What would you do if you had a great idea?

I don't have a degree in electronics, I don't have any money, I don't have a job, wife, kids, home, blah, blah... the list goes on but I'll spare the details. What I do have is a great idea. (bet you've never heard that before ;D ) I picked the Arduino because it was such an easy to learn platform and had great support from all the wonderful people in this forum! I've spent the entire year working on my idea that has the potential to sell millions and save the planet (it has to do with solar energy). I built the hardware, figured out the algorithms, wrote close to 10,000 of lines of code, and finally have a working prototype, but now I realize this was probably the easy part. Some issues I'm facing: - I'm not sure what parts of my idea are patentable, and I'm hesitant to discuss too many details till I've explored that, but I don't have the resources to hire a patent attorney. - I don't have the experience or knowledge of how to package things up in a consumer friendly enclosure. - I'm a geek, not a salesperson, and I don't know any angel investors and I have no idea where to come up with the VC to build a team and develop the product further.

One possibility I've thought of is selling some sort of DIY kit with the hardware already programmed. I realize that the spirit behind the Arduino platform is to embrace open hardware/software, but I'm really nervous about going that route except as an absolute last resort because I could really use some money and I just don't see how that would do it for me.

I'm hoping for some advice and suggestions as to what to do. Thanks for any replies!

If your idea truly is great and has the potential to make a lot of money then investors will be happy to invest in you. This will allow you to get your patent attorney.

Pitch your idea to investors and go from there. If it is a good idea then someone will snap it up.

A working prototype is much more than an idea. If you show it to the world, some investor may jump at the opportunity. I assume VCs read make and wired magazines, so why not try to present it there? Al Gore may come to your rescue, seriously (he is a VC, isn't he, also interested in solar energy etc).

10,000 lines of code on Arduino? Are those assembly?

10,000 lines of code on Arduino? Are those assembly?

Started out with two 328's sharing tasks over i2c then switched to the mega128 when I ran out of room (thank God support came out for that when I needed it!)

I've noticed that the vast majority of the VCs don't accept unsolicited ideas, so the trick is to somehow do something to get noticed by them.

Have you seen the movie "Who Killed the Electric Car?" I'm also afraid of the wrong corp buying the rights and then just sitting on the idea as has happened to numerous other people. There are several patents related to my idea, all filed by the petro-chemical companies in the 70's and 80's, that were never developed -- at least those patents have expired which opens the door somewhat.

I'm also afraid of the wrong corp buying the rights and then just sitting on the idea

So are you interested in the money or in the glory?

Are you in college? Some colleges have attorneys that will help students with their IP issues. I know MIT does. MIT also has an entrepreneur's club (e-club) to discuss startup ideas and issues. You need be able to summarize your idea and its benefits without giving out the details. This can be tricky.

You could look at a provisional patent which gives you some protection for a short period of time.

A utility patent could be very difficult to do yourself. If you do not write the claims properly you will loose protection for your IP.

(* jcl *)

Hey MikeMc: Have you ever actually pitched an idea to investors, and if so how did you manage to actually get in the door. I'm near Austin, TX and I found a local incubator: I called and got voice mail; I sent email and got no reply; I visited and couldn't get in the door without an appointment! Pitching to VCs is much easier said than done.

Florinc:

So are you interested in the money or in the glory?

I already owe family, friends, and the bank money, so I need some money, but I don't need glory. I also feel like this is my baby and I want to make sure it gets to grow up. I've had the experience of spending years developing a product only to have it locked up in injunctions between me and my former employer when they tried to screw me at the last minute. The "open source" route seems like it would only provide glory, which isn't a lot of solace when you're living in a van and you don't have money to buy gas and food, much less health care.

Make magazine seems like a good place to get exposure, but I still feel like I need to somehow get a provisional patent of some sort before too much ends up in the public domain. I'm hoping some of the techniques can be protected, but if they can't then anybody with the money and the interest could copy the idea and produce it without me. At a certain level there are no new ideas, and many different versions of my idea have been attempted, but I have what is in some ways a low tech version using off-the-shelf readily available materials that ends up both being cheaper and more versatile (thanks to the Arduino component).

Depending on my patience, if a while goes by and I haven't found any open doors, then I'll go with the glory route and just spill the beans. There's a lot of ingredients for success. Right time and place, along with knowing the right people seems to be the most important.

JLuciani,

I'm 46, and not in college, and you are very correct about the patent and summarization issues. A provisional patent is the way to go and I can probably find a way to come up with the filing fee, but I still feel like I need some help to make sure I get that part right. So far my brain just makes loud farting sounds when I try to do the required drawings.

You still may be able to get some help at the local college. See if there are any entrepreneur's clubs. Maybe they could put you in touch with someone.

