Are you serious? Inventors and ‘inventors’


This is a touchy subject but it’ll probably be familiar to anyone who deals with inventors. It’s about the difference between real inventors and people who like to think they’re inventors.

At that difference is revealed most starkly in the messages we get via our enquiry webform. When we put that form there, we lived in hope of intelligent questions about invention, patenting, marketing or whatever, from intelligent people.

And indeed we do get intelligent questions from intelligent people. But we also get lots of time-wasting drivel, from ‘inventors’ who seem to have no idea how to communicate.

So curt and poorly written are their messages – they clearly get exhausted after about four lines – that it seems they want us not only to supply an answer, but the question too. And it’s nearly always a variant of: ‘I’ve got this invention. I’m poor and helpless. What can you do for me?’

The only sensible answer is: ‘Read the website you’ve just sent your message from. It’s all there. If you want us to help with your invention, you need to become a client. And that means spending a bit of money.’

Sometimes we reply with a longer and more tactful version of that message. But our reservoir of sweetness and light is running dry and we now increasingly ignore them. Because, to reverse the L’Oréal advertising slogan, they’re not worth it. Experience teaches that at the first suggestion of paying for a professional invention service they vanish, presumably to move on and pester someone else.

Why are they so annoying? Because they poison the pool. They make it less easy for real inventors to be welcomed and taken seriously by businesses and organisations not used to dealing with inventors.

And they get up the nose of people and organisations like us, who do understand invention and really can help, but can’t do it for nothing or they’d starve. They don’t comprehend that calling yourself an inventor does not impose a moral obligation on others to help.

They’re what we at call ‘magic wand inventors’. Because what they really want is a magician – and a free magician at that – to transform their fortunes without it costing them any effort.

So what’s all our frothing at the mouth leading up to?

Only this. That the first big self-examination question for any inventor should be: are you serious about inventing, or are you just out to waste other people’s time?

It’s a harsh question but a valid one. As we try to explain in A Better Mousetrap, invention is primarily about creating a new business opportunity, not a new product. Like it or not, the market is always going to be the judge of what is or is not a great invention. And the market isn’t a holiday camp.

So if you want to be serious about your invention idea, you have to be serious in two stages.

First: serious about researching its prospects. No matter if it turns out that it’s unlikely to fly. You’ve handled the exercise with diligence and responsibility, and that earns you respect.

Second: if your invention idea passes the fundamental test of originality and market potential, you have to be serious about turning it into commercial reality. Other people will help, but only if you can prove your own commitment to your own invention project.

Invention can be rewarding, challenging, absorbing, frustrating, exciting. And that makes it emphatically not a game for internet slackers and dreamers.

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