Invention Services: Finding Valuable Services & Avoiding Scams
|Written by Gene Quinn
Patent Attorney & Founder of IPWatchdog
Zies, Widerman & Malek
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Posted: Nov 14, 2011 @ 3:08 pm
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The unfortunate truth is that many inventors and entrepreneurs have had their share of difficulty with the various invention promotion companies out there. You have probably seen them advertised on television, usually in the extremely late night or extremely early morning hours. They promise free information, and tell you that they will help you patent your idea, make your invention and/or market your product. Many inventors and entrepreneurs have learned the hard way that many of these companies talk big and perform little, but sometimes charge exorbitant fees.
Just the other day I had someone contact me about a design patent and he claimed he had been quoted $12,500. I don’t know the particulars around the quote, maybe there was a lot of product design work associated with the quote, but what I can tell you is that $12,500 for a design patent is outrageous — nearly 5 times what it would likely cost from start to finish. Inventing and pursuing a patent can be expensive, and usually is if you do it properly from start to finish, but inventors need to be particularly careful when there are those in the industry that price gouge. There is no substitute for arming yourself with information and being cautious.
If you take a look at the success rates for companies within the invention promotion market you might find yourself quite surprised. One company, Davison, used to have success rates on their website. Perhaps they still do, but I have not been able to find the information. Data I previously obtained from their website tells a cautionary tale. From 2005 to 2010 Davison reported had 50,343 clients, but rather than reporting their success over the same time period they report successes over the last 20+ years. Giving Davison the benefit of the doubt and assuming all successes reported as being over the last 20 years really happened over the last 5 years, that means that less than .035% of people made more money than the spend with Davison and less than .9% of people license their products as a result of Davison’s services. Doing the math that means that roughly 1 in 2,961 people made more than they spent with Davison between 2005 to 2010.So how do the unscrupulous within the industry convince people to spend their hard earned money in the face of nearly ridiculously long odds and a checkered past?
Unfortunately many inventors do not do even basic due diligence, which means that they don’t know that they are considering engaging a company with a checkered past until it is too late. A simple Google search using the word “Davison” and the word “scam” should lead people to information that should at the very lead cause them to have second thoughts, including a 2006 FTC sting operation called Project Mousetrap that lead to a $26 million ruling against Davison.
Also unfortunate, in at least one way, is the eternal optimism of the independent inventor. Inventors are wonderful people, but the one flaw that virtually all inventors share is that they become married to their ideas and inventions. Couple this together with skeptical friends and family and the scene is set for unscrupulous actors who will lavish them with praise. They have been dying to hear positive things and now they are hearing those positive things, it is as if they have finally reached the pinnacle. They fell in love with their ideas and inventions and now they have someone who believes in them — if only they could come up with a few hundred dollars to start, then a few thousand dollars later, then many thousands of dollars after that.
But surely inventors, who are very smart people, could resist the advances of the unscrupulous, right? While that is what you might expect, my experience tells me otherwise. Aside from the conditions being right (i.e., being told the invention is brilliant, etc.), most inventors tell me that even if they were told that there would be only 1 success out of 3,000 inventions they would be utterly convinced that their invention would be that success. I have asked this question many times at presentations, the answer is always the same, and while on one had you have to love the optimism and tenacity, this is the final ingredient that leads so many to the doorstep of the unscrupulous. Even with perfect knowledge and information many will still make what many would characterize as a bad move.
What all this means is that the path from idea to invention to making money is difficult for novice inventors. Truthfully, the path is difficult enough for any inventor, seasoned or newbie. The potential to fall prey to unscrupulous companies is just another obstacle in a long line of hurdles. While inventors never like hearing it when I say it, the reality is that the inventing portion of the process is the easiest part of the entire process. This is because it is the only part of the process that can be completely controlled.
Once you file the patent application you have a patent examiner to contend with who may never see eye to eye with you. You also have to deal with economic and business realities. Many people found themselves close to signing deals of one kind or another in August of 2008 only to have those deal evaporate by the beginning of October 2008.
There are also competition realities to consider. My uncle was an inventor and the abbreviated story with one of his invention was this: He was told buy a buyer that what was needed was a particular device that had particular functionalities. My uncle set out about creating just such a device, and he succeeded. He filed a patent application and then went back to the buyer for his big success! Unfortunately, in the meantime there was a paradigm shift and although he came up with exactly what they wanted months earlier in the meantime someone came up with the next generation device.
