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15 Short Tips for Inventors: Full Article

Short Tips for Independent Inventors Series: 15 Tips
Jeffrey Dobkin

1.  You may not need a patent.
Don’t go for a patent quite 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! A patent only gives you the right to protect yourself (meaning you can sue someone). BIG difference!

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 invention. Less than 2 people out of 100! For the more than 98%, in my opinion they either couldn’t get a patent, it wouldn’t make sense (they weren’t going to market or license their product), or the patent they would be able get would be so narrow in claims it would be worthless.

Invention marketing companies: Fraud.
Sadly, the industry is plagued by fraud. Fraud is a deception deliberately practiced in order to secure unfair or unlawful gain.

Most of these firms are really very very bad people without conscious or morals.  They DO NOT want to steal your idea – but they do want to steal your money.  Some are very smart and ruthless, and very smooth at bilking inventors out of their money.

The industry was so infiltrated by rip-off artists and fraud, a law was passed to try to prevent these criminals from preying on innocent – and enthusiastic – inventors.

By law (The Inventor Protection Act of 1999), any invention marketing company must show you how many people have made more money from selling or licensing their invention than they have spent with the invention marketing firm.  If the invention marketing company personnel are reluctant to give you this figure easily and UP FRONT, they are the bad guys. 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 at their office, because: 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 thinks your product is amazing, too!) In fact, they all think your invention is the most amazing thing since the toaster! And now they tell you – how they’d like to help you market it because they think you’re going to make so, so much money….

Now that your head is spinning and glowing with their rave reviews of your invention, everything from that point on they high pressure sell you – and charge you with incredibly high fees. 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’re going to get a high pressure sale pitch for:

1. The Bogus market study:

· A big leather bound book worthlessly filled with stock boilerplate information with a sprinkling of marketing gibberish.

“Oh look!!!” they’ll tell you, “your ‘so and so’ industry is a 25 billion dollar industry – if you get just 1% of that, you’ll be rich!”…

The Bad news: 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 – like the automotive industry – would be rich, wouldn’t they?

2. Worthless drawings. Today, because of the heavy government pressure invention marketing firms have come up with new ways to fleece inventors that looks legit, but the services are highly priced, poor quality – and sold with a bill of goods that it will help inventors “show the world” of how great their invention is.  Fraud comes in the way of extremely high priced computer drawings. Yea, they are real computer drawings, but holy cow, the prices you’ll pay – ten times, twenty times greater than what you be charged from an artist or art student.

It becomes fraud not because they don’t do the drawings, but because the drawings don’t help the inventor sell or license their invention.  So when proposed as “you really need these drawings to help us license your product” and they don’t, it becomes a grey area of fraud that can be tough to prove in court.

The proof is in the percentages – how many inventors sold or licensed their products, and made more money than they spent with the invention marketing firm.  That is the question you need to ask.  And if they don’t have an answer, if they dance around answering you; or if the numbers are horrific – like less than 1/2 of 1 percent made money – walk away.  Some firms boast that some people have indeed made money from their services.  That figure can be as low as .0005%.  And they amount they made can be just one dollar more than they spent.

3. Worthless drawing posted on their website. Your product will have no visitors, certainly no buyers. Be clumped in with other people who got ripped off from this worthless – and expensive – service.

4. A Cursory patent search. Real patent searched can be thorough, exhausting. You won’t get that. The fraudulent invention marketing firm will charge you whatever they think you’ll pay. And the search can be completed in under a half hour – which will be totally worthless.  If they offer a search, ask their hourly rate and how many hours a person will spend searching the files.  And what credentials the searcher has (Attorney, patent agent, searcher with no credentials?)

5. Cheap yet highly priced brochures. What are you doing to do with these? You’re an inventor, not a marketer.

6. Poorly drafted press releases – all shoddily written and they’ll charge you heavy, heavy fees. Unless you know exactly what to do with a press release – and even lots of large firms don’t – you’ll have more worthless material.

7. They’ll “send your press release to all the top firms!” I can personally assure you this isn’t effective. That isn’t what a press release is for, and it’s certainly not an effective marketing technique.

8. They promise to “Alert the Industry! of your invention.” Whatever that means. I’ve been a marketer for 25 years and I still don’t know what anyone means when they say that. While I may not be the sharpest tool in the shed, if I don’t know what this means, they probably don’t either. It’s B.S.

What can you do to protect yourself?

Ask for their figures: How many people made money from their invention – more money than they spent with the firm. The law says they need to disclose this figure to you.

Ask for REFERRALS of people WHO HAVE MADE MONEY from the company. And how much – a general range of their profits is fine: fifty bucks? A few hundred? A few thousand?

Write down names and 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?”

If a company has hundreds, thousands of inventors they deal with, they should be able to come up with a few DOZEN names, recent names, of people who made money. If they dig back in their files to customers who made money in 2006, what does that tell you? Not one customer in the last 8 years made money.

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 were sold.” You need “How much money someone made!” in a real $$$ figure. How much they spend, and how much they made. Don’t accept a single isolated case as anything but an accident.

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, and a drawing on their website won’t generate sales. They need to show you exactly how they will make money for you, and how they did it for many, many of their other clients.

Because I guarantee you this: 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. $10,000, $15,000 – even $25,000 pissed away with worthless fluff, lousy press releases and a phony marketing dance fill with hype, smoke and mirrors. I’ve seen an 85 year old man swindled out of his life savings of $11,000 for a set of worthless computer drawings on a website, and sold a dream of success filled with further worthless services.

I am so sorry for these inventors – good people with ideas and dreams. If you have been ripped off, please let me know and I’ll offer some support on what you can do… Sorry for my rant, I just get so mad…


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 product 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,, 203-264-1130)  Jack is great with early stage inventors, and helping inventors along in the process. He’s very trustworthy, and a great guy.

Harvey Reese’s book, “How to License your Million Dollar Idea” is great reading, and also has the best contract I’ve ever read.  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, and we’re looking into webinar and Skype reviews.  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 fraud 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. The Application Fee for this service is $25, which we send this to you and you fill out. It’s worth the $25 just to see this form – it’s comprehensive and will make you see your invention 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… 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.

To commercialize your product, 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 disclose your idea 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 the product 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 it costs $500 to manufacture and sell – 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.”
When we (at the American Society of Inventors) review member’s inventions we see a lot of ideas and inventions that are great, but not necessarily “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), we say the product is not a viable commercial product.  This doesn’t mean it’s not a great idea, it just means it’s not a commercial product you can successfully bring to market. 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.  You never know when this will come in handy.

12. Licensing: Sending 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 innovation.  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 find this out till later. All firms look good up front.

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? Here:

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 a new product 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 say “no”. They’ll nix your product and they’ll certainly find reasons they can’t possibly manufacture and market it. What are you going to do then?

Others 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 years.

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. Because you have a great invention, this doesn’t mean you will be able to start and run a small business marketing it. The skill sets are very, very different.

15. 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 and hard work 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.

Jeffrey Dobkin

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. They also write press releases, and offers PR planning and campaign strategy. Jeffrey has written 5 books on effective marketing methods.  Call 610-642-1000 to order his books or for a free 20 minute consultation.