I was at work today, doing what I usually do. I talk to inventors who want to patent their inventions. I speak to so many different levels of inventors. There are those who have no disposable income at all and are hoping their invention will change that for them; there are those on a tight budget who are hoping to do things as “cheaply” as possible; there are those who have some disposable income and can afford to put some money into this endeavor and there are those that have the financial backing of the small, medium or large company they work for. I also speak to inventors who are very protective of their inventions and those who are willing to share with anyone that will listen. I also speak with some inventors who have been through the patenting process before and others who are first time inventor who by their own admission “doesn’t know the first thing about patents.” This last group is the inventors I speak to the most, and it pains me to hear some of their stories.
Inventors without much experience with patents often come directly to us after doing some searching online and feel we are the ones they want to learn more about. But there are others however, that come to us only AFTER first speaking with and/or AFTER paying small to large sums of money to an invention promotion company. I don’t think one day goes by where I don’t speak to at least one inventor who has either been taken advantage of by or has felt very uncomfortable after talking with the folks at an invention promotion company.
When I speak to these clients, I am often in awe of the trust they have given to these companies, the false hopes they are given by these companies and the sheer dollar amounts in which they have paid to these companies, without even securing patent protection on their inventions. Callers tell me that when they go to any of a variety of invention promotion companies and actually talk to someone, the company makes them feel like their invention is the best thing in the world and they get them so excited. But once they sign that piece of paper, the demeanor of the company changes. One inventor told me today, “I pay them every month and I hear nothing and I’ve gotten nothing.”
Marketing your product and selling it on the market is all well and good, but should not be done until AFTER a thorough Patent Search has been conducted and a patentability assessment given to you and AFTER you have filed at least a Provisional Patent Application and obtained Patent Pending status. So often inventors will tell me that they have done their own searches, or that the invention promotion company has done their search for them, or even better they say “I don’t see anything like it on the market”. This last point is the biggest misconception I think I encounter, and I encounter it day after day. Just because one does not see something they have invented out on the market, does not mean that it has not already been patented or that an application is not already pending. I can’t begin to estimate the number of patents that are issued each year that are never taken to market, and inventors are always surprised when our patent search uncovers numerous related inventions.
People will patent an invention without ever taking it to market for many different reasons. Sometimes inventors will simply run out of money before they can get to the marketing phase; sometimes people are just adding to their resume of patents; and still others just want to be able to say that they have a patent and, therefore, recognized by the government as an inventor. But whatever that reason is, without a comprehensive patent search the chances of ever finding such “prior art” are slim to none.
What we tell our clients is we’d rather have you spend money on a really well done patent search rather than to go through the entire patenting process only to find out that your invention has already been patented before you; which is why it is so important to worry first about patent searches and patent protection before trying to market your invention. When you use an invention promotion company, you are contracting to pay them whether your product ever makes it to the market, and you still have to secure a patent attorney, on top of the invention promotion company’s fees, to secure your patent protection. This probably comes as news to many, but in September 2008 the US Patent Office made it a violation of patent regulations for non-attorneys and/or non-agents to act as an intermediary between an inventor and a patent attorney or agent.
After securing at least a Patent Pending status, you can comfortably work with a reputable licensing and marketing company. There are reputable firms such as Lambert & Lambert, who we at IPWatchdog.com recommend, who will do the licensing work that invention promotion companies will claim to do and are willing to work on a contingency fee, rather than steal all of your money. However, because they work on contingency they are very selective on whom they choose to work with, as the products they accept need to in their opinion be viable
If you file at least a provisional patent application first, then worry about licensing and marketing your products, you are doing things in the right order the first time around. Of course, in any patent search opinion and consultation we provide we discuss marketing to help our clients consider commercial possibilities in light of the prior art found, but rushing into marketing first is usually not wise, and can cost you the ability to ever get a patent. So, be careful who you work with and who you so willingly give your money to. But most importantly, do your homework!