But where is an inventor to turn? How can you avoid the scams while not unnecessarily weeding out reputable professionals? What type of assistance should you be looking for in the first place anyway?
It is no doubt a challenge to find reliable services. While the Internet is great for many things, including research, it is rather easy for anyone, even a small enterprise or unscrupulous actors to make their Internet presence seem legitimate. You should definitely do some basic research on the Internet, but you want to make sure that you don’t allow slick websites or aggressive advertising campaigns be all you consider.
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Here is a list of things that you can and should do, which when followed should lead you toward those who are reputable and away from those with checkered pasts.
1. Google search.
You absolutely, positively, must search the name of the company you are going to do business with and the word “scam.” You also should do the same thing with the name of the owner of the company as well. It is unrealistic to expect a company to have no complaints, there are always disgruntled customers who are unhappy even with stellar companies, and even stellar companies can make mistakes or have bad days. But there should not be a pattern of disgruntled customers, and particularly beware if you see actions by the Federal Trade Commission or other government entity.
2. Ask for Referrals.
Joining a local inventor group is an excellent idea. These groups are typically a mixture of experienced inventors, newbies and folks in between. The more experienced inventors are typically quite willing to give advice to newbies, and the best advice you can get is who to avoid. You can also learn about service providers that have been helpful and legitimate.
Also, for whatever it is worth, we carefully screen advertisers here on IPWatchdog.com. We don’t just let anyone advertise, so you won’t see any advertisements for invention promotion companies. If you need a patent search consider SP Attorney Services. If you are interested in licensing your invention consider contacting Lambert & Lambert. If you need product development work consider Enhance Product Development. These are companies that I have done work with and feel comfortable referring people to. There are other reputable actors out there, such as Invent Right and Edison Nation. If you want patent drawings consider ASCADEX Patent Illustrating.
The moral of the story here is this: if you have identified people you trust ask them for a referral. As you expand your network and encounter others you trust continue asking and build up your own network just like you would any other kind of professional network.
3. Arm yourself with knowledge.
You absolutely, positively, must know the basics! If you were going to buy a used car you would probably do some basic research to see how many miles you can realistically expect to get out of the make and model you are looking at, for example. If you find out that realistically you are looking at needing a new transmission typically between 75,000 to 90,000 miles and the salesperson were to say something contradictory you now have some important information. Either the salesperson doesn’t know as much as you, which is possible, or the salesperson is willing to say whatever it takes to make the sale, which is also possible. Either way, because you were armed with knowledge you were in a better position.
You need to know that ideas cannot be patented. You need to know the pros and cons of filing a patent application before conducting market evaluation. You need to consider whether it makes sense to start with a patent search or start building a crude prototype (see Keep Your Money in Your Wallet until Proof of Concept). You need to understand what a sell sheet is if you want to pursue a licensing deal. You also need to approach inventing in a business responsible way, which requires you to set a budget and proceed cautiously and carefully step by step so as to preserve as much capital as possible until it looks like the invention will succeed. For more check out our Inventing page and our Inventors Information category.
The road to success down the invention path can be a rocky one, but if you temper your enthusiasm and engage in business reasonable tactics you can navigate the terrain. Like any other business, the goal is to make money with your invention or idea. So treat your invention as a business from day one. Network, research, engage in due diligence and arm yourself with knowledge and facts. No secret hand shake or password. Just good business practices are what you need to pursue.
About the Author
Gene Quinn is a US Patent Attorney, law professor and the founder of IPWatchdog.com. He is also a principal lecturer in the top patent bar review course in the nation, which helps aspiring patent attorneys and patent agents prepare themselves to pass the patent bar exam. Gene started the widely popular intellectual property website IPWatchdog.com in 1999, and since that time the site has had many millions of unique visitors. Gene has been quoted in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the LA Times, USA Today, CNN Money, NPR and various other newspapers and magazines worldwide. He represents individuals, small businesses and start-up corporations. As an electrical engineer with a computer engineering focus his specialty is electronic and computer devices, Internet applications, software and business methods.