How to Not Get Ripped Off Bringing Your Invention to Market
Learn how to avoid being ripped off by predatory invention promotion companies that are just big scams.
Invention promotion firms want one thing – your money. They don’t really care if your product is a success or not, because they are only focused on scamming you and taking your money. They have no interest in seeing your product succeed.
To hook you, they focus on telling you what they think you want to hear, instead of what you really need to hear.
Invention promotion firms, InventHelp is one well known one, will usually start by offering you a free product evaluation. This is so they can begin the process of telling you what you want to hear and getting your hopes up.
Invention promotion companies will constantly try to extract money from you without ever explaining the big picture or all the work and money that goes into developing a product.
After you do the free evaluation, of course they’re going to have someone call you and say something like this, “Your product is a great idea. Our research department is really excited about it, and they’ve never seen anything like it!”
They’re going to claim that your product is completely unique, there’s nothing else like it on the market, and you have the potential to make some really big money.
Now, they’ve got your hopes up. You’re seeing dollar signs. A lot of them.
A common next step for an invention promotion company is to sell you a marketing report. This report is a boilerplate report. It’s all generic information, and has nothing to do specifically with your product.
It really just says how much market demand there is for your product. It will be a positive, wishful-thinking type of report where they tell you, once again, what you want to hear.
They’ll typically charge you a few hundred dollars, or maybe up to a $1,000 for this report, to keep you in their sales trap. They want to keep getting more and more money out of you, so they keep you blinded to the big picture, which is all the work and money that it actually takes to get a product on the market.
Continuing to tell you what you want to hear, you may be asked to pay for a patent search. Many times they have not done any patent search at all, or if they have, they maybe Googled related terms.
But they will never come back and say “Hey, we found another product like yours. Your product is not something that we can work with.”
They will always say that your product is unique and that you qualify for their process, like it’s some big reward. They make it seem as if you’ve met their approval standards, which is just another way of making you feel like your product is extra special.
In reality, they will take money from anyone regardless of the product idea. Most of these invention firms don’t even have patent attorneys or engineers.
They’re just interested in making a sale and getting your money, and they don’t really have any interest in educating you or teaching you how to actually make your product succeed.
Invention promotion firms will eventually try to sell you a patent review and a full patent. These are both things that you can accomplish on your own for less money.
Start your own patent review by googling for competing products like your own. Often this is all you need to do to discover that someone has already had your “great” idea.
Next, perform your own patent search on the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s website (or similar government agencies for those not selling in the U.S).
If you decide to pursue a full patent then you’ll eventually need to hire a patent attorney who can do a more thorough patent search. But I recommend that you start with a low cost provisional patent application which protects your idea for one year.
You can then use this one year of time to learn as much as possible so you can decide if your product is worth pursuing, and whether you’re willing to do what it takes to get it to market.
Patents are always a focus for inventors, mostly because its an easy goal to achieve. I’m not saying getting a patent is necessarily simple or cheap, but it’s a goal that most people feel they can accomplish one way or another.
You may get a patent certificate and hang it up in your office. But really, what do you have besides a piece of paper?
My feelings on patents are they tend to be focused on way too much. I think they’re just a huge financial drain. To get a patent is at least around $10,000, and it typically takes a couple years to obtain.
Never forget that 97% of patents never make any money! They never make it to market.
Over focusing on patents is part of a process, or sales pitch, that over emphasizes the product idea itself.
Anyone can have a great idea. What separates the doers from the dreamers, and the winners from the losers, is the execution. That’s where you’re going to differentiate yourself.
Execution is what will make you successful, not ideas.
Invention promotion companies want clients who are looking for the easy path to success. They prey on people who think “I have this great idea. Now, I need to find an easy way to sell this idea and start making money.”
That mindset is what invention marketing companies use to lure you in. But you have to realize, there is no easy path to get a product on the market. It doesn’t exist. It takes a lot of blood, sweat, and tears to make it happen!
Licensing Deals are Rare
Licensing is a common strategy, or dream I should say, of inventors because it seems like an easy way to make money off of your idea.
Invention promotion companies will try to sell you on the idea of obtaining a licensing deal. They will talk about how they can potentially license your idea, and that you are going to make lots of royalties off the licensing.
But in reality, that doesn’t happen.
You’re not going to license a product just based on an idea. You may be able to license a product once you’ve got the product developed and manufactured, and you have some initial success with sales.
You’ve executed, and now your entire idea and your execution has some value.
At that point, you may be able to get a licensing agreement, although they are still uncommon. Getting a licensing agreement is not something you can do upfront, based only on your idea. Just erase that idea from your mind.
So what is the easy path? I know licensing seems like an easy path, but searching for those easy shortcuts is what opens you up to being scammed.
Invention promotion firms will always offer you a product evaluation. This is how they start their sales pitch process.
Some invention promotion companies, like InventHelp, want you to think that they’re not a scam, so be wary of their claims. For example, InventHelp refers to themselves as the “Honest Invention Company”, and they have a whole webpage and chart distinguishing InventHelp from “Dishonest Companies”.
