14 Short tips for Independent Inventors
1. Don’t get a patent so fast.
A patent is $5,000 to $10,000! Wow! And keep this in mind: A patent does NOT protect you. That’s Right! It only gives you the right to protect yourself (meaning you can sue someone). BIG difference! Also – you do NOT need a patent to market or sell your product.
Consider a cheaper way – a special provisional patent (it offers no protection, but does establish your patent claims and date of invention). This provisional patent is good for 1 year, and costs only a few hundred dollars – if you feel you must get something. It’s simple enough to do yourself.
Simple fact of life: I recommend a patent to less than 2% of the inventors that have shown me their innovation. Less than 2 people out of 100! For the more than 98%, in my opinion they either couldn’t get a patent, or a patent they get would be so narrow in claims, it would be worthless.
2. Don’t trust invention marketing companies.
Most are really really very very bad guys who DO NOT want to steal your idea – but they WILL take all your money.
The industry was so infiltrated by rip-off artists a law was passed to try to prevent them from preying on innocent – and enthusiastic – inventors. By law (The Inventor Protection Act of 1999), any invention marketing company must give you the percentage of people that have made more money from their invention than they have spent with the firm. If they are reluctant to give you this figure UP FRONT, what does this tell you? Run away.
They all start out the same way: they send you an Non-Disclosure Agreement – so you feel comfortable that they won’t steal your idea. Then they invite you to meet in person, because: well, they can’t get any money out of you on the phone, can they?
At the meeting everyone there tells you how great your product is (yes, everyone in the company, your contact (the salesperson they call the “product developer,” his manager, and the vice president! And, low and behold, the president!) They all think your invention is the most amazing thing since the toaster! And now they tell you – they don’t do this for everyone (or at least the people without money) – how they’d like to help you market it.
Now that you head is spinning and glowing with their rave reviews of your invention, everything from that point on they charge you for out the wazoo!. But hey, “so what!” you’re thinking – because you’re going to make so much money in just a few months because your invention is so great! So here’s their pitch of what you need, or at least what you’re going to get: Bogus market study:
· A big leather bound worthless book filled with stock boilerplate information with a sprinkling of marketing gibberish (“Oh look!!!” they’ll tell you, “yours is a 25 billion dollar industry – if you get just 1% of that!”… [Which, by the way, you won’t. Because that’s not how to assess marketing to an industry, or figuring out what you will earn. If that worked, everyone entering a big market would be rich, wouldn’t they?]
· Worthless drawings posted on their own website (no visitors, no buyers).
· Cursory patent search.
· Cheap yet highly priced brochures.
· Poorly drafted press releases – all shoddily written and heavy, heavy fees.
· Promises to “Alert the Industry!” Whatever that means. I’ve been a marketer for 25 years and I still don’t know what they mean when they say that.
· “Sending your press release to all the top firms!” I can personally assure you this isn’t effective.
What can you do to protect yourself?
Ask for their figures: How many people made money from their invention – more than they spent with the firm.
Ask for REFERRALS of people WHO HAVE MADE MONEY from the company. And how much – a general range is fine: fifty bucks? A few hundred? A few thousand?
Write down names phone numbers (and addresses) – and call them. Ask two questions: “How much money they spent with the firm!” And “How much money in actual income did they receive from their investment?”
Anybody can fake a review on-line with glowing praise, of how “nice they are to deal with.” “How they answered my questions,” and “How they created a great drawing on their website so I could see my invention come to life.” So what. If you want something to make you feel good, buy a dog. If you want a drawing of your invention, hire an artist at an art school – it will cost you ONE TENTH the cost.
You need to see this: “how many they sold.”
If you hire an invention marketing firm, they don’t need to upsell you 3-D cad-cam drawings for $3,500 – or more! They need show you exactly how they will generate sales. How they will make money for you, and how they did that for many, many other clients.
Hint: they did NOT make money for other clients by selling them drawings and posting the drawings on their website. If they did, it was a freak accident and an isolated case. Get the figures, get the percentages – they have to show you – it’s the law.
OK, enough about invention scam companies – I just get so pissed off because they steal so much money from innocent inventors, providing worthless – worthless – services in return. They bilk them out of their life savings – I know, because I’ve seen it firsthand. I talk to people all the time that have been ripped off. I am so sorry for them, good people with ideas and dreams. If you have been ripped off, please let me know and I’ll advise you what you can do…
3. Don’t count on making money for 2 years.
Yes, it takes that long from when you are standing there holding a fairly well finished prototype in your hands to bringing a product to a marketplace and starting to sell it. You can shorten this time by having additional people work on it besides yourself, or by investing more money in it to make it happen quicker. But working out of your home, garage, or small office – everything takes way more time than you think it will.
