You've seen them -- industries that feed on the success or misfortune of others. "Ambulance Chasers" are probably the most famous, but it's in the patent world as well. On the benign side, there are people who want to sell you a placard or certificate commemorating your achievement. On the caustic side, there are people who want a piece of what you've accomplished -- perhaps even get you to sign away your patent rights. While all sound enticing, these are patent vultures circling. BEWARE!
Nearly every time a new patent issues for me, a swarm of vultures swoop in with offers "I can't refuse". They make it sound so wonderful with one of many siren songs:
"You deserve recognition for your achievement."
Or worse, "Let us fund your patent to market."
Or, "We'll get you a license contract and you'll be on the road to riches!"
Of course, it's not my intention in any way to disparage inventors. We love inventors. Receiving a patent is a great accomplishment and I'd like to be the first to say "Congratulations!" This article is not about inventors, but about the patent vultures who follow them. The info here is a warning to consider carefully before signing up with an offer. They don't follow the patent award trail just to give you kudos.
Since it's fresh, I'll share a few that came along after our most recent patent award.
Of course, you just received notice that a patent is granted for your work. It's a time to celebrate! You're in high spirits, then a letter comes stating how you deserve recognition for the occasion. "This is a notable achievement; and we'd like to help you commemorate it" it says.
Certainly a plaque makes a nice memento as an acknowledgement of your success.
I have to admit, the awards they offer do look nice, but they are expensive. I'm not knocking the concept, just giving a warning that these will come looking to extract dollars from your pocket.
As a side note, my wife says me she really wanted to get one of these for me when I got my first patent. However, it wasn't long until more patent awards came, and she realize that the trend would probably continue. Good thing she didn't start that precedent.
Patent Holder Beware Of Vultures!
A framed award is pretty benign, but there are many more offers that are not so simple. Other offers for "Venture Funding" or "Patents to Market" will likely come. While these vary in causticness, they all come with hidden hooks. If it is tempting, then please consider the offers very carefully.
Please, make sure you know what they REALLY want. They'll dance around questions all day, because that's what shysters do, so if you feel at all off, turn tail and run.
These two images below show parts of letters that came from patent vultures looking for a piece of the pie. They are fun to read, and it's fun to imagine if they were really telling the truth, but I guarantee they have an angle, with a hook. They don't go fishing for nothing.
The Phone Call
The caller was a nice lady who congratulated me on the patent and said she knew the product would be a success. The purpose of the call is to schedule an appointment to discuss the details of the patent and license agreements with her boss. She made it sound like they wanted to make the license agreement and develop the product. I asked if she knew me, or anything about me. She admitted she did not.
I decided to play along to see their angle. I made the appointment, and suggested her boss do a little background checking prior to the call.
A couple days later, the call came from the boss. He was also nice as he explained how they find great inventions, then help inventors get license agreements. He was sure they could secure an agreement and I'd be on the road to riches. Just sit back and let them make me rich. ** Sounds so great, doesn't it! **
I asked a lot about his company, what they do, and who they work with. Sounds like they do a little bit of product development, but mostly they just secure leads and find other companies to complete the project. Sounds like they seek potential licensees and take a big cut of royalties. Interestingly, when I asked if he knew me, or anything about other patents I have, he said "no". I thought "Man, do your homework!"
After needling more so I understood how they work (he was very slippery with his answers), I mentioned my company, Synthesis Engineering Services. Told him he should have looked up my name in a patent search. Needless to say, the call ended soon after mentioning Synthesis.
How To Profit From A Patent?
So you come up with a really wonderful idea. The natural thing is to prototype with it some, and prove to yourself that the idea really is great. The next step for many people is submitting for a patent. Truly, the aura of owning a patent has a nice appeal, and we all know stories of folks who get rich with patents.
The Patent Vultures understand full well the dilemma that faces most new patent holders. How do you profit from the patent? Now that you have the patent, how do you make money with it?
That's much harder than most inventors think. "If you build it they will come" rarely works.
Yes, the first step is the idea, and some work with it, but Product Development is not as easy as it might seem. Making it work perfect in (almost) any situation is effort. Making it manufacturable and fit the cost targets -- while being durable is work. Finding manufacturers and all that goes into distribution is often far more time consuming and expensive than you imagine. By the time the patent actually issues, most inventors have come face to face with these realities and don't know where to turn.
So, the patent vultures swoop in disguised as white knights ready to bring you the cash. The problem is, they first want your cash, OR they want rights to your patent. Or, perhaps a different angle. Either way, they know how to ask the leading questions. They also fully understand your lack of familiarity with how to make it all come together, and they feed on your desire to have the patent turn a profit. Patent vultures know exactly what they're doing.
Please don't get caught in their net.
Over the years, I've met dozens of inventors that tell their own version of this story: They signed up with a company "Patent Vulture" that promised them the world. After many payments and disappointments, ___________ (fill in the blank). They ran out of money and the company dumped them. Or, after a long time the company decided they didn't really have a good product. Or, the company copied their invention with some modifications and began selling that and the patent holder was left with nothing. There are others. I have only actually heard of one success story where the inventor felt they had been treated fairly.
At Synthesis we've picked up the pieces on many such debacles. It makes me sad each time.
To be clear, Synthesis does not actively look for inventors. We do Product Design and Development which sometimes includes working with inventors, but we do not ask for ownership in your patent. We also do not help you find investors or license agreements. Our forte is Engineering, not marketing or licensing. We also do not buy patents or rights or licenses. That's not our business.
Avoid the Patent Vultures, and Press Forward
If you are an inventor, we suggest you first look through our Inventors Lab (several pages). It is there for you. If it seems simplistic, then read it again.
We don't like seeing people taken advantage of. That's especially true of inventors -- because we are one. Just avoid the patent vultures and you'll be a lot better off. If you really want help with the product or licensing, seek them out yourself -- and look really hard to find the real deal good guys. They are out there, but be super careful.