A patent from the United States Patent and Trademark Office provides legal protection to inventors. Once an idea or invention is patented, no one can use that invention without the patent holder's permission. Because of this, many companies will not purchase the rights to an idea or invention unless they know it is patent protected and no one else can sell the same invention. Obtaining a patent can be very expensive and time consuming, but there are ways that you can sell your idea or invention without a patent.
Apply for a provisional patent form the USPTO. This is a simpler and much cheaper process than obtaining a full patent, but provides the same legal protection for a limited period. The provisional patent lasts for 12 months, after which time you must apply for a non-provisional patent or a conversion to a non-provisional patent. A provisional patent protects your idea or invention up to 12 months.
Maintain an inventor's logbook. This is a detailed diary that documents all the steps you take in developing your idea or invention. You should include the date with each entry you make. According to Stephen Paul Gnass, writing for the National Congress of Inventor Organizations, a logbook helps show that you developed the idea yourself. Therefore, if someone else files a patent for the same idea, you can show that you were the first person that invented the product.
Target companies in your field that do not already sell a similar product and approach them about licensing. Look for companies that are in a growth phase. Tamara Monosoff suggests in a February, 2006 article on Businessweek.com that inventors should prepare a one or two page information sheet that explains their ideas and marketability. Monosoff suggests contacting the marketing managers in your target companies and pitching your idea to them.
Use an intermediary firm. According to John Tozzi, in a June, 2007 article on Businessweek.com, these companies act as the “middlemen” to license products to corporations in exchange for a percentage of the license or a flat fee. Intermediaries often have good inside knowledge and contacts; they can get your idea or invention in front of the right people more easily than you can yourself.
Network with other inventors for contacts. There are inventors groups in many states, as well as national groups.
Attend state and national invention conventions. These shows bring together inventors and corporations looking for products to invest in and develop. Licensing intermediaries also attend these conventions and some participating companies will not expect you to have a patent in place already.