Building a Better Mousetrap: Advice from the Experts

So now you want to join the ranks of police officers who have invented police products. That’s great, but before you leap, consider the cumulative wisdom of police inventors.

David Griffith 2017 Headshot

Last night, last week, last month, or maybe last year, you had the "Eureka moment." You saw something on patrol and you thought to yourself, "There's got to be a better way." So now you want to join the ranks of police officers who have invented police products. That's great, but before you leap, consider the cumulative wisdom of police inventors.

• When you're first researching your idea, keep quiet. If all you have is an idea, no prototype, no patents, then keep it to yourself. Otherwise, somebody may steal your thunder.

• Don't sign up with an invention corporation. This is not a shortcut to bringing a product to market. You can learn about patents and the other aspects of inventing by reading and research. All these guys will do is take your money for doing things that you can do for yourself. Think of them as vanity presses for inventors.

• Do your homework. Before you spend a lot of time and money bringing a product to market, do what the big boys do: Make sure that you have a market. This means you will have to be honest with yourself and expose your brainchild, warts and all, to the harsh world. Talk to officers who you don't know from Adam and make sure they want your product enough to pay for it and that what they are willing to pay for it is enough for you to make a profit. Note: This exercise is likely to kill your product, but it's better to murder your dream than let it slaughter your financial security. And remember, there are actually few products that cops and law enforcement agencies are willing to buy.

• Know the difference between constructive comments and naysayers. Somebody who points out the potential pitfalls is helping you navigate the hazards. Somebody who constantly says it can't be done is just holding you back. • You will need help. You are a cop. You may need to enlist engineers, marketing experts, financial advisors, etc., to bring your idea to market. Look for people that you trust who can help you.

• Prepare to sacrifice. Bringing your product to market will cost much more than you think, and it will pay much less than you dream it will. It won't make you rich, and it could very well make you poor.

• Investors will want a cut. Before you take somebody else's financing be sure that you are willing to play by their rules. If not, walk away and find other financing.

• Expect to work really hard. Being a cop is a tough and physically dangerous job. Starting your own company is a tough and financially dangerous job. When your money is on the line, you will find yourself working harder and for longer hours than you ever dreamed you could.

• Even minimally successful products will be copied. Protect yourself the best you can with patents, but know that you will be copied regardless of your legal rights. Bigger companies have more lawyers and money than you. Smaller companies and foreign knockoff artists have nothing to lose.

• All creative and business endeavors are endurance tests. Expect to have really good days that make you feel like the next Thomas Edison and really bad days that make you feel like Rube Goldberg.

• If you believe in your idea, then go for it. But don't waste your time or money if you don't have faith in it. Doubts are natural, but commitment is key to success.

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