I wouldn't worry about the drawings I would worry about the claims. The drawings are easy to do. What I did for drawings was I took a picture of my prototype, imported the JPEG into XFIG, traced around the borders with the lines, arcs, etc and then added the annotations and crop marks. The you just file and wait and wait and ... ;)

(* jcl *)

I just did a Google search for "patent help" and it turned up a ton of what look like good links. Find some of those services that help you get a patent secured. Even try the ones who advertise on TV during the late hours. And then do your homework on who is solid and who is a rip-off. Call the Better Business Bureau and ask about all the places you've noted and see if they have anything to say about them.

In the doing, you'll probably come across someone who is willing to help you out for some percentage of the returns. Also look to your friends and family (only those you trust of course). It's not a bad thing to let someone who has the money put up for your idea for a cut - that's all a VC does and they usually get a pretty big piece of the pie.

I too think the local college is a good place to look.

I run www.HacknMod.com, we get about 10K hits a day if you need some exposure. For legal stuff, you could try legalzoom.com, I think they do patents for around $2K. Good luck my friend.

Hardly anyone gets rich off of one good idea. People who make money have great ideas one after another. You shouldn't target one specific thing as your cash cow...it's too easy to lose, fail in execution, or become obsolete. Investors want to give money to someone who has a record of great ideas in the past, will build a successful business, and keep having great ideas in the future.

I guess there's no magic way to solve your problem but here is an alternative:

1 - "sell" enough of your product to get money for the patent

Show your product to a trustworthy member of the community so he gives you his opinion if your product is actually original (no offense intended, just want you to make sure you got something before you spend money on trying to get a patent)

Have fun!

The patent is not a guarantee that you will make money. Even more, if someone copies and manufactures your design, you will need (to have the resources) to fight them in court.

I live in Norway, and here it is sufficiant to have a letter with a thourough descriptions and/or photos|video of a prototype, in order to prove that you are the originator of your idea. I do not if this apply to other countries but... One should think that the idea is yours as long as you can prove it?

Simply document the idea, and mail it to yourself.

This reminds me of the movie Flash of Genius. Honestly though, I've had people from the business world (patent attorney's and entrepreneurs) come and talk in some classes and from what they have said, unless you are a large corporation that can pay to fight patent infringement cases, you are only giving the Chinese companies a head start by filing a patent.

I don't know what your idea is, but if it is for a consumer product, you should start by getting feedback on your product from people you trust so that you can better understand if your product is viable. Encourage them to be critical because that is the only way it will help.

Simply document the idea, and mail it to yourself.

The "poor man's patent" does not stand up in US courts or at the USPTO. It is too easy to manipulate what is inside the envelope. This only proves that you sent a letter to yourself.

(* jcl *)

This reminds me of the movie Flash of Genius. Honestly though, I've had people from the business world (patent attorney's and entrepreneurs) come and talk in some classes and from what they have said, unless you are a large corporation that can pay to fight patent infringement cases, you are only giving the Chinese companies a head start by filing a patent.

You could try to sell the IP to a large company.

As you mentioned trade secrets also protect the IP (e.g. Coca Cola). Also trademarks.

(* jcl *)

My father started a company called Gyrodata with some business partners based on an invention he came up with for directional oil well surveying. His previous employer sued him, and it was established in court that the invention the new company was based on was his own idea. A couple years later, when the company was running low on VC, he showed up mysteriously shot in the back of the head, and the company collected on a million dollar key man policy. When the company reorganized their stock to screw my brother and I out of everything, some kind lawyers took the case up pro bono and spent tens thousands of dollars only to be outspent by the company and we were forced to abandon the case. Justice is for those that can afford it. Bottom line, I know all to well that ideas are stolen, and what happens when they are.

Right now there are only two very small companies making consumer products similar to my idea, my product could easily be sold for less than half that of competition, and has better features. Most people have no idea what it is, but can quickly understand the basic concept. If I had a million dollars I could probably quickly establish enough market presence and recognition to help fight off the international clones. Starting from the bottom, I'll probably just have to settle for hoping I get bought out before that happens, but you can't build a business plan around an idea with no legal protection.

JLuciani: thanks for the tip about xfig, I downloaded it to see if I can get some drawings done with that for a provisional filing. Even if it falls flat, at least I'll feel better about sharing more details once I get a provisional patent filed.

JLuciani: thanks for the tip about xfig, I downloaded it to see if I can get some drawings done with that for a provisional filing. Even if it falls flat, at least I'll feel better about sharing more details once I get a provisional patent filed.

You're welcome. I mentioned XFig because it is the tool I had. There are probably better tools but XFig is free and came with Linux. The hardest part about the drawings was getting started ;)

I am not sure but I may have gotten the idea from the excellent book "Patent It Yourself" by Pressman. You may want to take a look through that book. It is stocked in Barnes and Noble as well as Borders.

(* jcl *)