My sister-in-law called recently to excitedly share some good news. She had an idea for a new product and had talked to a company she found on the Internet who promised her fame and fortune. Time for a reality check! I hate to throw cold water on someone’s dreams, but if it’s necessary to protect them from being taken advantage of, I will. And that’s what I had to do with my sister-in-law.
I’m sharing this story to help everyone with great ideas understand taking a product from the mind to the marketplace isn’t easy, and it’s fraught with peril. There are many scammers out there waiting to play on the inexperience and enthusiasm of small businesses and individuals. As a result, money is lost and inventors are left with nothing in return.
Protect Your Concept, Your Business, and Yourself
How do you protect yourself and your business? Watch out for high-pressure sales techniques. Unscrupulous invention promotion firms employ highly-trained sales people who tell you exactly what you want to hear: Your product is fantastic. This confirmation comes with little or no research on the company’s part to determine whether your idea is patentable. Now they have you hooked.
Once they’ve got you on the hook, they start to reel you in by explaining their relationships with manufacturers who will offer you lucrative licensing deals. And they promise to help you market your product by attending major trade shows. Sounds just like what you need, right?
All of this build up is followed by the classic close. The salesperson puts the pressure on for a quick decision, and asks for a significant amount of upfront money. In my sister-in-law’s case, the company wanted $10,000, but her contact masterfully explained how she’d quickly make that back and more with the first deal – the lure of quick and easy big money.
The Best Approach is Common Sense
The best approach to business deals of any kind is common sense. If it sounds too good to be true, it is. So before you allow an invention promotion firm to reel you in and add you to its catch-of-the-day, remember this: Getting a patent is a tedious and lengthy process. Many of the inventors I’ve interviewed over the years said it took at least two years for them to obtain their patent. And just because you’re product is awarded a patent, doesn’t guarantee it will be a success in the market. There are many inventors who have yet to make a dime on their patented products. There’s no short cut or magic wand.
Also be aware if you prematurely discuss your invention, you could lose your rights to it. So don’t risk giving it away for free. Once it’s gone, it’s gone forever. So, be secretive about your product while you take the necessary legal steps to protect it.
Healthy Skepticism Pays Off
Are all invention promotion firms scams? No. But it’s best to be skeptical from the beginning and be proven wrong. Ask the salesperson to provide data in writing, including their success rate, satisfied customers, and their claims about their clients making big money. If they refuse, then you’re not dealing with a legitimate company. It pays to take your time and do your homework. Don’t let your excitement sweep you away.
Finally, my best recommendation is to talk with an experienced patent attorney about your invention before you make any decisions. The patent process is complex so you need someone who really understands the law. Even as a licensed attorney, it’s not something I would ever tackle on my own. An experienced attorney can research the patentability of your product and advise you on the likelihood of success.
What tactics have you used to protect your products and ideas before they reach the marketplace? Any advice for others you’d like to share?
Susan Wilson Solovic is an award-winning entrepreneur and journalist, author of three best-selling books, multi-media personality and contributor to ABC News and other outlets, public speaker and attorney. AT&T has sponsored this blog post.