Common Sense Inventing - Educational articles to help Inventors make informed decisions

Some days I would have to say “Yes” to the question above. It is just dumb luck sometimes. If you think about it a lot has to do with luck, timing, being in the right place at the right time. Of course you hope it is really about you having a great idea or product, but that is not always the case.
You can have a great idea, but your pitch is off and they just don’t get it. Your package arrived the day they are discussing budget cuts. The person you sent it to no longer works in that department or they are having a horrible day, so nothing looks good to them. Your prototype was handled rough in shipping and doesn’t work right for the person doing the reviewing.
I had a case where the reviewer I sent my toy prototype to did not have any sense of eye/hand coordination and could not make the toy work. So he did not understand its play factor until I sent him a video of a kid enjoying the toy and showing how easy it was to operate. My chances would have been higher had I sent the video first, but I made the mistake of assuming it was so easy anyone could do it. Instead I get the one person in the company with zero eye hand coordination. Lol

Many possible opportunities are killed in the first 30 seconds over the phone because you are nervous and stammering over your words. Then there are those moments when you and the other person just click and they are open to anything you mention. They get your pitch as concisely as if they had the idea themselves. They call that “Finding the Zone”. You live for those moments.
On the other side of the coin I have had times where the contact person changed 4 times in 2 months because they were doing a reorganization. My material was given the okay by one reviewer, turned down by the next one, but wasn’t sent back to me before it was left for the next reviewer. That person liked the idea and routed it to the next person higher in the food chain for approval. Two days later that person quit and moved to another state. I did not hear anything for 2 weeks at which time they informed me they were no longer looking at outside ideas. That was definitely a bad run of luck. But as I have always said “inventing is a fluid business and constantly changing.”

The dumb luck syndrome isn’t just targeting inventing, it happens in all industries. While writing for comic book companies I called an Editor I hadn’t talked to in months to see if he had any openings on his books. He laughed and said my timing was great the Writer for one of his books was sick and he had just gotten off the phone with him prior to my call. So, I got the job, not because I was a better Writer. I got it because I called at the right time and saved the editor the hassle of finding another Writer.
On another occasion I contacted a toy company for the first time and expected to just get my name in front of them and start the ball rolling, instead he said I caught him in a bind, they needed some toy ideas for a presentation they were putting together for upper management and he needed them by the next day. The person they were using didn’t deliver their products on time so he had nothing to show. We signed NDA’s via email, I sent 10 ideas I had in stock. And the next day they told me they loved 2 of them and a licensing deal was signed. I was paid a nice advance. The product didn’t make it to market, but was released back to me and I got to keep the advance. So, it was a strange but profitable venture.
You will find that for no reason you can explain some ideas you think have the most potential will not get a second look. While others, which you think are okay will get a rave review.
I have sent the same story to the same editor two weeks apart. The first time he hated it. The next time he loved it and bought it. I never told him he had already turned it down.
The longest time for a sale after first contact was over a year. I saw the company’s product in a store and got their contact info off the package. A couple of days later I contacted them asking if they looked at outside ideas. They said no, they do all their design work in house. The owner and myself hit it off and she liked the products I had already licensed that were posted on my website. She said to keep in touch and let her know of anything new I had come out. So over a year’s time we exchanged maybe 4 or 5 emails. A year later she told me they were starting a new line and would look at ideas if I had any. I sent 5 ideas and they picked two to license. I am the first inventor on the outside they have worked with.
Was that dumb luck, genius on my part, great product ideas, salesmanship, right time right place? I may never know, but I have two products coming out because of it! So, I may not want to know. You can do the same.

There is a huge misunderstanding when it comes to having a patent. Inventors think once they get that piece of paper companies will be beating down their door wanting their product. It does not work that way. Talk to most people that get a patent and the first calls or emails they get are from companies wanting them to buy a coffee mug or plaque with their patent embossed on it. Or they want to sell the Inventor services to bring their product to market.

It all comes down to what I have always said “Just because it is patentable does not make it marketable”. It only means you got a patent. What you do with it is what matters. I could possibly patent Edible Sneakers. Would anyone really want to buy them, and would you consider them a mass market item? Would you expect to see them being sold on QVC, HSN or as an ASOTV item? I don’t think so.

Some people are happy to have that piece of paper, so they can say “I have a patent”. Others do not have the necessary business skills and funding to sustain a product long enough for it to get a good foothold in the market to see if it would.

