All posts for the month May, 2019

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Look at Your Patent Strategy

May 27, 2019 by Don Debelak (

How to Cut Patent Costs

{Don Debelak’s new book, Turning Your Invention into Cash is now available on Amazon for $3.49. Go to and enter inventions Don Debelak to purchase. From the author of Entrepreneur Magazine’s Bringing Your Product to Market.}

By Don Debelak

January 18, 2016

Patent costs for a utility patent can range from the $3,000 range up to $25,000. Before moving forward you want to understand some basic concepts that can cut your patent costs significantly.

Micro entity feesPatent Agent versus Patent AttorneyUnderstand when a patent offers broad protectionMatching your patent effort to your approach to the marketTake Steps that can cut your costs.

The more you do on you on your own to get prepared for your visit to the patent agent or patent attorney will not only cut your costs but your efforts will probably improve your patent.

Micro Entity Fees

Patents fees have three categories, normal fees, small entity fees which are 50% of the normal fee, and microentity fees which are 25% of the normal fees.

To qualify as a micro entity, an applicant must meet all of the following criteria:

Qualify as a USPTO-defined small entity.Not be named on more than four previously filed applications.*Not have a gross income more than three times the median household income in the previous year from when the fee(s) is paid. For 2011, the most recent year that data is available, the median income was $50,054.Not be under an obligation to assign, grant, or convey a license or other ownership to another

These are significant savings you can’t afford to pass up.

2. Use a patent agent versus a patent attorney

From the USPTOO web site:

A patent attorney has a law degree, can prosecute applications before the USPTO, and can represent you in patent litigation or infringement cases. A patent agent can prosecute applications before the USPTO, but not in a court of law. To be a registered patent attorney or agent, one must pass an exam administered by the USPTO. A roster of all registered patent attorneys and agents that is searchable by name or geographic location is available on the USPTO’s website. Because patent agents are not attorneys and specialize only in applying for patents they they to be considerably less expensive than patent attorneys

3. Understand when a patent offers broad protection

Patents that are restrictive and use closed ended phrases such as consisting of are patents where only the very specific design of the patent are covered are generally considered not as valuable because people who make small changes to the design may be able to potentially patent their idea and compete with you with a patent, or they will just be able to compete with you without a patent.

Open ended patents typically use phrases such as comprising, which in patent terms means it covers not only the items specifically covered, but other similar items.  You want to look at the terms in competitive patents to see if they are open ended or closed ended and then discuss with your patent agent or attorney on what that means for your patent opportunity.  Also ask your patent provider if he/she feels they will be able to use open ended or close ended language in your patent.

You must then decide if that patent you can get will have coverage that to you justifies its costs.  You must be in a position to make this evaluation in order to make an intelligent on whether or not to proceed

4. Matching your patent effort to your approach to the market

Certain approaches to commercializing, such as licensing your idea require a patent.  For others like a private label approach or a joint venture approach don’t require a patent but a patent can assist the process.  Taking a product to the market on your own doesn’t require a patent, but it can help you protect your idea if you are successful.

Look at the approach you are taking and then decide on whether or not you need a patent but by looking at the scope of your patent and your approach to the market.

5.  Some Steps You Can Take before Talking to a Patent Agent of Attorney to Cut Patent Costs

 Do a patent search on your own or through a professional patent search and get a list of competitive patents.  Go through each patent and clearly describe how your invention is better,Prepare a background section on your patent, which includes how the product is used, why it is used, what are issues involved with the product and its application, how other patents have addressed this issue, the problems with the other approaches and why your approach to resolving the issue is best.  You will pay a patent agent from $100.00 to $200.00 per hour, and a patent attorney much more, so you can cut down the patent preparation time by doing this first yourself.  This section is very helpful in preparing a final patent and improves your patent.Do some drawings yourself, they don’t have to be perfect, but if you label each component in the drawing it will help cut the time required for patent drawings.Do a sequence of operation for your idea, exactly how it works, and then you want to list clearly which part of the sequence of operation is your new invention and which steps are from the traditional product that you are improving.

