9 min read
The opinions expressed by the entrepreneur's contributors are their own.
A few years ago I had the pleasure of sitting across from Arthur Daemmrich, director of the Lemelson Center for Invention and Innovation Studies at the Smithsonian Institution. Daemmrich is a leading scientist in science and technology studies. At the Lemelson Center, located in the National Museum of American History, he leads a group on inventions and innovations.
I couldn't resist the opportunity to ask him about the history of the inventive industry itself. When I approached service providers who exploited inventors, he said to me, "Steve, this has been the case since the Wright brothers invented the airplane."
To be honest, I was a bit surprised and disappointed. But it also made sense. I've been teaching inventors how to be entrepreneurs for over 20 years, and in my experience, many would love to bring someone along to offer to do all the work for them.
Just wanting to hear what they want to hear quickly becomes problematic for inventors. “You have a great idea! We can help you protect it and get it to market. "
Absolute belief in the potential of their inventions makes them prone to over-promises. In reality, this is not how commercialization works. There is no magical person, company, or organization that will bring your product to market for you.
I've lived as an inventor for many years and I've learned that: You have to do the work yourself. Nobody else is going to work as hard as you because nobody else is ever going to care that much. It's just a fact of life.
Don't get me wrong – nobody does everything well. You should analyze your strengths and weaknesses to figure out what to hire. Personally, I've been great at prototyping and reaching out to companies for licensing considerations. That's why I teamed up with a talented graphic designer who was very good at bringing my ideas to life on the site.
Related: 5 Steps To Turn Your Invention Idea Into A Product
Trust only those who have your interests first. Use the following insights and strategies to annoy service providers in the invention industry and avoid fraud.
Watch out for red flags
High pressure sales techniques. If a service provider keeps calling you to urge you to sign up, that's a red flag. The decision to get help with your invention is a big decision and it will take time to do your homework. Don't let anyone pressure you to make a quick decision. Anxiety is often used to encourage inventors to quickly pull the trigger on a service. "Deal with your idea before someone else does!" "If you don't patent this invention now, someone else will beat you at the patent office!" Take a deep breath, don't let fear guide you, and keep learning. Companies changing their names. When you change your business name, you're throwing away all of your brand's goodwill, which is why reputable companies don't often do so. Retraining your customers takes too much time and is too expensive. Usually a name change means something different. Make sure everyone you want to work with has been in business long without a name change. If you have to drag someone down to look better, it is a sure sign that the service you are offering is inferior. Service providers who participate in this behavior have no trust. If their business was successful, that is what they would focus on. "We only get paid if you do!" Some invention service providers advertise this like a badge of honor. But these and similar statements are actually another warning sign. Usually a game of bait and interplay is played. They believe that you are sharing your contact information with a potential partner only to be met later by someone who will sell you a service. Service providers who have your interests first know that if you are successful, you will come back. Therefore, in addition to their service, they also offer training. My patent attorney, John Ferrell, once said to me, “Steve, protection is easy. Selling is hard. Start Selling! “That was really priceless advice. Because I was successful, I have returned to him for two decades. You don't need someone to represent you or a middleman. What you need to become a successful inventor is education. Remember, nobody is going to work as hard as you. Constantly promoting yourself. Service providers who constantly and exclusively talk about themselves and their services are always a red flag for me. Why? Because this behavior tells me that they just aren't that busy. If they're not that busy, they probably don't have the experience I'm looking for. If you're providing good service, you don't have to advertise continuously. LinkedIn changed the game for creatives. You don't need someone to open the door for you – and that includes paying to present your idea at a trade fair or competition. You can reach anyone these days, including retail buyers, contract manufacturers, and companies that license ideas from independent inventors. Use middlemen. Companies sometimes hire independent third parties to deal with the influx of ideas they receive from inventors. In my experience, these companies don't take open innovation that seriously. Companies that really rely on the input of independent inventors like Hasbro have certain people and actual departments whose job it is to review ideas internally.
Related: 11 Ways To Stop Businesses From Demolishing Your Invention
Do a thorough background check. The internet has made it difficult for people with a poor track record of providing service to hide. When doing your first research, always put the name of the person or company followed by the words "complaints" and "lawsuits" in your search bar. What's coming up? Browse at least a few pages deep because while this information is there, online businesses will do everything in their power to bury it. Remember, there is always at least two sides to every story, and no person or company is perfect. Receive the latest testimonials. We're talking about innovation here! Things change pretty quickly. Someone's previous experiences may not be as valid today. Make sure everyone you work with is up-to-date with their information and the service they offer. Ask for recommendations. In particular, I recommend asking for the names of at least four people the service provider is currently working with. Call these people and ask them directly about their experience. Check out their LinkedIn and Facebook pages. Are you active on social media? Service providers who do not provide great service avoid posting on social media as there is a chance they will be slammed. You should also investigate affiliates of the company and / or the person concerned. Your relationships with others will tell you a lot about their integrity. Avoid organizations that don't really help. There are many organizations including 501 (c) (3) nonprofits that only serve their sponsors. These organizations do not provide resources or information that actually empower. How can you tell the difference? Actions speak louder than words. Take a look at the board of directors and the services they offer. If they do a really good job, they can provide you with a list of testimonials and recommendations.
Get everything in writing
From the items supplied to the due dates, make sure the exact terms of your agreement are very clearly written on paper. Confirm that all parties understand. Avoid prepayments.
Educate Yourself (Before You Spend)
Identify successful entrepreneurs and inventors that you can learn from. Read books from industry leaders. Watch videos related to issues and issues you may encounter. Educate yourself first.
When someone promises you that you don't have to – that is, do some research on what it takes to get a product to market – that's a big red flag. The best service providers believe in training you along the way and will go out of their way to provide you with quality information. When you have good information, you can make better decisions.
Related: Spanx founder Sara Blakely has 99 pages of business ideas
One last note. Sometimes free advice can be very costly. There is a lot of information about inventing and patenting on the internet that is out of date, ill-informed, and / or reductionist. Always consider the source of information. Someone who has taken a decade to get a product to market and made every mistake imaginable may not be the best person to learn from. And why should you let someone invent you who has never made a living as an inventor?
Listen to inventors who have repeatedly commercialized their inventions. Not once, not twice, not even three times! I talk about it over and over again. A good example of this is toy inventor Richard Levy, who has been commercializing his toy inventions for more than 40 years. His books are an invaluable resource!
In the toy industry, my favorite invention experts are Billy Langsworthy of Mojo Nation, Azhelle Wade, the toy trainer, and Mary Couzin of ChiTAG. Tracy Hazzard and Robert Bear are two podcasters who consistently provide high quality information about invention and product development. And for intellectual property strategy, you can't beat IPWatchdog.com. I'm also a huge fan of Russ Krajec from BlueIron, who dispels patent myths on his blog.
Use the resources of the US Patent and Trademark Office and your local inventor group.
Inventor, you can do that. Do your research, take your time and keep educating yourself.