Getting Your Invention to Market: Licensing vs. Manufacturing

In my experience the reason most people do not succeed is because they just don’t know what to do, not because they are lazy or unmotivated. My hope is that this article will educate inventors and help take some of the mystery out of the steps associated with turning an invention into a profitable endeavor.

Before you consider contacting anyone the best first place to start is with a simple question, which will help you chart the right course. Ask yourself: What you want to do with your invention? Do you want to make and sell your invention? Or, do you want to sell your invention rights to an individual or company who would make and sell your invention? Or, do you want to try and license one or more individuals or companies to make and sell your invention? After you make this determination your initial strategy should come into focus.

Licensing may be the way to go for those who do not have a lot of money to invest. Even a simple kitchen gadget can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to take from idea to realization through patent and to market. Costs have gone down over the last several years, and you can proceed responsibly little by little, but to manufacture and sell is a big commitment financially.

When discussing with me the “Cashflow Comparison” graph (see below), Trevor Lambert, of Lambert & Lambert, explained: “The cashflow comparison shows that you go well deeper into the negative cashflow when you are going to manufacture it yourself, but your likely returns on investment are much higher.  So licensing is more of the safer bet for those who are not independently wealthy.”

You can clearly see from Lambert’s exemplary illustration, the amount of money necessary to generate, develop and commercialize  is far less for those pursuing a licensing path than it is for those following a manufacturing path.  Through idea generation the cost is roughly similar, but starts to diverge to significant degree during development and even greater during commercialization.  Of course, when licensing a product a royalty of 1% to 2% is not uncommon in many industries, so the long term profitability for licensing has an up-side cap that is much lower than the up-side potential for those who pursue manufacturing.


Several years ago I interviewed Stephen Keyan inventor coach and author of two excellent books: One Simple Idea: Turn Your Ideas Into a Licensing Goldmine and One Simple Idea for Startups and Entrepreneurs: Live Your Dreams and Create Your Own Profitable Company. During our conversation we turned to the question about licensing versus manufacturing. Key’s take is that you might not necessarily need to decide right away because many of the steps in the process will be the same for both paths.

QUINN: But it strikes me in listening to you talk that whether your ultimate goal may be to license this, or whether your ultimate goal is to set up a company and do it yourself, a lot of the initial steps really are identical.  Do you see it that way?

KEY: Yes.  They’re exactly identical.  I’m glad you mentioned that.  Because at the very beginning you need to say, look, is there an opportunity here?  Do I have a product that’s going to work?  So you need to test early.  And I tell everybody, even if you want to venture yourself, manufacture yourself, or even license, try to license at first to companies.  Get their feedback.  Understand the good points, the bad points.  Understand manufacturing.  Do all the testing, even at the very beginning, it doesn’t matter.  So you understand, number one, it can be manufactured.  Number two, I can protect it.  Number three, people do want it.  And then you can determine which path you want to take.  And sometimes they collide.  Sometimes you can start a company and then license it later.  A lot of people have done that.  Sometimes you’ll manufacture and you might even license certain parts of the industry as well.  So—

QUINN: If you’re licensing, too, and you have some short run success, that will help you there as well, right?

KEY: It’s the number one thing to do to take away risk.

Jack Lander, known as the Inventor Mentor, has been sharing his wisdom with inventors for many years, having helped thousands of inventors. His advice is straight forward: “If you want to license your invention for royalty payments, you have to deliver more than a “me too” product. Prospective companies will demand that your product exceed their standard profit goals in order to pay royalties, which represent increased expense.” And for those who who have an invention with moving parts, but do not have a tangible prototype, Lander suggests that you “consider making a virtual prototype. A virtual prototype is an animated video that is made by a graphic studio.” Indeed, the more you can do to make what you have tangible and easily understandable the better.

Of course, whether you are going to pursue licensing or manufacturing, for the first lesson is to realize that there are no tricks to invention marketing. It just takes work. Of course, you need to first determine what it is that you want to accomplish with your invention, which should be covered in some form of patent pending prior to beginning commercialization efforts. But once you have determined which path to follow you just need to focus your efforts and attention to identifying opportunities, pursuing them and not taking no for an answer. Certainly, there may be a time that you will have to retreat and move on, but those who succeed by and large share the same quality of determination. Determination is critical.

While you can certainly find individuals and companies that offer to do the work for you, this typically comes with a cost. Hiring someone, such as an attorney or licensing specialist to engage in invention marketing activities can get quite expensive unless they work on percentage basis, also known as a contingency. It is very difficult, if not impossible, to find reputable people who will work on a percentage basis. One reputable design company to consider (although they do not work on a contingency) is Enhance Innovations. Enhance, which offers services for a fee with respect to design and engineering assistance, but they also provide licensing consultations and representation as well. You can and should consider making an inquiry with both companies. If you are an inventor in need of a mentor, certainly consider Invent Right, the company Stephen Key founded, or Jack Lander, who has been working with and helping independent inventors for decades.

For more information on this and related topics please see:


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Join the Discussion

2 comments so far.

  • [Avatar for Anon]
    August 17, 2014 09:34 am

    Good point Benny – I would extend that to the management arena as well – especially when management has arisen from the technical ranks (or in some very small firms, the management hat is merely another hat the technical person wears).

    As you might well know, technical people can be the most difficult to convince, as sometimes just a little logic more gets in the way and can blind the technical person in those areas (such as marketing, human relations, or law) that the technical person does not know – or worse – merely thinks they know because they have “read up on it.”


    Very nice article – I would amend (slightly) the sentence “So licensing is more of the safer bet for those who are not independently wealthy.” and include the phrase: “and are not already established in manufacturing.” There are shops out there that are already equipped with the new product introduction cycle on the manufacturing and distribution end of the innovation cycle.

    As the innovation thought leader Christensen explains, innovation is more than invention and often the full cycle of innovation bears the fruit when invention is supplemented by the additional steps (read that as additional costs) of figuring out the manufacturing (and distribution, and marketing, and follow-up work, such as enforcement).

    I would point out this distinction as an important ray of hope to those that fancy themselves singly as the serial inventor type – doing what you love and are good at, and leaving the rest to others is not an impossibility. That is not to say that serious and real life issues of control and ownership do not show up. They do. The reason why the manufacturing route yields a higher return is often because those in those shoes recognize a high failure rate of product introduction and (properly) negotiate a higher return for their taking on the risks that they do.

    Sometimes – as I indicate to Benny – the highly technically skilled inventor who merely thinks that he can do it all because he read a management book (or a legal book), is the most difficult person to guide, is the person who has some of the most unrealistic expectations.

    Your continued efforts to shape those expectations are very much appreciated Gene. Keep up the good work.

  • [Avatar for Benny]
    August 17, 2014 07:31 am

    If you take the licensing route, beware the “not invented here” syndrome found anywhere the word “engineer” is used in its’ plural form,