Don Debelak offers affordable patent work. Check out

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Finding Contract Manufacturers

{Don Debelak’s new book, Turning Your Invention into Cash is now available on Amazon for $3.49. Go to and enter inventions Don Debelak to purchase. From the author of Entrepreneur Magazine’s Bringing Your Product to Market.}

A Top Source for Design Help, Contract Manufactures

Inventors frequently need an engineer, designer or prototype builder.  Rather than struggling through Thomas Register or state industrial directories consider checking out a web site home of the job shop company.  They have six divisions including:
Design-2-Part shows, Design-2-Part Magazine, Supplier Directory, Job and Job Shop Web Design.

The design-2-Part shows are small shows that are arranged around the country.  No matter what you are doing for design, prototypes or manufacturing, I recommend you attend a local show. You can meet people and get new ideas about how to produce your product and how you might be able to solve design issue or simplify production.

Another options I recommend you pursue is attending the meetings of your local invention club, which you can locate on, or at  These meeting often have great guest speakers, I speak at them occasionally, but more important you can meet people who have experience with prototypes, design and manufacturing. 

You might also want to start a subscription to Inventor’s Digest (where I write occasional articles mostly on marketing issues.)  They frequently have information on design and manufacturing of your inventions.

Remember to be careful  when you talk to people prior to having a patent.  You might want to consider having the contact sign a confidential agreement. Some people won’t sign it, then you need to consider how much you trust the individual.

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The Road to Becoming a Target Vendor

Mike Eaton of Hero Clean, Inc. has branded his product line with the tag line Cleaning Products Made for Men.  Starting in August 2015 Hero Clean’s product line was on the endcaps of 16 Target stores in California and soon he will be going into select stores on Long Island.  Eaton took three and a half years to go from conceiving his idea to getting onto Target shelves, and the journey was more complicated than he expected but there a lessons to be learned in the story that I believe will benefit every inventor.

{Don Debelak’s new book, Turning Your Invention into Cash is now available on Amazon for $3.49. Go to and enter inventions Don Debelak to purchase. From the author of Entrepreneur Magazine’s Bringing Your Product to Market.}


Eaton’s story started out when he would open laundry detergents to see just what detergents had the least offensive odors. He couldn’t take the heavy fragrances of many of the brands, and the cover-up fragrance idea really wasn’t what he was looking for.  Eaton came to the inspiration that every cleaning in the store was made for women, fragrances were added for women, and that there weren’t products geared for men.  A little checking on the Internet and Eaton found some pretty powerful statistics, 47% of US adult men (18 and over) are single.  The average age of a male getting married today is 29, and still 47 % of first marriages fail and 42 % of second marriages fail.  The result is that 42-43% of purchases made by men.  Eaton figures that 70 to 100 million men are buying cleaning products.

Eaton study men habits and needs for cleaning products. One aspect was to look into cleaning products that better fit men’s sweat pH and bacteria that are more associated with men than women.  The other aspect was the number and type of cleaning products men prefer.  He found men like easy to use products, and all-purpose products that can do many tasks.  From his evaluations, Eaton determined he needed different

Lesson 1.  Have a clearly define target market that comes complete with an interesting story.

Defining the Product

Eaton study men habits and needs for cleaning products. One aspect was to look into cleaning products that better fit men’s sweat pH and bacteria that are more associated with men than women.  Men also need stronger surfactants (the chemical group that gets out stains and perspiration in clothing, and loosens food from dishes) and longer lasting much milder smelling fragrances (to deal with lingering bacteria odor without an overpowering scent). The other aspect Eaton considered was the number and type of cleaning products men prefer.  He found men like easy to use products, and all-purpose products that can do many tasks.  From his evaluations, Eaton determined men needed four different products:

Laundry detergentDish soapAll-purpose spray cleanerOdor eliminator

Lesson 2.  Understand your target customer needs

Creating the Product

Eaton identified a great market but the question is how to develop the product.  The answer for Eaton was not to try and do everything himself, but rather to turn first to the suppliers, in case the ingredients industry

Manufacturers in the ingredients industry are always working to trying to get more business.  They do this by developing new formulations, including their products of course, that address some of the market issues their customers face.  Eaton was able to get ingredients companies to supply him with new formulations that he was able to evaluate. Since Eaton is a marketing person, specializing in brand building, he wasn’t comfortable dealing with all the technical aspects of the proposed brand so he hired a chemist familiar with the cleaning industry to help in the final formulation.

