As a patent attorney, I am often asked at parties and when meeting with inventors – will this invention make me rich?

Of course, that’s a loaded question. What the inventor is actually seeking is validation of their ideas. They may think because I am a patent attorney that I see a lot of successful inventors. So if I like the idea, then maybe it will mean their idea is a winner and they will get rich. But there is so much more to getting rich than simply having an idea.

Having an Idea does not mean you will make a lot of money.

Most people have ideas every day. Some ideas may be good ideas, others not so much. Do you remember the last time you thought ‘if they would just add another lane to this road, the traffic wouldn’t be so bad’. That idea isn’t going to make you rich. Thinking back to that idea you had at the family barbecue this summer – ‘if they would only plant more trees at this park, then it wouldn’t be so hot’. That idea isn’t going to make you rich either.

Okay, so you agree that just Having an Idea won’t make you rich.

But this is more than idea – this is an Invention! Certainly if I invent something, it will make me rich. Right?


But my Invention is more than just an Idea.

Issued Patent for an Invention
Issued Patent for an Invention

People are constantly making inventions. In fact, the US Patent Office recently issued Patent Number 8,875,000. That’s nearly 9 million patents issued. That’s not even counting the millions of patent applications that have been filed, but were never allowed to issue. And no, the inventors did not all become wealthy simply by having a patent issue.

Inventors are not all rich.

To the contrary, I just read an interesting article on CNBC the other day about the inventor of the Operation game, John Spinello. Most of us grew up playing this game, or at least have seen or heard of this game. It’s a simple game with an illustration of a person laying on a doctor’s operating table. The object of the game is to use tweezers to remove various plastic objects from the patient, such as his funny bone. If the metal tweezers hit the edge while trying to remove the plastic object, then the object has to stay in the patient. The player to remove the most objects from the patient wins. Turns out that the inventor of this game, John Spinello, was a university student when he came up with the game. He sold the rights to the game to the big game company, Milton Bradley (and later, Hasbro acquired the rights) for $500. Of course, the game sold millions and made millions of dollars for the game companies. But the inventor did not see any of this money beyond the initial $500 he was paid.

What’s the Lesson?

While having a good idea is a start, it takes more than just having an idea to turn it into profit. Take the Operation game example above. The inventor sold the idea for a mere $500. The game made millions. But the game made money because a large gaming company was able to take the idea and market it. I’m not saying that only big companies can make money from inventions. But I am saying that it is going to take more than just having an idea to turn that into big money.