4. The idea – the flashbulb going off, that Eureka moment – turns out that is the EASY PART.
It’s the time you invest after that moment that creates success, and that’s the hard part. The long hours in development, the prototypes, the hits and misses. Sweat and toil, making the best possible one that can be made and all the while keeping an eye on costs. The research, pricing parts, analyzing competitors, finding markets. That’s the hard part.
5. Find people that can help.
There are companies (and people) that can definitely help inventors, depending on where you are in the invention process and what help you are looking for. It’s best to join a local inventors club – some are just awesome.
6. Here are just a couple of people I trust —
Jack lander, the Inventor Mentor (and all around good guy) wrote a book on financing your invention (How to Finance Your Invention or Great Idea; $19.95, ISBN 0935722246-7, JackL359@AOL.com, 203-264-1130) Jack is great with early stage inventors, and helping inventors along in the process. He’s very honest.
Paul Niemann is or at least was a product scout. www.MarketLaunchers.com, 800-337-5758. He’s an all around good guy and very knowledgeable about the marketplace and inventions, and very honest. He scouts all the hardware and automotive shows looking for products for his clients. His specialty is licensing. email@example.com
Harvey Reese’s book, “How to License your Million Dollar Idea” is great reading, and also has the best contract I’ve ever seen. I recommend reading this and using his contract (it’s printed in the book). I use this myself. Harvey will review your idea to see if he will represent you (The cost is about $150), but he doesn’t take on too many projects, including my own inventions (sigh…). But if he takes yours, he’s very smart, honest too.
Read my own cult classic book, “How To Market a Product for Under $500!” The best book ever if you’re thinking about marketing a product yourself (not licensing). Available on Amazon and directly from us – 800-234-4332, or 610-642-1000. I usually answer this phone and am happy to field quick questions from inventors who have read my book.
I assist inventors who are in the later stages and have a product ready (or almost ready) to bring to market. I do some inventor consulting, but I’m expensive because most of my clients are corporate and don’t mind paying my higher rates. The first consulting phone call to me is always free.
7. Our own American Society of Inventors – we review products in person at our board of directors meetings and it’s FREE to area members (membership is $49.95/year). But: you must be in the area and attend the review. Reviews for inventors from outside our area are $295. We record the review for mail-in products. Products may be in any stage – ideas to finished prototypes. Our mission is to help inventors, and to guide them away from shady invention marketing scam companies.
Our review panel (our Advisory Board of Directors) is stellar – it’s our own (non-paid) board of directors. I’m the marketing guy (I’ve written 5 marketing books), two patent attorneys, one corporate attorney, one guy with 39 patents, one mechanical/prototyping expert, a materials specialist, a few entrepreneurs… and one guy just keeps showing up and buying us dinner, so we let him attend. We all sign NDAs.
You couldn’t buy this much consulting talent for under a couple of thousand dollars anywhere else. Frank and honest, our in-depth one hour reviews are startling clear and a great value from an absolutely non-partisan group who have nothing to gain or lose from a good or bad review. We don’t offer inventors any additional services other than the reviews stated here:
One-hour reviews from the board are $295 – and most of the money goes to our non-profit to bring in better speakers to present to our group – The American Society of Inventors, and the inventing community in Philadelphia. We present these speaker presentations free to members and their guests, and $5 to all others who wish to attend.
Written reviews – which we also offer (for $695) take much longer to research and write and are more in depth. Application fee for this service is $25, ww send this to you and you fill it out. It’s worth $25 just to see this form – it’s comprehensive and will make you see what you have in the light of reality.
If we don’t think we can help we’ll tell you. This written review is strictly for the more serious inventors with products that are further down the line. The value inventors receive is simply amazing: confidential design help, prototyping advice, materials review, marketing analysis and marketing strategy, and patent assessment (go/no-go) just to name a few areas.
Here are a few more tips for Inventors just starting out. To get past the idea stage:
8. You need to be able to tell people about your idea.
If you never tell anyone… I’m sure your invention won’t be a successful and profitable venture because no one will know about it. Which is OK, too. Some people are just great idea people, and have fun generating new ideas.
