Though it isn't recommended to put your idea on the market without a patent (for obvious reasons like getting your idea stolen or infringing on another's copyright), securing a patent for your invention can be equally as troubling. With all of the hefty fees, it can cost as much as $12,000 just to secure a patent. Here is the best way to market your idea to companies without a patent.
From the Cutting Board to Cutting the Check
Come up with an idea and identify its target market. Brainstorm with no inhibitions and jot all of your ideas down on a piece of paper. Study niche markets and assess where your idea fits into their customer base. Research the market you settle on and make sure your concept is not just a hybrid of another already patented product. This may require going to the United States Patent and Trademark Office website at patft.uspto.gov to search through their records.
Build Your Concept
Develop a rough blueprint to construct a prototype of your product. This will assist you in the actual creation process of your invention. The sketches you draw during this step will also be a mandatory part of the application process for securing a patent later on, so keep them for your records.
Keep an Inventor Logbook
This is the second most important step that will come in handy when it's time for you to secure a patent. Even if you intend to sell your product without a patent, at some point a patent will have to be secured for your idea and without an inventor logbook, it is impossible to secure the patent. Your idea will be less marketable to a major distributor if a logbook is not kept.
Apply for a Provisional License
This is not the same thing as securing a patent. It requires much less financing. Virtually no money is required upfront to apply for a provisional license. Once approved, you have one year to improve and perfect your concept. The provisional license also allows you to mark the prototype of your concept with a "patent pending" notice. This will make it far less likely for your idea to be stolen, and it will give you leverage to better sell it to distributors.
Build a Prototype
This is optional but could prove to be the ideal closer for your pitch, and can divert attention from the "patent pending" status of your product. Building a prototype of your product yourself implies to potential investors and distributors that construction of your product is a minor measure. Prototypes also eliminate any chance for potential buyers to misinterpret your sketches, because they have an immediate model on which to base their final decision.
Pitch Your Idea
Contact the companies you think would be most interested in selling your product. Hold parties where you invite potential investors. You might find there is a large enough interest in your idea to distribute it yourself. If you were accurate in identifying the right target market and pragmatic in your bookkeeping, this could be the most fun and rewarding part of making your dream a reality.