Every television viewer has seen the infomercial spot showing the forlorn, wanna-be inventor, crushed, their idea being successfully marketed by another party. He did not get a patent. The answer offered in the commercial, contact an Invention Submission Company, get a patent, market your product or opportunity to thousands of corporate decision-makers, get rich. This is the American Dream, is it not?

One of the saddest aspects of my work as a new product development and marketing consultant is the whole area of invention submission firms. We see dozens of entrepreneurs every year: mentally torn, financially rocked, hopes depleted after their experience with the invention mills. In a number of cases real opportunity has been slaughtered. In many other cases the product or service offered would never be a realistically viable commercial opportunity and any capable consultant would honestly advise such.

Essentially these dream merchants are boiler rooms. After viewing the commercial and calling the toll free number, the inventor is contacted by a sales person. Submission materials are forwarded, promises made and costs are discussed. Many entrepreneurs do not have the needed investment monies to appropriately file patents, create prototypes, conduct the research and produce the documents necessary to professionally present the product.

The invention mills, however, typically offer in-house financing and advise that they take care of all of the needed elements required to professionally excite investors or license deals. Often at usurious interest rates, the hopeful inventor makes a down payment on their dream, finances the balance, and, seduced by thoughts of riches, fully buys into the program. Then reality quickly rears its ugly head.

The Patent Filing

There are two styles of patents, utility and design. Only utility has real value, offering specific protections. The design patent can be easily overcome with elemental design or art changes to a product. In addition, a relatively recent filing class has been created: the provisional patent. Essentially the provisional patent is a simple letter to the United States Patent and Trademark Office announcing to the agency that you have an idea and are keen to pursue it. It offers virtually no protection.

The provisional patent costs almost nothing to file and has a life of exactly one-year from date of filing. The provisional must then be amended to utility or design in a new filing. The invention firms have in-house attorney’s that routinely spit out the provisional filings and offer this as proof to the inventor that real patents have been filed and protections secured. Inexperienced, gullible first time entrepreneurs often believe that their product has real patent protection.

After the 12 month provisional period ends, the invention is never supported with a utility filing. The result, product protection rights are fully vacated. The inventor has a lapsed provisional and the submission firm walks away from pursuing the really valuable, and much more expensive, utility patent filing.

Securing a valuable, solid patent protection is the most touted benefit viewers of invention commercials will hear. Is a patent that important, valuable? Yes, and, no. Of course, a utility patent has immense value for any product. Given the choice, we always recommend pursuit of every patent, copyright and trademark claim possible. However, there are many non-patented, very successful products in the marketplace.

Patent strategy is crucial. It requires really experienced patent attorneys, fully committed to securing every possible protection available. This is not available from invention submission firms.

Create a Prototype

It is almost impossible to successfully market a new product without production quality prototypes. This requires diligence, creativity, sophisticated skills and equipment. The steps usually involve a mix of creative meetings, several 3-D, Computer Assisted Graphic (CAD) drawings, a rough model, styling tweaks and then the final model(s). The art is essential as exhibits in utility patent filings, as a tool for source of supply and to determine cost of goods. The models affirm commitment, features and benefits, product uniqueness and viability. Invention mills provide virtually none of this.

The inventor will receive an in-house generated piece of 3-D art. That’s it! No models, prototypes or hardware! This will be the basis for the campaign to market the submission for sale, joint venture or license. And, it can not work, ever.

The inventor provides a verbal description, or self-generated renderings, that are revised by in-house artists. There are almost never face to face meetings, essential to the creative process. The result is a piece of art that appears professional to the inexperienced. This is the prototype. It is sophomoric, unusable for the intended purpose of exciting investors.

Marketing the Invention

With the patent (provisional, of little value) and model (a drawing, of no value) in hand the product invention is ready to be sold, supposedly. Selling, marketing or partnering a product opportunity is hard work and requires contacts, research, experience in highly targeted areas, networking, attending trade shows and tenacity. No is a word heard many, many times more often than the word yes is heard.

How does the invention submission firm approach deal making? They take shortcuts, and shortcuts are death to opportunity. Shortcut number one is blind mailings. A list of companies and contact names is used and a cover letter, copy of the art and nothing else is mailed as a teaser. Anyone can relate to the results of this approach. Executives and corporate decision- makers never respond to junk mail, and that is what this type of submission really is.

The inter-net is a wonderful invention, and, of course, the invention clearing- houses really enjoy this tool, shortcut number-two. Mass e-mailings, unsolicited, otherwise known as junk mail, are a group favorite. The results are always the same, no deal.

Shortcut number-three, the product is added to an encyclopedia of the firm’s past product’s, and the book is offered as a repository of business opportunities for commercialization. A hard copy is available for viewing or on-line access is available. Unfortunately, this completely reverses normal progression of deal making.

Many, many more products are seeking a home than there are homes available for successful placement. Products must be sold and marketed with aggression, vigor, and creativity. Passivity is a model for failure and that is the approach taken by invention submission firms with these strategies.

I have asked many inventors, “Did you ask for successful product placement references”? They universally answer, “I was told, that because of secrecy agreements they signed, they could not provide specific product names and details”. This is gibberish and a subterfuge. A successful product placement is by nature openly sold in the marketplace. It is no longer a secret.

Here are several important keys to consider when interviewing or seeking assistance in marketing or launching a new product:
? Demand a face to face interview before hiring a firm or consultant.
? Demand references of successful campaigns.
? Demand to see successful product specimens.
? Check the firm out with Better Business Bureau, States Attorney General.
? Demand a patent strategy for a utility filing.
? Demand a template of processes the firm utilizes.
? Break out costs for each service provided.
? Will there be a customized business plan.
? Interview more than one firm, at least three.

Ask lots of questions and if you do not receive clear, concise responses, walk away. There is competent, reputable help available for every projects needs.

Author's Bio: 

Geoff Ficke has been a serial entrepreneur for almost 50 years. As a small boy, earning his spending money doing odd jobs in the neighborhood, he learned the value of selling himself, offering service and value for money.

After putting himself through the University of Kentucky (B.A. Broadcast Journalism, 1969) and serving in the United States Marine Corp, Mr. Ficke commenced a career in the cosmetic industry. After rising to National Sales Manager for Vidal Sassoon Hair Care at age 28, he then launched a number of ventures, including Rubigo Cosmetics, Parfums Pierre Wulff Paris, Le Bain Couture and Fashion Fragrance.

Geoff Ficke and his consulting firm, Duquesa Marketing, Inc. (www.duquesamarketing.com) has assisted businesses large and small, domestic and international, entrepreneurs, inventors and students in new product development, capital formation, licensing, marketing, sales and business plans and successful implementation of his customized strategies. He is a Senior Fellow at the Page Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, Business School, Miami University, Oxford, Ohio.