Entrepreneur Sherry Porter would definitely not call InventHelp honest. She paid InventHelp $9,700 to market an LED pet collar. An InventHelp office in her area contacted her, saying a company called Abrams Gentile Entertainment wanted to license her pet collar.
When investigators went to the office of Abrams Gentile, it was empty. The company had never existed.
Sherry Porter’s case became part of a 2018 class action law suit in New York against InventHelp. The case, Zanotti et al v. Invention Submission Corporation et al, revealed the abysmal rate of success for companies like InventHelp.
Between 2015 and 2017 only 0.75% of InventHelp clients made more money than they paid to InventHelp! InventHelp signed “submission agreements” with 6,564 clients, but only 49 of them made more money than they paid.
The invention promotion company Davison was even worse. They reported that in the last five years only 15 of their clients made more money than they paid to Davison.
None of these scam companies are really trying to make your product succeed. Their success is getting your money, not earning money from licensing or selling your product.
They may say things like “We’re going to submit your idea to thousands of different industry experts or companies that we have agreements with,” and they are the ones to give their opinion.
Once again, their opinion doesn’t matter either. There is only one way to really know if a product is going to be successful. You have to test it.
However, don’t confuse this with getting opinions from experts in regards to the feasibility of developing, manufacturing, and delivering your product. Don’t ever trust the opinion of any individual in regards to whether your product will sell or be successful.
But, do trust the opinion of experts about the process of getting the product developed and on the market. This type of feedback is essential to get as soon as possible and is what you will get inside my Hardware Academy program if you request feedback on your product.
Testing your Product
You need to find the fastest and cheapest route to being able to test your product.
You can have every expert in the world tell you that your product is a huge hit, but it can still fail when it is actually on the market.
I’ve said before that “you have to think like a scientist.” Think of your product’s success as your hypothesis. You then need to prove or disprove your hypothesis which means testing it.
This can be complicated with a hardware product. You have to actually have something to be able to test, right?
Well, that’s one of the beauties of crowdfunding. Crowdfunding allows you to test a hardware product in exchange for real money, making it a valid, real-world test.
With crowdfunding you don’t necessarily need to have the product ready for the market. You need to have made considerable progress and you should have a high quality prototype.
But, this is still a lot better than having to wait until you get the product completely on the market before you get any market feedback.
It still takes a ton more work to manufacture a product after you have a prototype. So being able to test your product before having manufacturing up and running is a huge benefit of crowdfunding.
Don’t put any emphasis on market evaluations that invention promotion companies want to sell. Invention firms focus only on the easy steps that give you something deliverable.
That’s why they heavily focus on selling you a patent. Like I said, that’s an easily definable goal.
Invention companies will also try to sell you a pretty, 3D model of your product, with a video that shows your product spinning around. This may seem like a real, fundamental step forward.
You do eventually need a 3D model of your product, but you need it for prototyping and manufacturing. Most likely, nothing that you have done with these firms is something that can be manufactured.
Remember, you aren’t working with engineers, but rather con artists and salespeople.
The Work Is Up to You
In general, invention firms, will focus on a lot of the things that they think inventors don’t want to do.
The truth is, you have to do the research on your product’s market.
You have to be the one to handle the product development and set up manufacturing. You have to handle marketing and sales, and raising money.
You have to do everything, at least initially.
I don’t mean entirely by yourself. You don’t have to hide away for two years and do all this stuff on your own. Obviously, you need to bring in experts.
It’s a mistake to try to do everything yourself. You have to bring in experts but you have to be the one in charge. You have to be the one that’s managing all these pieces, and handling them, and making all the critical decisions.
If you are thinking you can hand off your idea and let someone else do all the work, you need a totally different goal!
You will never be a successful entrepreneur with that attitude.
Only you can make this dream of yours happen.
Other content you may like:
- Why Patents Are a Death Trap for Entrepreneurs and Inventors
- How to Protect Yourself While Bringing Your Product to Market
- Lesson 1: The Strategic Way to Develop and Sell Your New Electronic Hardware Product
- How to Validate Your New Product Idea
- Patent, Copyright, Trademark, or NDA: How to Protect Your Idea
I’ve got a story for you. I spent six years designing,developing and then getting my product out in the real world.
I have a BS in Mechanical engineering and spent 13 years working in a manufacturering plant.
My product was a on / off muzzle brake and I sold a lot of them I was at the point of getting some CNC equipment and ramping up for mass production.
That’s when I had a fire arm manufacturer send a letter informing me they held a patent on a similar device and I had to stop production.
My company name was Cp muzzle brakes you can Google it to see some reviews I had.
I’ve got some other products I would like to bring to market but to be honest. You have to devote your life to doing something like this and I don’t know if I’ve got that left in me.
I have spoken with a representative of a similar service.
The “You have a terrific idea” speech was obviously insincere,
especially when it was obvious that they didn’t understand the idea at all.
And they get really sheepish when asked to reveal their success rate.
BTW, 49 of 6,564 clients is a ratio of 0.0075, which is 0.75%.
That’s still abysmally low, but not as bad as what you printed.
