Stephen Key is an expert on licensing consumer-product ideas and as a lifelong entrepreneur, he has sold  inventions at art fairs and on street corners and in his own retail store.

He says, after discovering that it was possible to license ideas, I did that for decades. And along the way, I learned what it takes to build and grow a successful small company.

That’s why you can trust me: So, my first tip for new inventors is that, at the beginning, only one thing is important, and that’s determining whether your idea is marketable. Some people will tell you: “You must protect that idea! File a patent!” But you should ignore them.

Instead, what’s more important is affirming your idea’s marketability. If you skip that step, you could easily end up spending tens of thousands of dollars and years working on an idea that will never see its day in the market.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO LICENSE AN IDEA?

Licensing is far easier and less risky than starting a business. I know, because I’ve dedicated the past 20 years to helping other people license their ideas. And, at inventors’ groups around the country, I hear the same horror stories over and over. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Here, then, are the basics: When you license an idea, you’re essentially renting it out to someone else. In an ideal scenario, the company that licenses your idea has all the crucial resources you lack — shelf space, manufacturing capabilities, relationships with distributors and a marketing budget. In other words, your licensee is your perfect partner.