Ask an Expert
Ask the Expert: Selling an Idea
Expert: Gary Svoboda
What are my options for taking an idea for a business opportunity to an established, large company (which is a key player in an oligopoly), and, of course, what are the usual avenues for personal remuneration for taking this idea to them? The idea would likely be non-proprietary and would use existing technology with minor customization for their application.
Gary Svoboda answered:
This is an interesting problem - one that we are reasonably familiar with because so many of our inventor and entrepreneurial innovator clients face this very same problem. Here are some suggestions for Brian:
"Recognize that with a non-proprietary idea your position is much weaker than it would be if you actually had an intellectual property position with your idea. However, that does not mean that the possibility of a mutually beneficial relationship does not exist.
First of all, move carefully and deliberately. Have any company that you approach sign a non-disclosure and non-compete agreement prior to even talking to them. If they are unwilling to sign such a document, you should not speak to them since all you have is "know-how", and once you have shared that you have no protection against your idea being taken from you. Nevertheless, you should respect the company's integrity for having a policy in place that essentially means "we are not interested unless we invent it."
It is worthwhile to mention to any company that you are talking to that it is in their interest not to take advantage of you even though your idea is non-proprietary because as a creative individual you will invariably come up with more good ideas that their company could benefit from, and if Brian and the company can develop a relationship whereby he gets paid on a per idea basis, or an employment contract as an "inventor-in-residence", then of course he is going to do all of his best thinking for the company.
The bottom line here is that there is no clear right or wrong answer. You should be careful but nevertheless recognize that there is often a win-win opportunity in situations like these."
About the author
Gary Svoboda, the Canadian Innovation Centre. The Canadian Innovation Centre is a national, not-for-profit organization with over 20 years of experience in assisting innovators and entrepreneurs with their new product ideas. The Centre offers an idea evaluation service, market research, licensing consulting, educational workshops, and consulting for innovators.