From Invention to Market: Starting the Journey
Backless bra creator shares how she brought her idea to market

Research is a must! I started with the United States Patent & Trademark Office, a free resource.
Editor’s Note: Elaine Cato is the creator of the Maidenform® Breakthrough™ Backless Bra. Her innovation allows women to wear bare back outfits while still having the support they needed. Cato takes readers through some of the challenges she faced in bringing her invention to market. Here she shares how her journey began and what anyone looking to take the leap can expect.

The idea for my invention came to me out of pure necessity. Long story short: After having my second child, I was determined to wear one of my favorite backless dresses–but my new bust size said no way. After some thinking (and extensive bra alterations), not only did I achieve the look I was searching for but I’d developed an innovation to the traditional brassiere. Today, Maidenform® Breakthrough™ Backless Bra has been sold in stores all across North America. As an inventor, I know firsthand how timely and costly it can be to take an idea from concept to market. There were a number of ups and downs but I got through it. And I want to share my experiences with anyone looking to do the same.

Before you even attempt to make your idea a reality, do your homework. Research is not only important, it’s a must! I started with the United State Patent & Trademark Office, a free resource. The application for a patent is available on their website and you can reach out to the patent office with any questions. Once my application was submitted and making its way through review, I kept in contact with my examiner – the person who reviews your patent application. She was very helpful in securing my patent, which I’ll get to in a later entry.

While there are a number of books out there (like Product Idea to Product Success: A Complete Step-by-Step Guide to Making Money from Your Idea), most of my research was done online by searching keywords related to my creation. I was amazed at the wealth of knowledge, resources and services available. Some, however, required a fee and registration. Personally, I think it isn’t necessary to pay for services like a patent attorney or one-stop-shop companies who claim to do everything in getting your invention to market. Many of these companies are frauds that target unsuspecting individuals.

At this stage, my main focus was to understand the patent process (resource: National Congress of Inventor Organizations), the market and industry for my specific product (another resource: ValuationResource.com) and what goes into obtaining a prototype of my invention (yet another resource: StartUpNation.com). I spent years educating myself as I went through the process of trying to turn my idea into reality. And truth be told, it’s an ongoing (and worthwhile) journey. Who’s looking to give it a shot?

Now that you know my story, what has been the most difficult part of bringing your creation to life or to the market?

For more on Cato’s journey, as well as how to take your idea from concept to creation, pick up the November 2010 issue of Black Enterprise and read the cover story, Code Name: Inventors. Also, be sure to check out this video on how to go from dream to invention.
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