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Sep 27

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Inventors are frequently afraid someone will steal their idea.  Some paranoia is good.  Too much is crippling.  You have to find a balance between protecting your idea and being able to get your idea incorporated into a tangible product that you can get to the marketplace.

 Here are some guidelines:

1.    You can talk in general terms about your project without giving an “enabling disclosure”.  An enabling disclosure would be when you give enough information for someone else to make the product. 

2.   If you want or need to talk about the details, use a non-disclosure agreement or a non-disclosure / non-compete agreement.  This is your due-diligence, your responsibility.

3.   Keep in mind that even though we have all heard stories about someone’s idea “being stolen”, most ideas are not stolen.  Ideas are like belly buttons, everyone has one.  People want to steal market share.  It is your market share that you have to protect.

Sep 25

The greatest challenge for an inventor is money. You have to have money to invent. No one invests in an idea. You have to have intellectual property protection and a working prototype or a very detailed 3D-CAD drawing. Unless you are working for a company and invent under its name, you have to be able to support your idea in the early stages. Do an asset inventory; know what resources you have and determine how much you are willing to spend. Then treat every penny like it’s your last.

If you are going to get “investors”, get a transactional attorney to explain all of the issues. I have a client who always wants his patent attorney to do his transactional work. This is like having a pediatrician do brain surgery. Get the right people for the right job. Cutting corners can land you in the “fatal mistakes” category.

Once you’ve identified the assets you have available, find out what it’s going to cost and budget the necessary expenses. I like to help my clients plan and budget according to their project’s scope and their financial and personal abilities. Different projects have different scopes, needs and agendas. It’s important to understand what your’s are.

Sep 25

rita_crompton-1The most tragic part of inventing is when an inventor with a reasonably good idea makes a serious or fatal error. I see it happen all too often. For instance, getting a patent before you know if your invention can be made at a price someone will pay just means you’ll end up with very expensive “wall art”. The fatal error: spending several thousands of dollars (patents are frequently over-priced because inventors usually don’t get competitive bids from attorneys) before it’s time.

Another fatal mistake is not making sure that the attorney writing your patent works with the engineer. This is critical. If the patent is written first and the engineer makes changes to the design, you now have a product that doesn’t match the patent.

However, one of the most serious mistakes an inventor can make is believing everything he or she hears on television and/or internet advertising. Anyone who wants you to spend thousands of dollars up front may be making their money on you, rather than your idea, especially if you really know nothing about the service provider. Beware of TV and internet advertising that promises to make you rich on your invention! Check out the Federal Trade Commission websites on invention promotion schemes:

(http://www.ftc.gov/opa/1997/07/mouse.htm) and
(http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/conline/pubs/services/invent.htm)

or the NCIO’s (National Congress of Inventor Organization’s) “Scambusters” website:

(http://www.inventionconvention.com/ncio/scambusters/index.html).

Sep 25

One of the most critical steps in the inventing process is establishing market viability. Sometimes people think they have a great idea, but the consumer doesn’t agree. And, after all, if no one will pay for it, why bother, unless, of course, you have lots of money to burn.

Establishing market viability includes obtaining favorable answers to two basic questions: Can you make it at a price someone will pay for it; and has it already been done (yes, in the first case, no, in the second). I hear people say all the time “I’ve never seen this.” Well, that’s a start…but only a start. It’s good idea to learn how to search beyond Google, and a good place to start is the USPTO website. However, even this won’t give you a complete search result or a basis for going to the next step. It’s easy to fall into the trap of not wanting to find anything disappointing, so inventors often tend to look “with blinders on”.

However, it’s always in your best interest to get an objective point of view. Most inventors don’t realize that if a product has been patented at anytime in history anywhere in the world, it cannot be done again. It’s nearly impossible for an individual, acting on his or her own, to do an exhaustive search, both from a historical as well as an international perspective. This is why you need help. My recommendation is to consider using a reputable company that specializes exclusively in conducting product and patent searches, and not writing patents. And, believe me, if you follow this approach, it’ll be worth every penny. The good news is that unless you have a very complicated product, it shouldn’t cost more than $1,000.00.

Once you have the product search done, it’s time to determine if you can make your product at a price someone will pay for it. The world is full of expensive patents on products that should never have been produced because they’re not cost-competitive. Don’t forget: price is an issue for consumers. If you’re capable of making a good prototype, then make one; otherwise, you’ll need help. There are companies that specialize in this type of work. Be careful, some are reputable and some are not. And, as always, ask what it’s going to cost you. Also, it’s critical to begin establishing what the cost per unit will be, based on mass production.

Once you have an idea of cost, you have to face the hardest question: will anyone buy it? I know, you say, “well, my family and friends love it!” Unfortunately, they don’t count! You need to know from objective consumers if anyone will put cash on the table. Try to find a focus group so that you have a good cross section of consumers who might be interested in you product to give you honest feedback.

Sep 24

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Current economic crisis aside, as we are all well aware, the world economy is changing fundamentally at a dizzying pace. Countries like Brazil, Russia, India and China (the “BRIC” Block that we hear so much about these days) are growing their economies at double digit rates, while the U.S. and the various state economies are experiencing sluggish or, at best, mild growth.
 
The American way of doing business has been successfully duplicated at this point in each of these accelerated economies; our traditional competitive advantages (i.e., technology superiority, educated workforce, economies of scale, manufacturing efficiency, etc.) are disappearing as foreign economic fortunes improve and educational and employment opportunities increase abroad. The U.S. economy, for the first time in its history, finds itself under siege by a tidal wave of competition that shows no signs of abating.
 
In light of these developments, as we look to our economic future here in this country, it’s essential that we uncover, or rediscover, ways in which to inject vitality and genuine competitive advantage into an economy that has seen better times. An important avenue for gaining this vitality and advantage is through innovation: and the solo inventor is an essential part of this process. Without him, the process, otherwise controlled exclusively by large multinationals with no local allegiance and with a narrow focus on next quarter’s bottom line, withers and dies. The result is the flight of both capital and prosperity abroad.
 
In the past, American inventors have shown that they know no limits. Any age, both genders, and all races throughout our history have contributed to the creative genius that is the American inventing process. The technology envisioned by American inventors has improved our standard of living and linked us across both physical and cultural divides.
 
Additionally, innovation and the inventing process, along with the inventor himself, have been the key ingredient in driving the growth of the American economy over the past two hundred years. It’s time to revisit this driver and to encourage and support those innovative people who are dedicated to the inventing process. It holds the potential for revitalizing our economy.

Here in Colorado, we rank among the top 10 states in patents awarded per capita. In 2005, for instance, residents in the state received 1,972 patents. By the Inventors’ Roundtable’s own count, there are over a thousand active inventors in the State of Colorado..

Inventors innovate, and in the process help create renewed prosperity and economic vitality. They are the cornerstone of any genuinely-enlighted, locally-focused, economic development effort. Accordingly, it is important that the inventor survive and, not only survive, but thrive. In order for that to happen the inventor needs the support of the existing business community. That support will return back dividends many times over.

The bottom line is that inventors become business owners and employers, create wealth, use the services of other providers and give back to the community. They are both drivers and users of the economy; they both create and consume. They are a vital component of the U.S. competitive arsenal and it’s time for us as a society to once again recognize the importance of the inventor.