Choose your invention company with care

From a news feed, here’s a cautionary tale of an invention help service that doesn’t actually help inventors. As stories go there isn’t much to it, but it bundles several lessons for anyone with an invention idea so let’s put it on a plate and carve it up.

(We’ve used fictitious names because the invention company’s business method isn’t unique. Other invention service providers in Europe and the USA use it, so it might be misleading to single one out for criticism.)

Inventor Mike had an invention idea: a portable toilet door lock [1] to address the problem of broken locks on toilet cubicles. He wanted professional help so he contacted an invention services company we’ll call Gizyer Inventions. They claim to help inventors patent inventions and submit them to companies [2].

According to Mike, the Gizyer salesman was impressed by his lock. Calling it ‘a great idea’ he said he’d ‘never heard of it before’ [3].

The Gizyer invention help package costs hundreds of dollars [4]. (Exactly how many, the story and the Gizyer website don’t say.) Unemployed Mike paid the equivalent of £150, saying he didn’t have any more. The salesman’s alleged reply was: ‘You probably won’t have to worry about the rest’ [5]. So Mike ‘reluctantly’ signed a contract, knowing he couldn’t pay any future instalments. Eventually a debt collection agency started chasing him. Mike feels aggrieved.

Gizyer Inventions dispute Mike’s story. ‘We do not assess anybody’s invention [6],’ they say. They warn about risk. And they tell clients it takes several weeks [7] for their patent attorneys to find out if there is already a patent on their invention idea.

And that’s it. Mike says he was misled, Gizyer Inventions says not. We say it takes two to tango.

However, if you’ve got an invention idea, pay attention. Referring back to the numbers in square brackets, the lessons are:

[1] Portable toilet door locks are not new. It took us 20 minutes to find at least three patents (US5253908, US5542723, US7980605) and at least three products (the cheapest here). Mike’s first move should have been to find out about prior art searching. A DIY search – fairly easy in this case – might have made him think more objectively about his invention idea’s prospects.

[2] Inventors should always analyse carefully what an invention company offers. The Gizyer invention service looks impressive but all they really do is package an invention idea and offer it to companies. Anybody could do that. And they don’t give IP advice. All they do is advise inventors to find, use and pay their own patent attorney. Anybody could do that too. It’s not our idea of helping inventors!

[3] If accurate, this is sales patter, not invention help. As noted, there is prior art. The salesman should have said: ‘Looks interesting, but first we’ll have to research it to see how much potential it has.’ But no potential might mean no sales commission. Be very wary if an invention company doesn’t flag up the possibility that your invention idea isn’t worth pursuing.

[4] Big questions arise here about cost transparency and value for money. There are no prices on the Gizyer website – a sales rep contacts you, whose job presumably is to make a sale. And what sounds like an expensive package omits vital prior art searching and invention evaluation, and leaves it to the inventor to arrange and pay separately for any patent attorney services. In our view an invention service provider that genuinely wants to help inventors should be open about prices and value.

[5]  A question of ethics here. If accurate, this is very dubious ‘invention help’. The inference is that Mike’s idea will make enough profit to cover Gizyer’s fees. At the signing-up stage where this was allegedly said, there would have been no evidence at all to justify saying it.

[6]  To say ‘we do not assess anybody’s invention’ is disarmingly frank but it knocks the bottom right out of any notion of invention help. Accepting invention ideas only on the inventor’s say-so is shirking responsibility, because many inventors new to the invention process haven’t the experience to assess their ideas. Competent invention evaluation is essential before spending serious money on an idea. If it’s not done, there’s a big risk that money will be wasted and hopes dashed. (We also wonder about the reaction of companies on the receiving end of invention ideas that fail even the most basic due diligence tests.)

[7]  This begs several questions. What if the inventor doesn’t use a patent attorney? (Remember, Gizyer won’t arrange this.) What if there is prior art in products but not in patents? What costs are being run up to the inventor’s account during those ‘several weeks’? A prior art search – including a patent search – is essential and should be done before anything else, because in light of it the invention idea may have to be modified or abandoned.

Get invention help – but the right kind of help

The sum of all these parts is that anyone with an invention idea can indeed benefit from the help of an invention service provider. But it has to be the right provider offering the right service. At the very least, find one that can do both prior art searching (patents, designs and products) and invention evaluation. Which is what does. Get either of those elements wrong, and you could end up a long way out of pocket with nothing to show for it.


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