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Answers provided by Jeffrey Dobkin, President Emeritus, American Society of Inventors
Inventor Questions — and Answers
1. Does a patent protect me?
No. A patent doesn’t protect you – a patent only gives you the right to protect yourself.
PLUS: I’ve never seen a sheet of paper stop a crook…
I have an invention that is a salable product: manufactured and packaged for retail sales. Where do I start?
I’d start with the National Directory of Catalogs (Greyhouse Publishing). There you’ll find about 15,000 catalogs. Write to the catalogs in your market and ask how to submit your product for possible inclusion. Eventually you’ll need to send them a sample, so if your product isn’t ready for retail the approach would be different. If they like it, and you can show you have an inventory and can ship on time, you may be able to get into a few catalogs. They’ll test to start – with a limited number of catalogs. But if you product sells well (with few returns), imagine if your product was in 10,000,000 catalogs! It can happen. Bass Pro shops mail over 50,000,000 catalogs a year. L.L. Bean, 60 million!
From Jesse: Hi. I have developed a device that I would like to see if I could get a patent for but I don’t know anything about patents or how to get inventions out there to the right people. I actually contacted invent help and am scheduled to meet with them next week but I’m not sure if this is the right way to go about it. Any advice you can give me would be appreciated.
Thanks, Jesse… for your questions. It’s actually 3 questions: about patents, about getting your idea to the right people, and about Inventhelp.
1. Before applying for a patent, search Amazon for your product or similar. Then if nothing is close, search the Google database of patents and the USPTO patent site. If it’s still not close to anything you MAY be able to apply for a patent, but keep in mind a patent is $5,000 to $10,000. And a patent DOES NOT PROTECT YOU. A patent only gives you the right to protect your self (to sue someone).
I have spent a few thousand dollars working with a company to design the CAD drawing and I now have the prototype in my hands – but do NOT have a patent. I need advice on the next step with someone I can trust. I don’t have any connections – I have saved 10K for further investment to get it to market – but not sure what to do next or how far I want to go?
After visiting your Website and getting a bit more educated on all this stuff (I am a Nurse), I am considering a Provisional Patent and I would love to contact a company in Ohio that would have a great need for my design. I do have 2nd CAD design that I am working on and a 3rd further down the road that the Ohio company may want also. But First and Foremost — I need to get this current prototype flowing to the next step – would you mind helping me?
Also, I am so glad I found your website – I read your warning! about to trust someone I shouldn’t have! Thank you in advance for your help and guidance, Mary Lou
Thanks, Mary Lou… for your email and questions about your invention.
I think a provisional patent may be a good place to start. You can do this yourself for under a couple hundred dollars.
A provisional patent won’t protect you but it will establish you as the inventor and create a timeline. You’ll have a year to apply for a regular patent. My actual recommendation is to apply for a provisional patent and don’t use your main claims – or if you don’t apply for a patent within a year, they may invalid your patent as prior art. No one will see your claims as the process is a closed system and private from public view. You can always file again and introduce them as additional elements.
Unfortunately, a regular patent won’t protect you either – it only gives you the right to protect yourself. You’d have to sue someone if they violate your “claims” as shown in your patent. They may not care about being sued. Additionally, I’ve never seen a sheet of paper stop a crook.
What’s Your Question…?
I have an invention related to the golf industry. From my own research there is nothing similar in function that solves a practical need. I have made a conceptual prototype utilizing household materials that efficiently serves its purpose in design, however at this point it would require further engineering in addition to utilizing the proper materials in refinement. I believe I have worked out the engineering aspect of invention but not sure who to go to in development of final go to market product. Any insight is greatly appreciated.
Thanks, Guy… For your question. Not really sure what you mean when you say “Conceptual Prototype,” but I’ll take a shot at being helpful.
So you have a prototype that works. This is called a “Proof of Concept” prototype, and as long as it works it doesn’t have to be pretty.
The next two steps are refining the prototype, and how you manage this depends on your invention path. If you are ultimately going to license your invention, you may leave prototype refinement to the licensing firm. This will be the cheapest and easiest for you, and they may be very good at it and have resources far beyond what you have on tap.
What’s your question?
I develop a product. I had a patent search done, the closest design to my design was patented in 1919. But no products ever emerged from the patent. I want to get this product on the market there’s nothing else like it & so no competitors, yet. It could be used by every age group except infants every nationality and every gender. I had a research center (WISC) send me out information and decide a nondisclosure agreement and the also want to check for $900. 00. I don’t know what to do next, do I go with this research center or not, who do I talk to, what steps do I have to do next
Thanks, Gia… for your email, question, and your trust in The American Society of Inventors Team. Since we’re not trying to sell anything our sole interest is in helping inventors.
If a similar product was patented in 1919, it sounds likely there is “Prior Art” – a term for a patent that is existing, or at least it was. If the patent hasn’t been kept up, and likely hasn’t been, the good news is everyone is free to use it, including you. Of course that’s the bad news as well. So unless your idea has a brand new wrinkle that is patentable in itself, no patent will be available. But… that’s OK. You don’t need a patent to market a product.
What’s your question?
I have invented an idea and have an angel investor who is also a great friend for over 20 years. I would like to bring him in to see you, so he can have an independant evaluation on my product. I have no experience in product developement or marketing and would also like your expertise in these fields if product is deemed marketable. I have used an invention marketing company and have a hard cover book on their independant
Thank you for your email.