Most Inventors cannot afford to quit their regular job to pursue their venture full time to try and build a business around it. So, they have an issued patent and don’t know what to do next. These are obstacles you needed to consider before you spent the first dime on a patent.

Before you spend any money, you need to understand your options, and which one best fits your situation. Learn as much as you can about building a business around your idea, licensing your idea, your competition and your place within that market, so you are making informed decisions not blind guesses.

In the end it comes down to only the strong willed, well prepared, and very lucky survive.

Raise your hand if you like rejection. I didn’t think so. Most people try to avoid rejection in their daily lives at all costs. If you decide to follow the path of an Inventor you better get some really thick skin because you will get your fair share and probably someone else’s fair share of rejection. The biggest hurdle you will have to contend with is what you do with that rejection. How you react to rejection can make the difference between a successful experience and a frustrating and unsuccessful experience.

During my career as a comic book/cartoon Writer I got so many rejection slips I felt that I could wallpaper my house with them. I had never known you could say “No” in so many different ways. That was one lesson I was not happy to learn. But it was a necessary lesson.
Most Inventors seem to have a severe negative response immediately after receiving any rejection letter or email. They get very irritated and vocal, even if no one else is in the room. The response I have heard most Inventors give goes a little like this “They are just plain stupid! They wouldn’t know a good idea if it was right in front of their face!!!” (That was the politically correct response.) I have heard many outbursts that can’t be repeated in public and would make many people blush. And it certainly wouldn’t increase their chances of success if the company it was directed at heard their response.

After getting a rejection, some Inventors just give up and shelve their idea forever. That is a shame. The only person that hurts is… you. If they had taken the time to learn something from the rejection instead of taking it so personally they may have made it to market with that idea or another idea they had in their mind. My goal is to convince you to work your way through the rejections so that you have a positive outcome and get on the road to success.

You need to look on the rejection and the person that sent it as a positive thing. Yes, I said look at it as a positive thing. They did you a favor by rejecting your idea. I know that sounds crazy, but it can very helpful if you think about it from this angle. Each time you get a rejection it is an opportunity to learn. If they didn’t put in a form rejection letter (I hate those just as much as you do) and gave you feedback on your submission, carefully read the reason it was rejected. Hopefully the explanation of your ideas benefits wasn’t clear, or you sent your idea to a company that isn’t interested in that market. This happens a lot. The Inventor is so focused on getting their idea in front of someone they don’t do the homework/research of knowing their market before sending it out. You don’t send a hydraulic wrench design to a toy company. Unfortunately, things like that happen more often than you would think.

The reason I am saying they did you a favor is that they stopped your idea from going to the next level. The next level would be to put it into production. Do you want your idea to hit the market if it has flaws in it or some other issue that could impede your sales? You want to work out any bugs in your product while it is in the developing stage, not the production stage. There are stories after stories of Inventors that sunk their life savings into a product that they insisted be built exactly the way they wanted only to find out it wasn’t the way the buying public wanted. Use the criticism you get to refine your product making it more marketable, so that by the time it hits the shelves it is a product consumer’s want.

If you seriously look at the rejection as a method of improving your idea or your presentation it can only increase your odds of getting a “Yes”. Use the comments/feedback to correct any deficiencies they point out. Look at your presentation material and see if it is too long. You want your presentation to get them interested and excited about your idea, not dread having to read through 25 pages of material just to see if your idea has any merit. Always think in terms of “Is there any way to condense this down? Is it concise and easy to read? Does the presentation look like I know what I’m doing or an amateur?”

One of the quickest killers for a submission is being too lengthy and no one has the time to decipher it. As I have said before “Would you rather read a pamphlet or a novel to understand someone’s idea?”

Remember rejections sent back without an explanation can be for a multitude of reasons. It could be they just didn’t like your idea. It could also have nothing to do with your submission. Reviewers are like anyone else they could be having a bad day. It can be one of those days when nothing seems good no matter what they saw. They could have seen so many similar things that day that you got rejected by association. You might have caught them at the end of their selling season and they don’t want to bring in anything new right now. It could also be the Monday/Friday rule. Mondays, they are just starting the week and Fridays they want to get out of there and go home.

