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 extreme late night or extreme 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 some of these companies talk big and perform little. Unfortunately, a lot of times even for those that offer few results the cost will be quite high.
I have had some people contact with what I can only characterize as horror stories. One particular inventor told me that he was interested in a design patent and was quoted $12,500. I don’t know the particulars around the quote, maybe there was a lot of product design work associated with this quote, but what I can tell you is that $12,500 for a design patent is outrageous — nearly 4 times what it would likely cost from start to finish.
It is true that 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. Finding valuable, legitimate services isn’t all that easy and unless you are dealing with a patent attorney or patent agent directly the invention services market is largely unregulated.
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? Many times all it takes is positive feedback. Your family and friends may have told you that your invention isn’t worth pursuing, and the first time you get any positive feedback is when someone is trying to sell you a suite of expensive services. No deal is so good that you need to take it without proper consideration. In fact, if it sounds too good to be true it probably is too good to be true. If someone is pressuring you to sign and pay immediately, that could and probably should be a warning sign.
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 of “Davison patent” or “Davison invention” returns numerous complaints, 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 aforementioned 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. Whatever you do, don’t fall in love with your invention!
Several years ago I was speaking to an inventor group about carefully selecting who they work with so they work only with reputable companies. At the time one particular invention promotion company, as near as I could tell had a remarkably low success rate. This company reported their successes all-time and reported the number of clients over 5 years, making it impossible to know what the success rate actually was. At best the success rate was approximately 1 in 2,700, but likely was much worse. I asked the room full of inventors this simple question: If I told you that only 1 in 2,700 inventors would ever succeed how many of you would be convinced that you would be the 1 and not the other 2,699? Virtually everyone raised their hand. That eternal optimism is wonderful, but it also contributes to getting taken advantage of by those who make money by telling you your invention is wonderful when that really isn’t the case.
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 is this: He was told buy a buyer that what was needed was a particular device that had particular functionalities. My uncle set out to create just such a device, which he successfully did. 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, which made his invention commercially irrelevant.
But where is an inventor to turn? How can you avoid the problems 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.
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 you probably don’t want to see a pattern of disgruntled customers, and particularly beware if you see actions by the Federal Trade Commission or other government entity. It takes a lot to get the government to take action, so this is typically a major warning signal.
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.
I am also happy to make several recommendations as well. First, if you need a patent search consider Walsh IP, which is the company I use for my clients because there searches are extremely detailed and quite reasonably priced. 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. Some, but not all of these companies are advertisers on IPWatchdog.com. I am familiar with each and believe in my honest opinion they are good, valuable sources.
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, but simply building a better mousetrap does not mean that the world will throw riches at your feet. Succeeding at inventing takes work and determination. 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 is necessary or even helpful. Just good business practices are what you need to pursue.