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Some mistakes are just too fatal to overcome. If you make them, your invention is pretty much dead on the water with no hope for success. Fortunately, your invention need not be doomed to the scrap heap of useless or uninteresting contraptions.

A wise man once said that smart people learn from their mistakes, while geniuses learn from the mistakes of others. This article is an attempt to capitalize on the latter method. That being said, here are four surefire signs that your invention totally, unequivocally, and without argument, sucks.

1) You have no target market

Entrepreneur sums up this mistake:

“You have a big idea. You’re sure the masses will clamor for it. So you begin sinking lots of money into building your prototype, developing a business plan, hiring a patent attorney, and more. Little do you know there’s an identical product that’s already out there on the market. Yes, it can be heartbreaking to learn that someone else came up with your big idea first.

But it’s even more heartbreaking when you’ve lost a significant amount of money because of it. Advice: be sure to research stores, the internet, catalogs, etc., before moving along in the invention process. I’ve seen people who’ve invested their life savings only to discover–too late–that their idea isn’t original.

And it often takes a 10-minute search to find what you are looking for. How can you be sure your product doesn’t already exist? Spend enough time to ensure you’ve exhausted every angle. Search relevant stores wherever you go. Search the internet with multiple key words. In other words, don’t develop your product in a vacuum.”

This is by far the leading cause of inventions that suck. You cannot – repeat, NOT – create something no one wants and hope for a smash hit. If your invention is to succeed, it has to fill a real need for real people. Find out who they are before pouring your time and money into an invention.

2) Your invention is a vitamin instead of an Advil

The website Anti Venture Capital once had an article dividing ideas into two categories: vitamin and Advil. A vitamin is a nice product, but nothing that anyone would feel lost without. An Advil, on the other hand, fills a need so well that once it catches on, one can hardly imagine life without it. This is an instructive distinction for inventions, too. Who would be upset if your invention came off store shelves? Would anyone care? Would they even notice? Is your invention a vitamin, or an Advil?

It isn’t that all non-essential inventions suck; clearly, there is a large market for iPod accessories. It’s just that the ratio of bad vitamin inventions to bad Advil inventions is very lopsided in favor of the former. You are far less likely to screw up if your invention solves a major, pressing need than you are if you focus on some fringe desire that may or may not even exist.

3) It’s a “Me Too” invention

They say imitation is the finest form of flattery, but this is deadly advice in the invention world. It is statistically proven that the first and second to market take home the lion’s share of sales. It is also common sense that the hoards of knockoffs that inevitably follow are seen for what they are: knockoffs. The problem is that when something is first created, the first few producers make sure everyone knows about it.

So by the time the knockoff artists come around, the buying public is fully aware that you are just the latest copycat. This being the case, you have no one but yourself to blame when sales plummet faster than The Core emptied theaters a few years back. Create something original, or at least add a new variation on an existing invention.

4) Your costs are out of control

Keeping costs low is not one of the sexier aspects of inventing, and therefore it is often avoided. Inventors without business acumen often assume that sales are all that matter. They figure with enough sales, they’ll have to turn a profit eventually regardless of how expensive it is to make their product. This is a deadly error that fells inexperienced inventors time and time again. It’s fine to use whatever is most convenient when you are making a prototype. At that stage, you are just trying to prove that your invention is workable.

But once this is established and you set your sights to selling it, you need to find ways to get cheaper materials and supplies. This is crucial to turning a profit on each unit you sell and recouping the sizeable investment of time and money you are making in your invention.

If you steer clear of these four fatal errors, your invention probably won’t suck.

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