Anyone smart enough to have a good idea should be smart enough to see
that ‘invention help’ services offer no actual value, they just want your money
in exchange for empty promises.
So, good article, except for your math.
Thanks Raleigh for your comment and for sharing your experience.
Also thanks for catching the arithmetic error which is now fixed.
I wanted to add that the 1999 American Inventors Protection Act, designed to protect inventors, requires by law that Invention promotion companies disclose their success/failure rates. Be sure to ask for any relevant statistics before paying a promotion or marketing company! By law they have to tell you how many of their clients made more money that they paid. This can help you weed out the bad characters from anyone legitimate.
Great suggestion, thank you for sharing!
Nice article! It is really awful how these companies are ripping people off.
I must admit that I also have poor experiences with the more conventional PR and marketing agencies. They promise you lots of media attention and journalists connections, but never give you any guarantees. I lost a lot of money this way.
I did get a lot of publicity, for free!
Thanks Simone for your comment and sharing your experiences with marketing and PR firms. My experience is also they are a waste of money, although not necessarily a scam.
Thank you for your insights, John. But I’m afraid I can’t fully agree with everything.
Full disclosure: I’ve been an engineer for more than 20 years, I’m now an innovation strategy consultant. I’m not self-advertizing (hopefully my contact info won’t appear with this comment), just trying to give another perspective with facts.
I do what you despise for a living. I do marketing studies for “inventors”, I do connect researchers with licensees, I do all of this, and much more. Not all marketing specialists are scammers. My customers are happy with my work. Most are returning customers. Some are government workers.
The difference is in ethics. I do real work. I don’t resell generic obsolete off-the-shelf reports for $1000. One recent marketing study I conducted took 3 months to complete. I interviewed about 30 cross-sector experts. The report is about 100 pages, totally dedicated to one single product (a technology in fact). I established contacts with 21 leads, 3 of them licensed the tech. I billed 15,000€ for my service. The customer was delighted to pay. Where is the scam?
As an engineer and creator, you don’t have to do everything by yourself. But you have to understand everything.
But enough critics! Here is my contribution with a few tips to select an innovation advisor:
– ask about their technical specialties, product-wise. They must be somehow related to your product. Jacks of all trades are a no. You don’t assess a smartphone accessory like a diaper for newborns.
– get references, and check them.
– ask about the methodology. Market assessment and valuation are an art more than a science, but the author must be able to explain the recipe and it has to make sense.
– ask for a sample report, see how specific it is, check the data sources. Confidentiality is a common excuse for not providing a sample report. BS!
– use common sense and trust your guts. Not sure? Say sorry, and move on.
As a senior engineer myself, I totally get your engineering bias, John. Engineering creates the value. But marketing is what puts it in your pocket. Or warns you when necessary. I must admit that marketing advisors outnumber engineers in the scam industry, but black sheep are not a generality.
Wow thanks for your excellent comment and feedback. By no means am I pro “engineering” and anti “marketing”. In fact, in many of my articles I state that most entrepreneurs focus way too much on development and ignore marketing until it is too late. So I agree that marketing is absolutely essential! I think marketing is likely the biggest missing ingredient I see from new entrepreneurs. They put their head down and focus solely on development without looking around to understand their market. Engineering without marketing is well… just inventing:) I’d say that marketing is the most important piece to success in fact. Development will eventually conclude for a new product, but marketing goes on for ever!
This article was meant to be a comment on scam promotion companies that don’t really do any marketing research, and are just a scam to get your money.
Thanks again for taking the time to share your thoughts and I really do appreciate it!
Hi do you help with people trying with there inventions
Yes we do, mainly if it contains electronics. We don’t do the work ourselves but we offer 3rd-party guidance to help you avoid expensive mistakes through my Hardware Academy program.
Thanks John – Edison’s quip that success is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration still holds true. And yet – like you – I see a lot of inventors trying to outsource the perspiration part. If you the inventor are not the hard working champion of your idea, no one else will do the work for you. And then you are open to the scammers called out in this article.
Very nicely said Peter! I should have used that Edison quote in the article:)
“You have to do everything.” These are most important five words for people wanting to get any product on the market to completely wrap their minds’ around. And, to be able to do everything, one must understand everything. Thanks for doing a great service, John, by providing these blogs. They are the best introductions to all the processes out there.
Thank you Paul, I really appreciate your comment and feedback! Although you don’t of course have to do everything absolutely by yourself, you do absolutely have to at least understand everything so you can manage all of these pieces. You can manage a project without a detailed knowledge of every tiny detail, but you need need at least enough understanding to know if those doing the work are doing a good job. This is where I think getting independent design reviews can also help if you lack those skills to judge the quality of work.
You don’t have to be a design engineer, but you should know some of the basics. You absolutely must be willing to learn, and learn a ton!
Awesome !!!! A real eye opener!!! Truth is bitter but in the end, it will save you from tons of headaches and frustrations…!!
Thanks Babu! I don’t ever try to sugar coat things. I really want to help people succeed and that requires I be fully honest about what it takes to make this all happen.
Great write up. Those are the things you don’t want to hear unless you are after truth.