Many of the major ingredient customers weren’t willing to help out as they didn’t see Eaton as major customer.  Eaton had to find smaller companies.  Trade shows were a tool Eaton use to find those smaller companies.  The show he attended that were most helpful were International Cleaning Experts EXPO, and the ACI (American Cleaning Institute) show, where ingredients companies exhibited.

Lesson 3.  Take advantage of the supply network for product design, concentrate on smaller companies who are more likely to help a new inventor-led company.


Eaton’s used a rather large network of single friends to do performance testing.  He gave them samples and told them to go to town on seeing if the product worked.  These tests went well. This was not unexpected though as Eaton’s earlier work with ingredients manufacturers allowed him to use formulations where there was a substantial body of data indicating the formulations would be effective.

Eaton’s products used different formulation and the cleaning chemicals can react in unexpected ways over time.  Eaton needed to tests the shelf life of the product to ensure he had a long shelf life.  Big retailers like Target also require cleaning vendors to be Wercs Smart Vendor which is an organization that helps retailer participants select quality products with chemical formulations. Eaton wasn’t really in a position to do this testing on his own.  Instead he used testing capabilities as one of is criteria in selecting a contract manufacturer.  Rather than doing the testing on his own, the contract manufacturer did most of the testing.  This testing revealed that Eaton’s laundry soap had some issues which caused the product to be reformulated which caused about a one year delay in the market.

For detailed, updated and comprehensive information  on the best cleaning products for every situation  check out this completely free, more than 10,000 words and article packed with practical tips and advice. You can find it here:

Lesson 4.  Don’t try to do technical steps on your own.  Use vendor support.

Financing the Development Phase

Eaton’s path seemed fairly straightforward. But there was a catch –money.  To the ingredient supplies and the contract manufacturers Eaton’s venture was a long shot.  And even if he was successful, it might take him two years or more to introduce his product.  In fact it took Eaton three and half years to land on Target’s shelves.  So suppliers weren’t willing to fund Eaton’s efforts, and he had to pay for everything.  Sometimes felt that the suppliers were trying to make all their money off of him in the development phase.  The result was that Eaton had to invest to get through this development phase.

Inventors do have options with companies which Eaton didn’t pursue.  They could offer royalties to the suppliers to cover expenses, or offer a share of the company to the suppliers in return for their financial support.  These tactics work only if an inventor can make a strong case that their product could succeed. In Eaton’s case, he was pioneering a new product category and that is an inventor’s hardest sell.  Vendors and possible investors tend to be conservative and supporting a new product category is a risky venture.

Lesson 5.  Expect companies to charge you for their support.

Eaton is a marketing professional who had branded his product into concept, Hero Clean, Cleaning Products Made for Men.  He knew that he did not want to just go into and talk to buyers.  He had a concept for a market and he wanted to go to an executive who was involved in merchandising cleaning products.  In a retail organization merchandising managers are responsible for the entire selection of products available, and or how those products are grouped together, or differentiate to appeal to customers.  This is a much function than buyers who are selecting existing product lines and working with vendors of issues such as packaging, price and quality.

Eaton had done a lot of work with sponsorship of events before starting Hero Clean and one of his contacts knew a sponsorship at Target.  That Target contact gave Eaton the name of the Director of Merchandising for Cleaning Products at Target.  Eaton talked to him on the phone and the response was immediate and positive.  It turns out that Target studies had shown that there were a tremendous number of men walking through their store alone or with other men.  Target wanted to do things to entice these men to buy more products.  Hero Clean and Target it turned out was match. Definitely a concept that Target wanted to try out.  Phase one of the sale was made.

Lesson 6.  A big message is what gets in front of someone who can push your product through.

