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

Here is a perfect example of what I am referring to when I ask “Are You Giving Away Your Invention Ideas By Your Actions?” Inventors don’t READ what they sign up for and then later complain when it goes bad or they get rejected. Let me say up front I have no issue with the company used in this discussion. I am just using this as an example to prove a point.

Take a look at this statement you see before you even start to do anything with the company.

We’re always redesigning and reimagining our tools, and we love it when customers tell us they have ideas about enhancements and additions to the X company. But there are important things you should know before you submit your idea.
Most importantly, we cannot consider your idea until you have FILED A PATENT TO PROTECT IT.
Once you have filed a patent application, you can use the following link to submit your idea. We’ll begin a review that can last approximately 90 days.”

Did you notice the part that says “Most importantly, we cannot consider your idea until you have FILED A PATENT TO PROTECT IT.”

My contact at the X company has said that about 60% of those that apply HAVE NOT filed a PPA or patent as required.

Now, once you go past this page you have another statement that says

“Before submitting you must agree to the following terms and conditions:”
“I confirm I have read, understood and accept the terms & conditions for submitting my invention.”

As we know a large majority don’t read this and just click the box and click NEXT.

Take a look at what you are agreeing to for those that did not READ it. Do you see any issues that will come up for those that did not file a PPA or patent as it stated?

“By using this invention submission form and website, you (“you”) agree to be bound by the terms of The X Company Non-Disclosure Agreement (“Agreement”) listed below. Before you may submit any invention information, you must read and accept this Agreement. Agreement is effective upon acceptance for new users and terms and conditions may be updated from time to time without notice to user.
You hereby acknowledge:
The X Company (“Company”) has found certain precautions necessary in accepting disclosures submitted to it. Its employees have many ideas of their own for the improvement of the X Company’s products and the development of new products, some of which may be similar to your own. To prevent any misunderstanding as to what the rights and obligations of the inventor and the X Company are, the X Company’s policies as to considering inventions are set forth below.
The X Company cannot agree to hold your disclosure in confidence because it must disclose the invention to various employees and sometimes even to those outside of its employ, to determine its value to the company, and because agreements to hold in confidence have been found to entail other obligations not intended by either the submitter or the X Company. It is understood, therefore that no confidential relationship or agreement to compensate is entered into by reason of the fact that the X Company is considering your disclosure.
A full written disclosure, preferably the patent application drawing and specifications, or if there are none, a sketch or drawing (which can be a rough one, provided it illustrates the invention so one skilled in the art can understand it), must be furnished to the X Company, so that the X Company can tell or not whether it will be interested in your invention.
The X Company is not under any obligation to reveal to you information of its own in the general or specified field to which the disclosure relates.

The X Company wishes you to be satisfied that your interests are fully safeguarded. If an application for a U.S. Patent has not been filed, you should have the copy of your drawings that you retain signed, dated and witnessed.
Any disclosure to the X Company is made on the understanding that the X Company assumes no obligation to do more than consider the disclosure so far as in its judgment the disclosure merits and to indicate whether or not the Company is interested. It is understood that you rely only in your rights under the patent laws.
The X Company receives no rights hereby, or as a result of considering this disclosure, under any patent rights you now have or may acquire to the subject matter of the disclosure.
The foregoing applies to any additional or supplemental disclosure relating to the same subject matter.”

Now the question is did you find anything in that agreement you would have a problem with if you did not file a PPA or patent? And once you fill out all the info required and submit it who is at fault if they use the information?

Inventors, do the boring work and READ what you sign.

Had a discussion last week with an Inventor that has had a string of rejections from company Y even though based on the ideas he has shown me you would think they would have shown interest. His presentation is short and concise. He has great graphics that show his ideas and possible packaging aspects for all of them and even has short demo videos of each product showing them proving proof of concept. He even has some good gap analysis slides. The ideas answer the “Better Than” question.

Everything looks as prepared as you can get, so what is the problem? I was as confused as he was until he showed me a listing of the companies he had previously sent the material to for review. He had disclosed at a different meeting we had that he had a deal with company X and had signed a memorandum of understanding outlining what both sides had agreed to but changed his mind at the last minute and decided to pull the product from the company. They had spent a significant amount of money testing and doing a focus group study on his product. So they were not happy with this decision. I know the person he was dealing with at company X from my dealings with company X.

