How to Sell an Idea to Microsoft

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Few companies have left an imprint on the face of technology like Microsoft, the computer software giant that has forever changed the world's definition of the word "windows." Microsoft continues to rely upon innovative new ideas to keep its brand fresh and popular, so if you’ve come up with a concept that casts the kind of shadow Bill Gates’ original ideas threw, you'll need a plan to get it to Redmond, Washington.

Protect your idea from theft by filing for a copyright or patent. Software is considered intellectual property and, as such, it may require both. Consult an attorney who specializes in this type of law or apply on your own. Find a do-it-yourself link at the end of this article.

Prepare a comprehensive presentation. Don’t tell; show. Put together a dog and pony show that offers a visual tour of your software idea using features (this software is virus-proof) and benefits (consumers will save time and money when they buy this software). Make your pitch unique and informative. Get help from a marketing pro if you're not comfortable creating this yourself.

Visit the Microsoft website to see if the company is currently running its signature Ideas Win contest. This competition isn’t run every year but when it is, anyone can enter. Entries are judged on originality, marketing, financial and logistical feasibility plus the public interest of an inventor’s idea. Use this portal if it’s available to pitch your idea.

Set up a pitch appointment. Write a letter (Microsoft Corporation, One Microsoft Way, Redmond, WA 98052-6399), send e-mail or call Microsoft’s corporate headquarters. Make an appointment with a manager in the new product development department (your best bet) or someone on the research and development team . Tack a return receipt request to a mailed query.

Follow your written communication with a phone call. Avoid giving specific details about your idea over the phone. Politely insist on an in-person meeting. Assure your contact that your presentation will be short and to the point. Suggest available dates for visiting Redmond. Calendar the date and send a confirming note.

Prepare – or have an attorney prepare for you – a nondisclosure form. Microsoft and other companies with interests in proprietary designs are familiar with nondisclosures and understand an inventor’s need limit their idea’s exposure.

Rehearse your presentation to eliminate non-essential, irrelevant elements. Draft a list of questions your Microsoft audience is likely to ask and be prepared to refute doubts and sell the merits of your idea. Ask friends to critique your pitch and throw questions your way to test your response reaction.

Observe courtesy and professional protocols during your time on the Microsoft campus. Resist the temptation to replicate the company's laid-back dress code. Arrive on time or a few minutes early. Introduce yourself before asking attendees to sign nondisclosure statements. Bring plenty of handouts.

Be prepared to discuss licensing or sales options. Is your goal to sell your idea outright, giving up all claims to the product or do you want to license the idea and receive royalties based on sales? Corporate policies may preclude one or the other, but be ready for this topic if it comes up for discussion.

Allow attendees an opportunity to "drive" your software while you are in the room so you can answer questions. Conclude your meeting at the agreed upon time and thank everyone for meeting with you. It’s OK to follow up with a phone call if you’ve heard nothing from your Microsoft contact after a few weeks.

Tips & Warnings

  • Avoid scam artists offering to pitch your idea to Microsoft for a fee. If you are considering an intermediary, investigate the company on the Internet or contact the Better Business Bureau before you take action.

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