FROM DREAM TO REALITY CHECK BEFORE BRINGING THEIR CREATIONS TO MARKET, NOVICE INVENTORS MUST PAY ATTENTION TO THE LITTLE THINGS.
Sun Sentinel; Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; Sep 11, 2000; MARCIA HEROUX POUNDS Business Writer;
The Patent Office (www.uspto.gov) cautions new inventors to stay away from invention promotion companies that require substantial money up front. "Unscrupulous invention promotion firms tell all inventors that their ideas are among the relative few that have market potential. The truth is that most ideas don't make any money," the office warns in its brochure on the topic.
|(Copyright 2000 by the Sun-Sentinel)
Informational box at end of text. Pamela Riddle Bird was waiting for her husband, inventor Forrest Bird, to finish his flight of an experimental aircraft. She noticed a cameraman taking video of the flight and rushed over to ask the research team, "Has he signed a work-for-hire agreement?" Often, it's little things that trip inventors up, Riddle Bird explains. It is important for an inventor to have everyone working on a prototype or graphic art to sign a work-for-hire agreement so they have no claims on the patent.
Forrest Bird, whose creations include a medical respirator that has reduced infant mortality, will be one of the inventors and other experts who will speak at the fifth Innovators and Entrepreneurs Expo and Conference on Friday and Saturday in Fort Lauderdale. The conference, expected to draw 250 people, is designed to help would- be and actual inventors learn what it takes to bring a product to market. "They will have the opportunity to meet people who have been very successful in commercializing their products," said conference organizer Riddle Bird. The program includes speakers who will address protection of an idea through patents, trademarks and copyrights; marketing an invention; licensing patent rights to a major corporation; finding sources of financing; and other topics.
Experienced inventors will shares lessons they've learned with novices who may have good ideas for inventions, but don't know how to get their product into the marketplace. The odds of succeeding are slim: Only 2 percent of all patented products are licensed to distribute and sell. That's after the inventor has spent the money and time -- normally 12 to 18 months -- to secure a patent. Once a patent is awarded by the U.S. Patent and Trademark office, the inventor then can sue anyone who infringes on it.
The American Inventor's Protection Act of 1999 guaranteed at least a 17-year patent and reduced original filing fees and international application fees from $760 to $690. That figure will rise to $710 in 2001 because of federal budget cuts. The law also calls for patent applications to become public 18 months after filing, which would reveal their ideas to potential competitors. Only inventors who agree not to file for patents overseas can avoid having their patent applications published. Simply obtaining a patent doesn't ensure success in the marketplace. Inventors must do their homework: market research to find out if the product is viable; a cost analysis and a strategy for product distribution.
Robert Bailey, a Hollywood police officer who has invented a handlebar-locking device to prevent theft of water scooters and motorcycles, recently turned to Pamela Riddle Bird to help him license his product. Bailey sketched the idea for the device while he was taking his 10th stolen water scooter report of the day while on marine patrol. His invention works somewhat like The Club on a car; Bailey's device has tubes that slide over the handlebars, encasing them and locking in the middle to prevent theft. He had a prototype made and received a patent for his invention in December 1998. But he turned to Bird because he realized he didn't have the know-how to market the product. He hopes his invention finally pays off, but he said, "The money is going to be secondary. I want to walk into a store and see it hanging on the shelf. That's going to be the joy for me." Howard Silken, 80, of Delray Beach, is living the dream. He made enough money from his patents to semi-retire 23 years ago. His most successful invention was a blade guard for a power saw that prevents the user from putting his hand sideways into the blade. The device came into demand when the Occupational Safety and Health Administration began shutting down companies that were not using such a guard. But Silken, who has sold inventions to companies including Black & Decker and Stanley Tool, says he recommends that inventors not give up their day jobs. He had one experience where three years went by before a company decided to buy his patent, and another 10 years passed before the company produced it. Such frustrations can lead inventors to look for quick solutions, such as invention promotion companies. Said Riddle Bird, "One of the reasons scam companies are successful is inventors look for an easy way out. Pay $2,000 to $7,000 and a company is going to do everything for them. That's just not how it happens.
" The Patent Office (www.uspto.gov) cautions new inventors to stay away from invention promotion companies that require substantial money up front. "Unscrupulous invention promotion firms tell all inventors that their ideas are among the relative few that have market potential. The truth is that most ideas don't make any money," the office warns in its brochure on the topic. Joanne Hayes-Rines, editor of Investor's Digest, said education is the biggest weapon against fraudulent companies.
"Check references. If people won't give you references, simply don't do business with them," she said. The good news, Hayes-Rines said, is there probably have never been so many ways for an inventor to sell a new product. One new tool is the Internet. And there are niche catalogs, too. "The catalog does the photo, order fulfillment and shipping," Hayes- Rines said. "It's a wonderful way to market their product." But cracking big retailers is difficult. Competition to get on their shelves is fierce. Riddle Bird, who reviews products for Wal-Mart Stores Inc., QVC and Home Shopping Network, said, "Sears reviews approximately 1,100 products a week, Kmart 1,400 and Wal-Mart 16,000."
Making smart marketing decisions can ensure that an inventor's work makes it onto the store shelf or into a catalog. Hayes-Rines said the inventors who run into problems usually are those who try to do everything themselves: "Network with people who have done it before you. Understand the whole past before you start out. Understand your next steps. It's a whole process."
Marcia Heroux Pounds can be reached at email@example.com or 561-243-6650.
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||Bird, Pamela Riddle
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