What the Inventor did not know is shortly after this issue happened with him the person he was dealing with at company X left company X and is now working at company Y doing the same position. So how do you think his ideas went over with this same person he burned at company X?

As in any industry people get promoted, fired, quit, move to other similar markets looking for work. So, the bridge you burn at one company can follow you through a number of companies. So it does not take long for your name to be bounced around until you are known as trouble. The same goes if you have a solid reputation for getting things done, providing good ideas and having realistic expectations. Word gets around in this industry. What will they think about you when your name comes up?

Invention posting sites are gaining popularity, but do you gain any benefit from them? In my opinion these sites feed off of the Inventor’s hopes of getting discovered by a major player in their particular target market and making millions.

The web is flooded with these websites all claiming to be the place every Inventor should list their idea/product to get noticed, receive funding, and make sales. They say list with us for free or they charge a monthly fee and companies and investors will find your product. Some offer paid services to build your presentation page, make a pamphlet, sell sheet or other material.

Some make the pitch saying they are an international marketplace, as if they have this special connection no one else has. There is nothing special to being international anymore. You get international exposure just by being on the internet. I get contacted by people all across the world that find my site using Google or some other search engine. I didn’t do anything special that makes me stand out over the next website or buy a spot on Google so that I show up first in a web search.

Ask yourself this, do you really think that Stanley Black and Decker, Kraft, Mattel, Craftsman, Rubbermaid, and all the other mainstream companies spend their time surfing these idea posting sites? I put in the search topic on Bing “invention Buyers” my results were 1-10 of 748,000 results. I know a number of them are repeats of the same companies so lets say you only have actually 748 of those as the correct number of sites worldwide offering these services. Do you think any business like Stanley Black and Decker has the resources or cares to have their staff look through 748 websites for a new product they can sell? Why should they even bother when they have Inventors contacting them daily wanting them to review their ideas? The answer is they don’t.

I looked at one of these companies website and they had 18 categories of products you can look through. If they have a minimum of 10 ideas/products listed per category you have 180 products to review for just this one website. Now multiply that by the 748 companies offering this type of service and you get 134,640 products to review. So, how would a toy company find you out of this large pool of ideas/products that cover such a wide variety of markets?

Plus, that number will not stay static since you are adding new products as more Inventors join these sites. So, again I ask does any one company have the resources or need to review these products, even monthly? Your chances of getting picked up from one of these sites are small at best. You would be better served pushing your product yourself and targeting the companies you want to go after. Lets not forget that Inventors will post their unprotected ideas on these sites not realizing they are doing public disclosure.

I have my own website that I include in my emails to companies or can tell them when talking with a company. I can direct them to it easily and don’t have to worry about them sifting through other websites and advertisements.

Talking with an Inventor this week prompted me to write this thread. When you invent something you may have had to use outside help to get it into its current state. You had someone build a presentation, a mold, website, prototype, CADs, 3D model, sell sheet, video, animation, etc.

The question is do you have the ability to access it any time you want? Where exactly is it kept and can you get to it if the individual/company goes out of business, your contact quits their job or dies, moves to a new location without telling you?

Consider if you had a design group make your prototype and they send you the prototype and you are happy with it and send it out for review. Months down the road you need another prototype made and you contact that same company and it is no longer in business or they had server issues and your CADS were lost. Do you have a full set of copies of their work in your possession or were you relying on it still being on their server?

You had sell sheets made and they sent you the PDF and you have been emailing and printing them off as you needed. Now due to additional features you need to update the sell sheet. Do you have a copy of the original sell sheet in a format that can be edited?

Your website was designed and maintained by a company and now that company is going out of business do you have access to get it moved to a new service provider, do you have the passwords needed?

If you have your product being made overseas and you paid the factory for the molds can you get the molds sent to the U.S. if you found a company here to do the work cheaper?

Do you have important documents saved in more than one place? Thumb drives, hard drives, external drives, computers can all fail. If they do and you have everything on just one of these items do you lose everything?

If you save everything to the cloud are you the only one with access, knows the password? What happens in the event of your death, you can’t remember the passwords or gain access to the cloud?

These are just some examples to get you thinking about making sure you are covered and your important items are accessible and safe.

