Don’t put your invention on TV

Invention and TV is rarely a good mix. The relatively unlamented Tomorrow’s World was widely regarded as the kiss of death for any invention that appeared on it, and history may be about to repeat itself as Channel 4 and TwoFour Productions tool up for Future Family, a five-parter ‘in which one normal family’s entire lives are transformed using the latest environmental and energy-saving technology, cutting edge gadgets and gizmos’.

So TwoFour Productions are on the hunt for programme fodder.

…whether you’ve got a cracking gizmo for saving time and energy in the kitchen, a gadget that will change the face of working from home forever or a superb idea of how to heat a house more efficiently – we want to hear from you. Your invention could feature in the Future Family programme or in our series of online videos. Download an application form and send us details of your idea…’

For seasoned inventors, alarm bells will by now be ringing furiously. TV means disclosure, and in very few circumstances is disclosure good for an invention that isn’t already on the market. So how do the programme makers deal with this? In our opinion, poorly.

The application form is very simple – too simple. You have to supply a video and photos, describe it (lots of disclosure there, straight away) and state its ‘Stage of creation: Concept/prototype/ready for manufacture’.

In other words, they expect to get pre-market inventions. Which is when protection from disclosure matters most.

The form doesn’t ask about ‘Stage of IP protection’ – and it should, because it includes this:

Before submitting your Invention please note that it is your responsibility to acquire any patent, design, copyright other protection before submitting your application to us as Inventions will not be kept confidential.


In our view that isn’t a strong enough warning. Anyone new to invention may not fully appreciate just how damaging premature disclosure can be, or how equally damaging it can be to prematurely patent an idea just to give it a chance of being shown on TV. (For more detail read A Better Mousetrap and Patenting Your Invention: the Ugly Truth).

If TwoFour Productions mean what they say at the end of the form, about The welfare of contributors [being] paramount…’, they really should go into much more detail about the risks inventors run by applying to, let alone taking part in the programme.

But then they probably wouldn’t have a programme. In most cases, the only justification for putting your invention on TV if it isn’t already on sale or on the verge of production is if you’ve tried every other means of commercialising it and have run out of options. (It’s said that Trevor Baylis’ clockwork radio fell into this category). Most inventors with only a concept or prototype won’t be anywhere near that stage of desperation, so we’d reckon that the number of inventors likely to benefit from exposure on Future Family is very low.

We think Future Family is a misconceived and borderline irresponsible concept. The lure of being on telly is strong though, so we expect to be ignored in droves. But that doesn’t change our advice to inventors: if you’re serious about your invention and its commercial prospects, don’t touch Future Family with a barge pole.



  • 9 Jun 2011 | Permalink |


    I wasn’t aware of the show, so good post. I agree with your points on premature exposure, though got the impression your not a big fan even for protected / launching products? Surely if the Protection is in place any exposure is good exposure? Agreed that this isn’t going to be the case with the Future Family and agreed it looks therefore exploitative.

  • abettermousetrapcouk
    9 Jun 2011 | Permalink |

    Hi Chris

    The default position should always be not to publicise an invention at any pre-market stage if there is no good commercial reason to do so. It won’t harm to keep it under wraps but it may harm to disclose it, especially if the time elapsed between TV broadcast and product launch is long enough for a competitor to run a spoiler of some kind. It might also sour relationships with investors, licensees, business partners, retailers… You can’t predict what the repercussions might be, so you should never be persuaded to disclose just to please a TV company.

    Another factor is that you’re unlikely to have much say in how your invention is presented on TV. If viewers get a false impression of your product, or are given misleading information, it could take you a long time to recover from it. Misrepresentation does happen, so it’s a real risk that you can do without.

    • 15 Jun 2011 | Permalink |

      I agree on the whole, I was thinking of projects where we at Flynn Product Design, work with a client who is pre launch, a protected design that is essential raising awareness and looking for reorders. The old maxim any exposure is good exposure, certainly isnt true all the time. As long as you play your cards right and are perhaps realistic about how long you expect your invention or product to be a market leader without direct competition and you have rights to the IP. I would actively encourage business to promote their work any way they can. If it gets bad PR from its users, its probably not a winner anyway. I think the question is, as you mentioned, one of timing and having a smart strategy. Using every type of media available such you have whipped up demand for your product sometimes with presales that can offset your costs to market.
      Still I agree with the cautionary tale of the TV show in question.