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Inventor Beware

by In-Fisherman   |  July 2nd, 2012 0

How to Make a Million on Fishing

“The invention-development field is loaded with con men, rip-off artists and downright crooks. At any given time, a number of them are being prosecuted for gross misrepresentation and fraud.” -Invention-development company brochure.

So you invent miracle lures and must-have accessories. Wanna make a million, you say? Step right this way, there’s a bridge in Brooklyn you simply must see.

Want us to look at your invention? Leave a card. We’ll call you. Not that we mean to be brusk, but we’ve seen ‘em all. Dispensers attached to lures that release scent products “only as needed.” Combination hook remover, bottle opener, fish finder, barometer, scalers. Lures that set hooks for you. Hooks that remove fish for you. (I’ve been using those for years.) Tackle boxes that weigh ‘em, scale ‘em, debone ‘em, and phone home. “Bassomatic” fish scalers. Lighted bobbers with back-up lighting systems. The “Aerodynamically Reusable Sinker.” It goes on and on and on.

Our wobbling desks are overburdened with plans for everything from jigs that tie themselves on your line to a carrying case for tip-ups. Someone sent us blueprints for a tip-up that fires flares. Should you buy it or fireproof your ice house in case somebody else does?

We’re on this invention-development house hit list, supplying us not only with fishing gadget “breakthroughs,” but lots of other things. Unbelievable things. “Brain Bran,” for instance, increases your IQ by “50 points per bowl.” If you have any IQ to begin with, 4 bowls of Brain Bran and you’re smarter than Einstein — from Archie Comics to quantum physics before lunch, and regularity as a bonus.

It’s hilarious until you realize someone invested a portion of his life and his life savings inventing, testing, patenting, and attempting to market these things. For every successful invention there are 200 tales of misery.

Apparently the medicine-show era just never died. P.T. Barnum said, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” Some companies are busy proving him right. And like the Dr. Cure Ails and their amazing snake oils of earlier times, they deserve a fond tar-and-feather farewell.

A few of these companies tried to tar and feather me, companies willing to take money for ideas already patented or ideas so incredibly backward they couldn’t possibly succeed. Their insistence on having prospective clients check them with regulatory agencies like the Better Business Bureau made it hard to tell the bad guys from the truly rotten ones.

Even so, all is not doom and gloom for inventors. A modern fishing Edison pops up every so often. We mean to enlighten, not discourage. It’s not our fault that the system creates a long, hard road between idea and profit.

If you have an idea you think will revolutionize fishing, go for it. Good ideas are worth time and effort. But even the brightest ideas won’t survive a trip down the inventiondevelopment road for someone unaware of the pitfalls.

Take me for instance.

FRAUD

Worthwhile inventions reach the market through many doors. You can get a patent. You can get a trademark. Or you can skip the usual process and put all your time, effort, and money into production, sales, and distribution.

If you go the patent route, you start with a patent search, best accomplished with the help of a patent attorney. You can find your own or go through one of many invention development firms. You might find them advertising their services in the back pages of certain outdoor magazines: “Inventors: Free Information!”

Ideally, these firms would make money through careful screening. They would pick the best ideas, help inventors market them, and keep a small percentage of the royalties in perpetuity.

But the Practical Inventor’s Handbook, by Orville Greene and Frank Durr with John Berseth, says that, “only a small part of a patent-promotion group’s profits come from royalties. The mainstay of the businesses are fees received from inventors . . . be wary of those who fuel your fantasies.”

Deborah Malewicki, program manager for the Wisconsin Innovation Service Center, affiliated with the University of Wisconsin, says, “Inventors not only want to believe their idea is patentable, they typically believe it’s a major breakthrough. Many of these firms just tell inventors what they want to hear.”

I decided to see how far some of these companies would go to make a buck. I filled out applications from every invention-development firm I could find. I sent legitimate ideas, but for hooks and tackle already patented. All firms responded with letters of “Congratulations! We reviewed the information sent us and your invention passes our initial screening.” Initial screening, they tell me, is based on originality and marketability. Well, we already know fish hooks are marketable, but just how original was my idea?

The letters urged me to send from $200 to $750 for a patent search. Apparently prices vary wildly from company to company for the same basic service.

I decided to go one step farther with one of the firms. Using a product already patented by Gary M. Young of Michigan, something called the Sure-Set Hook, I applied for a patent search and paid the fee. The firm responded, claiming the coast was clear; they had turned up no conflicting patents. Hmmm. Now all we had to do was send them another $2,500 (minimum) for “patent application expenses, legal filings, submissions to industry, and followup work.” All this just to get moving in the attempt to patent my brilliantly original though slightly patented idea.

They established deadlines. I was to have my paperwork (the most prominent document being my signed personal check) completed within three weeks. The most I’d have to pay, they told me, was $10,000 to get the Sure-Set Hook patented (again).

Ok, maybe they goofed. Could be an oversight, right? Even the Patent and Trademark Office of the U.S. Department of Commerce occasionally issues a patent on something already patented, right? (Unfortunately, that’s right.)

Giving them the benefit of the doubt, I started a second campaign. This time I invented something original. There’s nothing on the market quite like it and God willing there never will be. It’s a scent product I called Salamander Essence, submitted to some firms, I’m deeply embarrassed to admit, as Hawg Slop.

I filled the application with red flags. The salamanders used to brew the concoction were described as an endangered species. The recipe included “waste solvents” obtained from a local factory. “Which I suspect is why the stuff glows in the dark,” I wrote. I included two products already trademarked: Aunt Jemima Pancake Syrup and Vaseline. With a few fish skins, everything goes into a blender and voila. Salamander Essence.

With no preservatives in the recipe, I warned, “Leave it in the sun and it gets nasty, but it still works.”

Applications were sent to a dozen firms. They all liked it. (Hey, Mikey!) Each firm congratulated me on my inventive spirit while making a spirited appeal to my pocket book.

We paid one company $200 for a patent search. They responded with an “Opinion of Patentability” from their patent attorney. I was in. In fact, they liked Salamander Essence so much they asked me for $4,950 to file a utility patent application with “no guarantee that a patent will be issued.”

No guarantees exist in the invention business, but why ask for so much up front? Maybe they figure anyone stupid enough to come up with Salamander Essence is stupid enough to pay them five grand with the immediate stipulation that he might lose it all with no recourse for reimbursement.

And where would it end? We didn’t care to invest the capital to see how far they might lead us down this splendiferous primrose path. All we know is that $5,000 represents a plenty big cut to a company that probably suspects the idea is going nowhere. I mean, if they don’t know “Hawg Slop” is going nowhere, would you want them on your team?

Worst of all, I’ve received calls at home from several of these companies. They lecture on moving swiftly, being aggressive, having faith in my idea-propaganda designed to loosen my grip on our savings account.

But that’s all right. Maybe they received a call of their own. Michael Blommer, executive director of the American Intellectual Property Law Association, advises us that the Federal Trade Commission is in the process of investigating several of these firms as our story goes to press.

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