Invention evaluation: the cost to companies

A recent post by a US inventor on one of several LinkedIn groups for inventors – Invention Entrepreneurs –  included this:

‘I would not go with an agent who charges you an up front fee to evaluate your product. […] 99% of the submissions won’t be accepted, so you’ll just be tossing money to this guy who probably won’t help you. After all, what does it cost to evaluate a product? Nothing really.’

Maybe it wasn’t meant to be provocative, but as evaluating invention ideas is’s turf, it did hike up the blood pressure a little.

Now we’re not ‘agents’ in the sense meant here of cherry-pickers who summarily reject ideas and products they don’t want. We put the same research and advice effort into every invention idea sent to us, because our main business is educating and helping inventors, not commercialising inventions. (There may be some overlap, but only with the inventor firmly in the driving seat.)

That said, the notion that there is no cost to evaluating an invention – whether a product or an idea – can’t go unchallenged.

Zero cost if zero interest

Let’s start by admitting that yes, there is no cost to evaluating an invention in one circumstance: if someone can glance at it and say ‘That’s not for us’ and not need to justify their decision.

That’s the case with most companies, especially big ones. They know what they’re doing and it’s taking up all their time, so they won’t want even to break their stride to look at an unsolicited invention. Very, very rarely will an inventor have something that coincides with a current need.

So for many companies the cost of evaluating an invention is indeed zero – because, basically, they don’t do any evaluation. This often leaves inventors ignorant of where they’re going wrong. (A knowledge gap exists to fill.)

But if you target companies very carefully, or approach funding bodies and potential project partners, then you can expect to have your proposal evaluated rigorously. That takes time and skill, and both cost money.

First, they won’t take at face value any information you alone supply. If you’ve presented your invention or product well you’ll go up in their estimation, but they’ll still want to run their own checks to meet their own criteria, and to make sure you’re not trying to pull a fast one.

Inventions must be original

For example, they’ll need to establish the originality of the idea, because this is the Achilles’ heel of most invention submissions. Time and again, inventions fall down because they’re not new. Not only is their IP potential low, but there’s a serious risk of infringing someone else’s IP. We do a lot of prior art (patent and product) research for inventors, and while the time needed can vary widely depending on the type of idea or product, it’s rarely less than half a day.

And that’s just the start. What are the market prospects? How much redesign might be needed? If it’s a manufacturing company, does the input requirement match resources? Every minute spent finding and analysing information is a cost.

There’s no set formula, but three days to perform adequate due diligence isn’t unrealistic. For most organisations that puts the cost into four figures – assuming, of course, that there is someone in the company with the time and ability to do it. And if the findings go against the invention, it’s money lost.

All this shows that invention or product evaluation is by no means cost-free. It also indicates why so many companies are reluctant to entertain inventions, or to spend more than minutes considering them.

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