I suppose that many readers have seen a jovial George Forman (former prize fighter and inventor of the famous George Forman grill) on TV saying, “My friends are always asking me, ‘George, what do I do with my idea for a new product?’ and I tell them, go see my friends at The Inventor’s Workplace.” (Name changed to protect myself from lawsuits.)
So I finally did go to their web site targeted toward would-be inventors. The company web site is very slick with all sorts of pictures showing their extensive facilities, laboratories, manufacturing shops, conference rooms and numerous staff “experts.” (I did notice that the same three or four faces appeared over and over again in their offices and laboratories. Hm, apparently that staff is not as extensive as they claim.) Some of the teaser phrases that they use are – “No cost consultation”, “Tight security and confidentiality of your idea”, and “We license a product every 3 days.” (Who could resist that last one?)
The company pitch is that they will take your idea and study it. Then they will do what they call a Product-related Data Search which in English means a search to see if there are any similar products or processes currently on the market. Then they will do a 20-year Patent Search. That, translated, means that they will see if there are any patents for similar products going back twenty years.
The cost for all this? $685.
I have thought for a long time that there is no idea that is too ludicrous or outlandish to cause these companies to turn you down and tell you that it won’t work and to not waste your money on it. So for the fun of it (and since I am retired and don’t have anything better to do) I decided to see how far this company would go with me if I were to come up with some obviously idiotic “invention.” I filled out their on-line application which included all sorts of intimate details about me and my family including such things as “the name of my Uncle Charlie’s first girl friend” and “what was my favorite marsupial” (as if I even knew what a marsupial is, much less which one was my favorite) and finally came to the box that asked me to describe my idea. I told them that I had developed a method for chrome plating mashed potatoes. (Don’t ask me who would ever want to do that or what earthly use there could be for something like that.)
As idiotic as the idea was, that didn’t seem to bother them at all. Apparently, as I suspected, there is no idea is too ludicrous for them to reject or to tell the would-be inventor that his idea is worthless. I had several telephone conversations with one of their representatives (translation – salesman) and during one of them he asked me what uses I saw for the process. I replied that I really didn’t know what it was good for and I was hoping that with their vast experience in developing products, they could tell me whether it was feasible or not. In a later conversation, I started to be very negative about the idea and expressed doubts about it. I wanted to see if he would give me an honest opinion and agree with me that perhaps it wasn’t exactly the greatest idea since the invention of chocolate covered peanuts. He never did.
Also, during one of our initial conversations I also asked whether the company was willing to sign a Confidentiality/Non-Disclosure Agreement with me. He replied that I already had one! When I asked how that was possible since I had only had telephone conversations, he replied that when I submitted my initial form on line – and “signed” it by checking a box – that had generated an automatic agreement that they had signed at their end. He was surprised when I told him that having the copy at their end didn’t give me much protection (actually it gives me exactly zero protection). Then he offered to mail me a copy – and he did – but I couldn’t help wondering how many unsophisticated inventors accept his word about being “protected.”
I never could get him to tell me honestly that it wasn’t a great idea; much less that it was a totally impractical one. On the contrary, he called me back several times to ask if I was ready to proceed with the idea – the first step being my sending them that check for the $685. I told him that I thought the best approach would be to do some sort of feasibility or market study to see if anyone would actually buy something as ludicrous as a chrome plated mashed potato. (I left out the part about its being a dumb idea.) He replied that his company didn’t do that sort of thing and that I should go to a market research company. (I thought that was what they were.)
I finally got tired of the charade and told the representative that I did not think they could help me. But I can’t help wondering how many people waste their time and money with a company like this.
P.S. I am sending a copy of this column to the man I spoke to.
©2016 Paul Burri
Paul Burri is a retired inventor & entrepreneur. writer, columnist. life-long woodworker, photographer, general know-it-all. He lives with his wife in Santa Barbara CA