a mom?
Check out our Work and Family pages for more great resources.

Cathy Elcik is a freelance writer and former associate editor with United Parenting Publications.

Mayl 2004