A sell sheet is basically your calling card to a company. It is used throughout all industries to show a company your products benefits. There is no one size fits all when it comes to sell sheets. The formatting can be anything you want it to be. They can be very professional looking with graphs and illustrations or photographs. They can be on high gloss paper or paper with a dull finish. The major point of a sell sheet is to convey your products benefits in a short and concise manner on one or two pages of letter sized paper.

The sell sheet is comparable to the blurb you see on the back of a 300 page novel, but with illustrations. When you pick up a book and read the back jacket it gives you a short overview of the books storyline. You don’t need to read the entire 300 pages to get an idea if this book would be of interest to you. Based on that blurb the Writer is hoping to peak your interest in their book enough to buy it. The same can be said for the sell sheet. You are using this format to get your idea in front of a company representative with the hopes that they will read it, understand it, see your products market potential and want to know more.

One question that pops up all the time regarding sell sheets is how many pages do you make them? IN my opinion no more than two pages. There is no written rule saying they can’t be longer than two pages, but based on my experience two pages or less seems to be the best approach. The reason goes back to what I stated above with the book example. Do you want to read the entire novel or the short blurb on the back of the book to get the person’s idea?

Another reason for the two pages or less applies to the statement of getting your verbal pitch down to 30 seconds. It is all a matter of time. The person hearing your pitch or reading your sell sheet does not want to waste a lot of time trying to “Get” your idea. The quicker they “Get” the idea and understand it does a couple of things for you. One, if they “Get” the idea quickly and like it you are that much closer to getting the licensing agreement you are wanting.

The second is if they “Get” your idea and its usefulness quickly they can also see that the public may “Get” your products benefits just as quickly, which means sales for them and you. No matter how good your product may be if the company feels they will have to educate the consumer before they “Get” the idea, they may pass on it. Depending on the (ROI) Return on Investment calculation the company will decide whether it is worth the cost of educating the public on the product or if it just isn’t going to be worth the time and investment.

Can the company get the public to understand your products benefit using a graphic on the package or will it require a TV commercial to get the benefits across and drive sales? These are all things that are considered by the company when you present your idea.

So, what exactly do you put in the sell sheet to get their attention? You want your sell sheet to put your best foot forward. If you send your sell sheet via email make sure you send it in a format they can open. Often an Inventor will use software they have on their computer to make the sell sheet, but forget the receiver doesn’t have the same software and won’t be able to view it. You run into the same issue if they have a different version of the software than you do. This can hamper certain features of your presentation not to work or can rearrange your formatting making everything look confusing. Most people have the ability to open jpegs and PDFs. It is best to ask the receiver if they have a compatible program before sending them your sell sheet via email. You need to ask if their company has a size limit on what will be allowed through their server.

Below are some things you need to make sure are included in your sell sheet:

Make sure your contact information is on every page

Put your best short description of the products benefits

List any patents or other documentation your product has that would be of interest to the reviewer.

Make sure any photos or illustrations you have are clear and give the best visual of your product

If you have a website make sure you list it if it shows other products you have licensed

If you have a prototype or product samples available use this phrase “Prototype/Sample available upon request.”

Things you don’t want in your sell sheet are:

Telling them how long you have been working on this in your garage. (They don’t care how long or where you have been doing this. They are only concerned about will it make a profit?)

Letters from your family members telling the company how much they love your idea.

Making demands on how much you want for your idea. (Get the company interested in the product first and then you can negotiate terms once they start discussing contracts)

Don’t tell them the product has to look exactly as it does in the sell sheet or there is no deal. (Companies modify products to fit their consumer base. If you can’t see your products design changed then you need to produce it yourself and leave companies alone)

Don’t overload your sell sheet with graphs, charts, and a lot of mathematical statistics. (If you think more detail is needed to prove your product works as you claim add a note that more detailed information is available upon request. Get their interest first before you hit them with tons of information).

Give your finished Sell Sheet to a person you know will give you their honest opinion no matter if it hurts your feelings. Make sure you have signed a non-disclosure first to cover both of you. Don’t tell them a word about your product beforehand and simply let them read your Sell Sheet. Once they are done ask them to tell you about your product and what it does and see if they get the product. Do they miss seeing the benefit of the product, how it works, seem unclear exactly what you are trying to “Get” across to the reader? This is a good indicator that you may need to tweak your Sell Sheet.

As with anything this complicated I have not covered every situation, but this is a good place to start.