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Older Inventors Have Better Success With Their Inventions

Becoming the next Edison just might be possible

Older Inventors

While only a small percentage of inventions can actually make you rich, they're still worth doing for the experience you gain from the invention process. — Illustration by Joe Zeff Design

You have a great idea, but you need to take it from brain to bank. Now may be the time to try, because your odds of success can increase with age, says Wendy Robbins, a New Mexico based inventor and consultant to other creative types. At press time, about 60 percent of The United Inventors Association of America members were 50 or older, estimates executive director Mark Reyland, and overall membership had grown 243 percent in a little over a year. "Older adults have more experience, plus the insight and persistence to get a product to market," says Jeffrey Dobkin, president of Philadelphia's American Society of Inventors and author of How to Market a Product for Under $500! You can make money, but don't expect to get rich. Sure, after two years of development, George Weiss, 85, of Brooklyn, has sold 20,000 copies of his word game Dabble. But more common are inventors like Sher Gregory, 54, of Dobbs Ferry, New York, who spent 11 years creating her Puffalicious Body Wash System before selling only about 50 units during her January launch.

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Don't want to tinker for years? Some online companies can develop your idea, with input from other site users, and sell the resulting product. For instance, after Jim Johnstone, 57, of Urbana, Illinois, sent an idea to Quirky (1-866-578-4759; quirky.com), the company created and sold more than 3,300 of his Thor collapsible ice scrapers. But these intermediary firms reduce your profits. You often must sign over your rights, and you'll reap only a modest share of sales. (Quirky pays 4 cents per dollar for in-store sales and 12 cents per dollar for online sales; Johnstone has earned around $11,500.) That said, you may feel satisfied just seeing your product on shelves. "If you're lucky, you might have a money-making product," adds Johnstone. "But at the very least you are a lot smarter than when you started."

2 Tips for Success

  1. Join a local inventors club to get support and advice. Find a group in your area at uiausa.org.
  2. Be wary of companies that charge hundreds or thousands of dollars to evaluate your product, say experts. Such firms are often scammers.

Additional reporting by Odochi Ibe.

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