If I come up with an improvement to an existing product, how do I protect myself when sharing it, and get some of the revenues the idea generates?
There are many times when I look at an existing product, and have an idea of how it could be better. I start thinking about how, had I owned the company making this product, I would incorporate this idea into the existing product, and make the company much more successful. The problem is of course, that I don't own the company, and that if I contact them and offer the improvement I came up with, the best case scenario is that they would thank me, and do it themselves, and I would not get anything out of my idea.
Filing a patent application is an expensive and long process, and many times the ideas I have are not patentable. Starting a competing company usually doesn't make sense, since it is also a very long and risky process... If I come up with an improvement for a car, it makes no sense that I build a car factory.
There are businesses that make it very easy for others to contribute to their product, be it web2.0 companies (even this site, that lets the crowd answer the questions) or companies like Facebook and Apple that let outside developers create applications, and share the revenues they generate. In most cases, the everyday ideas I come up with don't help companies like that.
Starting a consulting firm is a possibility, but they way consultants are compensated seems inappropriate in this case. A consultant is paid a fixed amount of money, regardless of the potential benefit that business will gain from the advice that was given. In addition, consultants are chosen by their clients, and not the other way around.
This has been bugging me for many years. One example I always use when asking people this question is: if I was the one to come up with the idea of adding a remote control to air conditioners, when both air conditioning and remote control technologies existed before, how would I go about talking with air-conditioning firms about cooperating, when they can just thank me for the wonderful idea and do it without me?