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  • Jose Jimenez

Patents, Sales, and the Mousetrap Fallacy

May 2, 2022

By Robert Cantrell - Registered Patent Agent

In a previous post, I discussed the Mousetrap Fallacy for inventors. The Mousetrap Fallacy is the idea that if you build a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to your door. No matter how good the mousetrap, people rarely come knocking. Products stemming from patented inventions usually must be sold.

Innovators benefit from understanding that most people make decisions to buy solutions emotionally and justify those decisions with logic afterward. One customer may emotionally buy the faster of two cars and justify to him or herself afterward that the extra space the competing car provided was unneeded—even if the extra space was needed. For another customer, a decision between buying two similar cars, each representing countless hours of R&D and numerous patents on engines, transmissions, and instruments of control, may come down to the design of the cup holders.

Before becoming an inventor and a patent practitioner, I worked in sales. My first assignment after the Army was to attend a branch of the IBM Sales School, then the top sales school in the world. From this start—and after twenty years of bearing a sales quota—I coined the term Sharp Arrow. A Sharp Arrow is a benefit a solution offers that will grab a person’s interest when interrupted from whatever else he or she was doing. It targets an emotional priority for which the solution has a logical and credible delivery edge.

The Sharp Arrow is not necessarily the part of a solution that receives the most patent protection, though the Sharp Arrow can be essential for making associated patents valuable. I learned this early in my career when asked to sell the most sophisticated business telephone system on the market within the fashion-conscious garment district of New York City. Usually, the last objection I had to overcome involved the color of the handsets. My competitors offered many handset colors. Mine only came in beige.

I often help inventors identify Sharp Arrows through which to engage customers. They receive a text on sales geared toward technology innovators. If you would like to know more, please send a note on our contact page.


By Jose W. Jimenez, Esq – Former Chief Patent Counsel & Registered Patent Attorney

Whether you are a salesperson, an engineer or a patent attorney, the same question pops up in everyone’s mind: will this product sell? As Robert states, even though the benefits are tangible and the concept is potentially patentable, what is going to motivate a consumer to make that purchase? It’s interesting to see how Uber® is now part of our consumer fabric, but we got around just fine on taxis, limos, public transportation, and car-pooling. Similarly, with Airbnb® we always were able to find rentals in the classifieds or just relied on hotels and motels when we vacationed or traveled somewhere. I think you get the picture.

So, you ask yourself, “If I am a salesperson, what can I change about how we go to market? Or do I accept just selling what I am given.” This may mean talking to your engineers since they have the mandates to do actual product modifications. You may hear similar questions from engineers or patent counsel in their respective realms. We first must understand what problems we are solving for customers. Secondly, we all need to take some responsibility as to what comes out of the other end of the product pipeline. Sales and engineering need to collaborate, and patent counsel can help by defining aspects of novelty and knowledge of the prior art.

We should be honest with ourselves: have we behaved more like the passive mousetrap designers when we should have been more proactive—like a cat learning to improve its mouse hunting skills.? Bottom line—we all need to be more proactive about how we get to our final and best product or service. Yes, our individual contributions are important, but that is only 1+1+1=3. We need the synergistic result of all our efforts to get to 1+1+1=4 or even 5 if we want to be the next Uber or Airbnb.

Not sure how to get there? You know the “tangibles” of your product or service inside and out, so give us a chance to help you figure out the intangibles. The figurative mouse will have no chance to be an ongoing problem with us as your innovation partner.


If you would like to know more, please contact us on our CONTACT page.

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