Inventor Q & A: Can I License my Idea Without a Prototype?

From what I know, Licensing deals eventually come down to the terms you can agree with the licensee.

You need to pitch and “sell” your idea to the licensee in order to get them to want to use your idea. You can do this with or without a prototype. You just need to communicate your idea and it’s unique benefits and why it’s going to be the next big thing.

Communicating the benefits of your idea can be done in various ways. I’m guessing there is someone who has signed licensing deals without a prototype, they just sold the idea to a licensee in some other way.


What you mean “prototype”?

There are a couple of kinds:

Looks-like prototype – has the appearance and finish of the finished product.

Works-like prototype – functions just like the finished product.

Communicating your idea’s benefits to a potential licensee could be done with or without a prototype. You could instead use a simple sell-sheet (a slick 1-page documents like an Ad). You can do a lot with photoshop (free online version available: or hire an outsourcer to do it if your digital design skills aren’t yet amazing.

Prototypes help with licensing for a few reasons

Prototypes can really help in terms of pitching/selling

Because they help you create a great looking sell sheet. Start with a very basic prototype (maybe just a “looks-like” prototype made of carved foam or hack an existing product) and take photos of someone using it. Then photoshop that image into a nice looking page with bullet points highlighting the benefits of the product. This helps put your product idea in a real context and makes it more understandable and believable.

Prototypes could get a licenses more interested.

Stephen Key talks a lot about video sell sheets. I like them too… Everyone (including licensees) loves a good video. They’re entertaining and people get excited to watch a video so they may be more likely to look at your pitch if it’s in video format.  Videos can help highlight some key benefits of a product and how it’s used. I love both prototyping and making videos so I like to make them.

Prototypes also prove your idea actually works and works well.

But! Don’t invest much money in prototypes until you get interest (even basic interest) in an idea from a licensee. Quickie DIY prototypes can then be photoshopped into a nice image or sell-sheet an be a good/cheap start until you get some confirmation that anyone would want your idea.  The manufacturer may want to make their own prototypes anyway.


Licensing deals are just about reaching an agreement with a licensee. To do that, you’ll need to convince them that your idea is a good one. You can do that in a variety of ways with or without a prototype. Try to avoid spending money on prototypes unless you get interest from a licensee first. Use quick and dirty prototyping to help create effective marketing materials aka sell-sheets.

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