When I was aggressively writing for the comic book and cartoon industry I would send out at least two submissions a week. So, I had a good flow of material going out and coming in at the same time. Rejections were a part of the game, but I was also getting plenty of sales to make it worth the time. One story I sent out I really liked and knew this would fit the particular character to a tee. I was extremely disappointed when I got a rejection letter from the Editor the next week saying it was “just not what he was looking for at the time.”
I was frustrated, but went ahead and put the story aside. Two weeks later I was looking through my pile of material deciding which ones to send out. I noticed the story that was rejected. I sent the same story back to the same editor. A week later I got a note back from the editor saying it was the best script he had seen from me in a while and loved it. I didn’t mention he had looked at 3 weeks earlier and canned it. I figured my timing was right and I caught him on a good day that he had time to really look at my script. The same applies to your submission. Sometimes it is just a matter of dumb luck and being in the right place at the right time. I would like to think that all my success has been due to hard work and a creative mind, but sometimes I am afraid to ask. : )

Your job as the Inventor, Salesperson, Pitch Person is to make sure your submission is the best it can be to make the reviewer’s job easier.

If at all possible look around on the internet and join an inventing forum. There are plenty of free forums out there just find a couple and join. You don’t have to post anything just join and look through the topics to see if they make sense to you. Is the forum full of helpful people discussing topics of interest to you or are they not posting anything you can use. Once you find one that you feel is productive you can start posting questions and joining discussions. Just understand it is a public forum so make sure you don’t post information about your product/idea because if it is not protected by a patent you are publicly disclosing your product/idea and that can hurt your chances of getting a patent down the road. You are also giving out your idea to a group that may see it and build off of that idea to make a product of their own and compete or beat you to market.

Forums are a great way to network with Inventors around the world. You get to see inventing from multiple perspectives, instead of just one. Because inventing is not a one size fits all journey. What works for one person may not work for you. What you want out of your idea/product can be totally different than the next person.
The forums allow you to ask questions and hopefully get an answer that is useful. It also lets you see questions you may not have thought to ask. You can learn about a wide spectrum of areas you didn’t know existed in inventing.
It is inspiring to see a person come on a forum an amateur and see their growth learning the ropes and ultimately succeed. You will realize you are not alone in your struggles and frustration. There are people from all walks of life that want to see their dream become a reality and you get to share in their experiences.

There are certain rules you need to follow on forums, so they don’t get out of hand. First, realize not everyone has the same attitude or attachment to their idea, as you do. Some think of their idea/product like their child so how do you think they will react if you criticize their child? Others see it strictly as a business venture. You need to learn to have a thick skin to criticism whether you asked their opinion or not.
Remember you are on an open forum and everyone has an opinion. Some express it very vocally and others may have a more eloquent touch than others whether they are right or wrong. You have to learn what to filter out and what to keep.
Also, the person with the most posts doesn’t mean they are the most knowledgeable it just means they have more time to post than you do. Or they type faster than you. Take advice and check it out before using it. Make sure it is based in fact not just because they believe it.

Help keep the thread on the topic and don’t go on to many tangents. I see threads start out talking about licensing, patents, etc and someone will start discussing a movie they saw. Eight pages later they finally get back to discussing licensing or whatever was the original topic. This is very unproductive for the person hoping to get useful information on the thread topic.
Ask yourself would you read eight extra pages of text on a topic you don’t care about hoping you find something useful? Also consider most forums can have over a hundred topics if you ran into that same issue on every thread how frustrating would that be for you?

We have all heard the phrase “there are no stupid questions” That definitely applies to inventing. Some inventors are reluctant to post a question fearing they will look dumb asking something everyone else knows. Don’t let that stop you. You are asking the question because you need the answer. It only hurts you if you don’t ask. I would also bet your question was on someone else’s mind too they just didn’t have the nerve to post it. The only way a forum is going to help you and others is by networking and the sharing of knowledge.
A forum gives you a sense of community and a place where everyone has similar dreams. Help each other attain your goals.

Watch most Inventor shows on TV and you will likely see people on the edge of disaster financially. You hear story after story of people that took out a second mortgage on their house, used every bit of savings they had, were living in their car and on the brink of bankruptcy. These were the ones that made it on camera. They had thousands of entrants and only a few made it as far as being televised. Just think if even ¼ of the people who auditioned and didn’t get on T.V spent as much money as the ones you saw. The other thing you need to consider is that all of those that did not get on T.V. were looking for someone to produce their idea and get it to market.