I would be happy to meet with you and your investor regarding your invention. I’m so glad you didn’t spend a lot of money on independent invention marketing companies, most provide little for the money you spend with them, others are just scams that fleece inventors. The average spend is $9,000 and we’ve had members of the American Society of Inventors that have spent in excess of $20,000, receiving nothing worthwhile in return. I’ll bet 2 to 1 that your hardcover book was $400 to $500 and it doesn’t contain relevant material or information you can actually use. I have warnings on my website about unscrupulous invention marketing companies.
Glad to hear from you Michael… Thanks for your phone call!
Happy to help:
First, your website needs to say “These are photos of our Freeze Dried Foods” or “Survival Foods never looked this good – until now!” Or something like that because I didn’t get that from the top of your webpage. You just looked like a supermarket. Your site doesn’t actually sell anything – so driving traffic there won’t be profitable. You need to tune this up before any mailings.
What’s your question?
I do not consider myself an inventor, but I came up with an invention that I believe has chances of commercial success. It is small, probably manufacturable for less than $1, and I have spoken with two professionals (family members) in the field where this invention would be used, both have said it is a good idea. I’m not certain of the exact materials it would use, and I do not have the technical expertise to figure it out.
My question is this: What should I do 1st!? My current plan is something like this: Find a non-disclosure agreement to have handy, then, I would like to figure out what materials could be used to make it, then, have an engineer or architecture friend draw it, then, file a provisional patent as a micro-entity, then, figure out how to license it so a company (or companies) can manufacture it (really lost as to how to do this).
I am not interested (nor financially capable) of marketing this product myself. I have close to zero disposable income, so neither could I afford to make a prototype, but I want to get the ball rolling in this process and, even after reading a bunch online, really don’t know what to do 1st. Thanks for any help!
For your questions.
Your plan is actually very good. And pretty darn close to what I would recommend. Here are some additional ideas.
The place to start is making a prototype to see if it works and how well – called a “proof of concept” prototype.
Find material at home depot, Michaels Art stores, plumbing supply outlets – anywhere that offers items that fit. It doesn’t have to be pretty, it just has to work. Even is it’s a lousy prototype you still need to see if it works like you thought.
What’s your question?
Hello, I have an invention that I believe will save lives. However, I can not afford a patent, my cousin told me to do a poor mans patent which is mailing it back to myself. My question is, will a poor mans patent hold up in court if someone tries to steal my invention from me? Thank you for your time and help. Karen
For your question. I hope you pursue your invention if it will indeed save lives. I have spent 30 year researching my own technique that I think will save lives. It can be found at BrainInjuryFoundation.org.
Unfortunately, your cousins idea won’t protect you. It will only prove that you invented your invention by the day it was mailed. It won’t stop anyone from doing it – at all: it offers no protection. Sorry.
You could take out a “provisional patent”. The cost is about $300, and you file this yourself with the USPTO. It’s not really a patent, but it puts them on notice that you are going to file a utility or design patent and establishes the initial date of invention. You then have a year after the provisional patent was filed or you lose the right to file for your traditional patent. Again, this doesn’t protect you but establishes a date of discovery. It can be used as a placeholder date your patent takes effect. Jeffrey Dobkin
What’s your question?
I have a few inventions that I’ve been sitting on.
Can you tell me how your services can help me and what fees may look like?
Usually I don’t answer this a question like this. Your question is too broad for any cohesive answer.
Your question is like saying how do you manufacture a car. Or how much does an airplane cost.
If you’re Tim Cook (Apple), your airplane costs about $45 million. If you’re a regular guy, you’re plane can cost $7,500 – $25,000.
Or… more closely to home: your question is like how much does it cost to market a product? Which is a question I actually get all the time.
What’s your question?
Hello, I see that you have been giving sound advice to inventors, I am encouraged by that and hope I will be benefited by your piece of
advise. I developed door/window screen mesh which when damaged can be fixed seamlessly and with absolutely no traces of it being repaired. I
have myself applied for non-provisional patent few months ago which, of course, is in progress. Being completely a layman, I do not know
how to proceed further to sell it to home improvement stores. I do not have a prototype of the screen as I want to sell the concept so
the stores could have it manufactured and sell it in their stores. If I could get a direction from you showing which way to go, I will
highly appreciate that. Thank you in advance for your help and guidance.
Thanks, Sukhjit, for your good review of this column. I’ll try to help…
I think you’ll need a “Proof of Concept” prototype. The box stores are going to want to make sure it’s a real products and performs like you say it will before they offer it for sale.
Bad news on them buying the concept: I don’t think the home improvement stores are in the business of buying concepts and manufacturing the products themselves. They have thousands and thousands of products to pick from, and an army of salespeople showing up at their door every day with samples of manufactured goods, completely priced out and packaged for retail – and ready to be shipped to each of their stores that day. The larger manufacturers have retail ads and co-op money to drive people into the stores to purchase their products.
If you want to license your product out, there are manufacturers who are looking for new products all the time to put in their pipeline. I’d look for screen and window manufactures who already have the eyes and ears – and the distribution – of the home improvement stores buyers. There are other – probably better – manufacturers who would handle it. The screen manufacturers might feel it’s a threat and will slow sales of new screens when someone gets a hole in theirs.
If you want to take a shot at the home improvement stores yourself, here’s what to do and what will happen…
I’ll figure out a great answer…
I’ve been on the Board of Directors of the American Society of Inventors and evaluating inventions for the past 14 years. Some of the same questions keep coming up.