So eventually, you’ll tell someone about your invention. This is generally considered “disclosure” by the patent office – which is only important if you intend to file for a patent – because technically you have one year from this disclosure date to file for a patent.
If you tell a limited number of people and each agrees not to disclose it to anyone else (best to get a non-disclosure statement in writing) it is NOT considered disclosure.
9. There are lots of GREAT ideas that would NOT be great products.
One reason is it would be too costly to manufacture for the price you need to sell it for (retail price is usually 5 times the manufacturing cost! Yikes, 5 times!). So if you invented a new golf ball that went twice as far as other balls, but cost $500 to manufacture – it would have a list price of $2,500! It would be a great idea but not a great commercial product.
10. Some ideas are just not “Commercially feasible.”
We at the American Society of Inventors review member’s inventions and see a lot of ideas and inventions that are not “commercially feasible”
If the manufacturing cost or the marketing cost is too expensive and you wouldn’t be able to make money on a sale (yes, you do need to make money – or there won’t be any other products from you), the product is not a commercial product. This doesn’t mean it’s not a great idea, it just means it’s not a viable commercial product. For example it might cost you $100 to create a sale of a $50 product.
11. You need to keep an inventor’s note book.
An inventor’s notebook is a composition binder (like you had in grade school) with dates of your inventions. I say this because if you have one invention, you probably have more. Write them all down in chronological order, don’t skip any lines or pages, and keep everything dated. Occasionally have the book date stamped by a notary.
12. Licensing: Send inquiry letters.
If you are thinking about licensing your great idea, send a letter of inquiry to a firm most likely to purchase or license it. Don’t disclose your idea, but write what it does better, faster, cheaper (the benefits) – and send that in a letter to the president of the firm you think could use the idea. Ask them how they would prefer that you to submit your idea to their firm. Then you can follow their recommendations – or alternatively you can send a non-disclosure agreement for them to sign first. Just because they want you to submit your idea in a particular way does not mean you have to do it that way. Some firms are honest, some are honest to a point, and some are just unscrupulously crooked. You won’t know this out till later.
13. When you pitch an idea to a company for licensing or manufacturing/co-op consideration, make sure the person reviewing your idea is at the highest corporate level – a president or vice president.
The reason? When you call to find out who to send your innovation to, beware the gatekeeper! Everyone will say “Yes!” they are the person you should send your idea (product) to. Everyone will want to see your new idea and tell you to send it right to them. Everyone likes new products! Everyone wants to feel important! Everyone wants to be involved in the fun: selection of a new product! How exciting!
But… very few will actually be able to accept your product and pay you for it. Most people can’t write a check to you – for any reason. Most will not be able to move it forward and champion your idea by themselves. It will be a great risk for them – because if the idea fails, their job may be on the line.
Most people will really only have the power to finally say “no,” to marketing or manufacturing your product and they’ll certainly find reasons they can’t possibly manufacture and market it. Some will say, oh – they’ve been working on this idea for several months now. Some will send you a letter from their lawyer saying they’ve been working on this for a year.
If the gatekeeper doesn’t want to champion it, or deal with it for any reason – you just got your first refusal from someone who had no authority to say yes! And now you’ll have to go around them if you want the firm to accept your product. This can be a very nasty project, and you’ll likely make an enemy by going over someone’s head who just said no.
If the gatekeeper likes it, still they’ll have to send it to someone upstairs — like the VP or President. By not flushing this out on the phone in the first meeting, you’ve just doubled your chance of having the product license nixed: once by a self-appointed gatekeeper, and once by the president. The gatekeeper may simply be a blocker, when the president may have been looking for your exact idea, and ready and willing to license it from you.
14. Invention is the road, not the destination.
At the American Society of Inventors we believe it’s not so much a single invention, but the process of invention that ensures success. You should enjoy the whole trip, not just the outcome. If your one big invention isn’t commercial, as an inventor… you probably have more inventions – look at those for commercial success.
Hope this is helpful.
After serving on the board of directors for 14 years, Jeffrey Dobkin is the President of the American Society of Inventors, a 501c3 nonprofit that helps inventors free of charge.
Jeffrey Dobkin is a fun speaker and a specialist in direct response copywriting.
Jeff is the senior writer at The Danielle Adams Publishing Company. His firm offers marketing strategy, creative writing and design of direct mail, letters, brochures and booklets, website and article copywriting, and press release writing, planning and campaigns. Jeffrey has written 5 books on highly effective marketing methods. Call 610-642-1000 for samples of his work, or for a free 20 minute consultation.