There are a number of invention submission companies out there and now there are even more that have sprung up offering help, for a price and feeding off of everyone’s enthusiasm to make it rich. Unfortunately, not all of them have your best interest at heart. Some of them are only out to empty your bank account and really don’t care if your item gets to market as long as your check clears the bank. You have to understand no matter who you pick to use, they provide a service and that for every service you use you will have to pay a price.
If you come to them and say I have idea X and I want to have a patent search done, I want to file for a patent; I want to get a prototype made and have my idea sent to companies for possible licensing. They will be more than happy to do all those things….for a fee. It is not their job to tell you your idea stinks. They are providing the service you requested. They want to provide you with the services you said you wanted…for a fee.

Think of it this way. If a company that cuts grass as a service was working across the street from your house and you went over to them and said “Can you cut my grass?” They are most likely going to say “Yes, we can do that for X amount of money.” If you say I want you to cut my grass every week whether it needs it or not. They will set you up on a schedule and cut your grass every week whether it needs it or not. Because, you are the paying customer and you are asking them to provide you with their service. They also know that if you are determined to get your grass cut every week whether it needs it or not and they turn you down you will just go and find another company willing to do it every week. So, is that company a bad company for giving you what you want even when you don’t need it?

When you go to a Patent Attorney’s office and say I want you to do a patent search for me on my idea should the Patent Lawyer say “Have you gone to or the patent office website yourself first to see if anything else is out there?” When you go to a design firm and say “Can you build this for me out of titanium?” Do you expect them to say “What are your plans for this? Have you looked to see if anything else is out there like this?”
When you go to a manufacturer with your designed product and say “ I want you to make me 5,000 of these in red and blue”. Do you expect them to say “We won’t make these for you until you can prove to us that these will be marketable and you will make your money back on them?”
If that is what you expect to happen you will be severely disappointed because the chances of that happening are slim to none. Why? Because they are in business to make money and they are selling you a service and you are asking them to perform a service. Whether you feel it is morally wrong on their part to do as you ask, even if they know you are wasting your money. It is not illegal for them to provide you the service. It is your job to do your research up front and to be as informed as possible to make sure you are making a sound decision.

Don’t get me wrong I feel horrible for anyone that loses their shirt and goes severely in debt, gets ripped off or just has bad luck with a product that is a great idea. I am trying to make sure you know up front what you are getting into and make you ask the hard questions to determine if you need these services. As I have said before I have several items on the market that I spent less than $100 on and never set foot in a patent lawyer’s office, or hired a design firm, or contacted a manufacturer to build me X amount of prototypes. So, it can be done.

When you come up with an idea that you think is great. You need to stop and do this exercise before you approach any company and ask for any services. Take off your Inventors cap and put on your Consumers cap. You can’t think of your idea as YOUR idea anymore. You have to think of it as something you see on the store shelf when you go shopping and are spending YOUR hard earned money to purchase it. I can’t emphasize this enough. You need to REALLY look at your idea from the consumer’s point of view and ask these questions.

• Would I REALLY buy this item if I saw it in the store?

• Why would I buy it?

• Would people that bought one buy another later? Is your idea a one-time purchase?

• Is this an item that more than just your family and friends would buy because they like/love you?

• Which companies do you think would sell this type of item?

• Are there any items like yours on the market? If yes, how is yours better and why would it sell better than theirs? Are theirs selling at all or just taking up shelf space?

• Will the consumer GET your product when they see it on the shelf without the advantage of having a commercial built around it?

These are simple questions YOU can answer without paying a soul. If you get more negative answers to these questions than positives you need to reevaluate your idea.

As an Inventor you do have rights when it comes to working with an invention submission company. Many people get ripped off because they don’t know the right questions to ask or what the invention submission company is required by federal law to tell you before you sign on the dotted line with them. If they are unwilling to answers the questions required by law, that should be a huge red flag to you; run and get away from them as fast as possible with your wallet still intact. If they are legitimate they have nothing to hide and should be happy to show you their successes and failures. Many have their successes posted on their website for you to check out.
The American Inventors Protection Act of 1999 is there for your protection. Use it. Companies that fall under this act are required to tell you the information below BEFORE you sign a contract becoming a client, not AFTER you have already spent the money!
Below is a portion of the act and its list of rights you have. READ IT! This is for YOUR protection!
Note: This is what was current as of this printing. You may need to look up a current version which can be found online easily. This is just a portion of the law that I have posted. As I stated you can find the full law online. I thought this section would give you a good basis to start with and you could look up the entire current law.