Sales Details Take Time and Effort

Target of course like all big retailers is conservative about what products they put in their stores.  They worry about quality, the vendor’s ability to deliver and support returns, and just how well the product is received.  Target’s starting point is on-line sales. But to even do that the starting point is the vendor site on  Vendor’s need to post a tremendous amount of information before getting started regarding specifications, packaging requirements, and details on steps vendors need to take to receive approval for product changes. This information is not shared with customers, but is required before you go on line. The site also requires a vendor to agree to Target policies such as payment terms and returns.  This process took several months. Target, as well as all other big retailers, will return products to you for the smallest deviation in a product or package from the agreed upon specifications.

Lesson 7.  You need all you details lined up with the retailers requirements before you’ll make sale one.

Market Testing

The first test was where the Hero Clean line did well.  But was also the testing ground for invoicing, Target and most other retailers have EDI requirements. EDI  is electronic data exchange where retailers send orders to vendors and receive invoices back. Retailers also use EDI for other communication.  EDI is tough for an inventor to do on their own, but there are many EDI contract services you can use.  Selling on allows Target to run orders through you, receive invoices and generally ensure that a company is ready to sell to Target stores.

Putting Hero Clean on the endcaps of 16 Target stores in Southern California in August 2015 was step two in market testing.  Now in the summer of 2016 Target is expanding the test to additional stores in Long Island.

Lesson 8.  Expect major retailers to test new concepts carefully before making a major commitment.

Expanding Sales to New Retailers

Eaton reports that other retailers including Fleet and Farm type retailers, as well as Lowes, Home Depot and Wegman are talking to him now based on his success at Target. He hopes to launch sales and some of these stores by the end of 2016.

Lesson 9.  Success leads to additional success.  Momentum counts.

Inventor Focus Groups

Eaton sent his product out to friends for a performance evaluation.  He also had feedback from friends that he had a good idea.  But what can you if you want a more thorough evaluation.  “How do I evaluate my product” is probably most common question inventors email me.

This task is more difficult as Inventors don’t usually have big ad and promotion budgets so they need to have their products succeed either because they have unique and highly desired features, or they have better perceived value.  I have found inventors can easily discover how their product relates to other products with some simple focus group testing among friends or acquaintances. No inventor should overlook this step as it could cost them a lot of money if it their product is considered too expensive for what it does.

Steps to Running an Informal Focus Group

Friends and acquaintances are OK as long as they are potential users of the product. You can have anywhere from three to 10 people.Have people sign a non-disclosure form, it shows you are protecting your idea. You can go to the web site for a variety of non-disclosure forms you can choose from. (Cama – you may have a non-disclosure form on your web site.  If you do, substitute your web site for this one.)Select five to eight products for people to evaluate. You don’t need products that accomplish the same goal, but do include products just from the same industry. If you have a kitchen product, you should have some kitchen products that do other jobs. All the products should be in a price range of 50% to 150% of what you feel is your targeted retail price. For example if you are targeting a price of $10.00, try to have products that vary from $5.00 to $15.00 in value.Decide how you want to present your product–a “looks like works like” prototype is best, but other options include drawings, rough prototypes or sales flyers. If you have a sales flyer, either obtain flyers for the other products or print out one of their web pages.Have people first rate all the products by how likely they are to buy the product. You want to see that your product is at least in the top 50% of how likely people are to buy a product. After the vote, ask people why they gave the products the rankings they did. Often people’s comments will give you a better understanding of how people view this category of products, which will help you in your product’s final design and also in your future marketing efforts.Next have people rank the products by value, with the product they feel is highest value first, and the lowest value last. This helps you determine how consumers value your product. Since you will know the price of the product just above your product and just below, you get an idea of what price your product should have. Again ask participants why they ranked the products as they did to get a better idea of how consumers think.

Most inventors are disappointed if their product isn’t the hands down rankings winner both in value and desirability. But it is not necessary to be first, only in the top half. Remember you are competing with products that already have had market success, and in many cases, products your focus group members were already aware of. A successful product doesn’t need to be better than every other product on the market, just some of them. However, that doesn’t mean you should ignore comments or rankings by participants that are negative towards your product. Instead look at those comments as an opportunity to improve your product so it can be a true market winner.

Don Debelak offers affordable patent work. Check out

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