Inventors are some of the icons of American history; they industriously work to create
new products for the American public. The image of Alexander Graham Bell inventing the
telephone in a relatively primitive lab is firmily printed on our mind’s eye. Engineering and
development costs have dramatically increased, and invention today more often occurs in
corporate labs and research and development departments; still, 20 percent of U.S. patents
are issued each year to private inventors. A skilled inventor can still transform good ideas into
significant sums of money. There are great rewards in designing a product that is better than
any that have come before it.
In addition to being creative, successful inventors must
also be effective businesspeople. Developing a useful product
is only the first step in the process. The inventor must also be able to negotiate a favorable
licensing contract with an established manufacturer or have the wherewithal to become
an entrepreneur and go into the business of manufacturing his or her ideas. Designs must
be developed that avoid infringing on existing patents, and investors must protect themselves
from others who would copy their existing design. Knowing the fields or backgrounds of
inventions makes inventors’ lives much easier, both when they develop new products and
assess the value of inventions as they are developing them.
As a full-time career, inventing provides an uncertain living for all but the most talented.
Developing new products is time-consuming and often expensive, and income doesn’t start
to flow until a marketable prototype is ready. Many inventors work part-time as inventors and
spend the rest of their time in jobs as engineers, corporate research scientists, or in academia.
Still, a good idea can be worth pursuing.
With rare exceptions, a background in science or engineering is a must. Many private
inventors spend years working as designers for private corporations before they develop the
ideas that let them set out on their own. Experience in product design and development is
crucial, as is knowledge of the new product’s potential market. Years working in industry or
in academic research are the best methods to acquire the skills of a successful inventor.
Many inventors continue to work as research scientists and engineers while they develop
their ideas, and these are the fields that most return to if they are unable to make it as
inventors. Many return to inventing over and over again, accumulating successes and failures
over many years. The first idea an inventor develops is often not the best one, but the experience
gained with each try can be invaluable to later efforts.