American Inventors Protection Act of 1999
This title may be cited as the `American Inventors Protection Act of 1999′.
Subtitle A–Inventors’ Rights
This subtitle may be cited as the `Inventors’ Rights Act of 1999′.
(a) IN GENERAL- Chapter 29 of title 35, United States Code, is amended by adding at the end the following new section:
`Sec. 297. Improper and deceptive invention promotion
`(a) IN GENERAL- An invention promoter shall have a duty to disclose the following information to a customer in writing, prior to entering into a contract for invention promotion services:
`(1) the total number of inventions evaluated by the invention promoter for commercial potential in the past 5 years, as well as the number of those inventions that received positive evaluations, and the number of those inventions that received negative evaluations;
`(2) the total number of customers who have contracted with the invention promoter in the past 5 years, not including customers who have purchased trade show services, research, advertising, or other non-marketing services from the invention promoter, or who have defaulted in their payment to the invention promoter;
`(3) the total number of customers known by the invention promoter to have received a net financial profit as a direct result of the invention promotion services provided by such invention promoter;
‘(4) the total number of customers known by the invention promoter to have received license agreements for their inventions as a direct result of the invention promotion services provided by such invention promoter; and
`(5) the names and addresses of all previous invention promotion companies with which the invention promoter or its officers have collectively or individually been affiliated in the previous 10 years.
`(b) CIVIL ACTION- (1) Any customer who enters into a contract with an invention promoter and who is found by a court to have been injured by any material false or fraudulent statement or representation, or any omission of material fact, by that invention promoter (or any agent, employee, director, officer, partner, or independent contractor of such invention promoter), or by the failure of that invention promoter to disclose such information as required under subsection (a), may recover in a civil action against the invention promoter (or the officers, directors, or partners of such invention promoter), in addition to reasonable costs and attorneys’ fees–
`(A) the amount of actual damages incurred by the customer; or
`(B) at the election of the customer at any time before final judgment is rendered, statutory damages in a sum of not more than $5,000, as the court considers just.
`(2) Notwithstanding paragraph (1), in a case where the customer sustains the burden of proof, and the court finds, that the invention promoter intentionally misrepresented or omitted a material fact to such customer, or willfully failed to disclose such information as required under subsection (a), with the purpose of deceiving that customer, the court may increase damages to not more than three times the amount awarded, taking into account past complaints made against the invention promoter that resulted in regulatory sanctions or other corrective actions based on those records compiled by the Commissioner of Patents under subsection (d).
`(c) DEFINITIONS- For purposes of this section–
`(1) a `contract for invention promotion services’ means a contract by which an invention promoter undertakes invention promotion services for a customer;
`(2) a `customer’ is any individual who enters into a contract with an invention promoter for invention promotion services;
`(3) the term `invention promoter’ means any person, firm, partnership, corporation, or other entity who offers to perform or performs invention promotion services for, or on behalf of, a customer, and who holds itself out through advertising in any mass media as providing such services, but does not include–
`(A) any department or agency of the Federal Government or of a State or local government;
`(B) any nonprofit, charitable, scientific, or educational organization, qualified under applicable State law or described under section 170(b) (1) (A) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986;
`(C) any person or entity involved in the evaluation to determine commercial potential of, or offering to license or sell, a utility patent or a previously filed non-provisional utility patent application;
`(D) any party participating in a transaction involving the sale of the stock or assets of a business; or
`(E) any party who directly engages in the business of retail sales of products or the distribution of products; and
`(4) the term `invention promotion services’ means the procurement or attempted procurement for a customer of a firm, corporation, or other entity to develop and market products or services that include the invention of the customer.
`(1) RELEASE OF COMPLAINTS- The Commissioner of Patents shall make all complaints received by the Patent and Trademark Office involving invention promoters publicly available, together with any response of the invention promoters. The Commissioner of Patents shall notify the invention promoter of a complaint and provide a reasonable opportunity to reply prior to making such complaint publicly available.
`(2) REQUEST FOR COMPLAINTS- The Commissioner of Patents may request complaints relating to invention promotion services from any Federal or State agency and include such complaints in the records maintained under paragraph (1), together with any response of the invention promoters.’.
(b) CONFORMING AMENDMENT- The table of sections at the beginning of chapter 29 of title 35, United States Code, is amended by adding at the end the following new item:
`297. Improper and deceptive invention promotion.’.

Let me again be clear that it is the responsibility of the Inventor to check out a company before you use them. As I have said there are a lot of good legitimate invention submission companies, Design companies and patent lawyers out there. You just need to be very careful and thorough when you pick one, decide whether you need their services and understand what you get for your money. The odds are high that you might get burned if you just go in with your eyes closed and your wallet wide open.