Whorled View

May 1, 2008

Free Enterprise Gone Badly Awry

Filed under: finance,Lifestyles,Miscellaneous,Sociology,Technology — lullabyman @ 7:53 pm
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What in the name of all that is holy …

Why is that baby (is it human?) in a cage in the middle of the bed? And what happened to that baby’s legs and why does it’s face appear violently smashed flat by a steam roller? Notice how the caged baby is strategically placed between both parents so they can take both nuzzle up to the cold hard steel bars encasing their baby while simultaneously keeping the other parent at bay. And what’s with the evil smirk on the father’s face, I mean … is he facing the other direction as to not reveal to his blissfully clueless wife that this clever scheme was just a sick way to dupe her for some previous mishap? Then you have the mother … lovingly caressing the cage that’s pinning down their poor psychologically doomed infant. My friends, this is free enterprise gone badly awry.

Actually on paper this contraption must have sounded good … good enough that the artist-inventor (I can’t imagine anyone other than the inventor drew the picture … unless it was their 7 yr old) paid THOUSANDS of dollars to get it patented. The intent of the invention (let’s call it “the baby cage”) was to reduce the risk of SIDS. At least that’s what I gathered from it’s description at www.totallyabsurd.com … a website that mocks absurd patents like this one. It was probably invented by a traumatized parent who’s child died of SIDS, who now unfortunately thinks the answer is to put you baby in some cage on your bed, instead of a well designed crib. Never mind that all the doctors say that your mattress and padding is too soft and will increase the risk SIDS. Never mind that all research indicates the children raised in impersonal environments (read: cage) have an increased risk of SIDS. Never mind that your child’s first memories will be of being pinned down with steel bars, preparing them for a life of looking from behind similar looking bars.

While I hope I’d have the sense to never invent something like the above, I am ever increasingly aware how non-representative I am of the general public (which by the way fills me with a great sense of pride). Unfortunately I must also accept that being breathtakingly more intelligent than just about anyone else also qualifies me to come up with wonderful ideas that nobody else would get – and so my inventions simply wouldn’t sell as they’d likely be well “before their time”.

That’s why you do market analysis, people, no matter how intelligent or creative you are. All the baby-cage inventor would have needed to do is ask a dozen people at random what they thought, and they would have saved themselves a lot of money. Unfortunately I’m sure this person only asked his friends who responded with comments like: “Interesting” or “Wow. That’s creative.” or “You think of the most amazing things.” … all comments which the inventor surely took to be compliments and evidence that they’d be a complete idiot to not patent this infant-death-trap.

So I’ve compiled a list of what people fail to do before making it into the innovative hall of shame:

Rule #1) When you ask people about your idea, ask lots of complete strangers for their opinion, instead of asking your freinds. If I hate the idea I’ll lie to you. At least if you’re my friend that’s what I’ll do. Sorry. Yes, I’m a wus. It’s just that once I made the mistake of honestly answering my boss once when he asked about his design for a million-dollar machine. Two things happened: 1) He went ahead and used his design despite my criticism, which cost 10X more than expected, never worked, and eventually drove the company into bankruptcy, and 2) he never asked my opinion about anything else. Ever. That’s a true story.

Rule #2) Don’t be so paranoid. There are two kinds of inventors: 1) those with 1000’s of ideas, and they’ll share them freely while pursuing them … like Ben Franklin did, or like Thomas Edison did, and 2) those with maybe three ideas total in their little self-absorbed mind, and they guard these ideas with their lives. Sorry to break this to you, but if you’re of the second group your inventions suck. That’s just how it works out … less than 1/10th of 1% of inventions have any hope, and out of the other 99.9% there are many awesome ideas that didn’t sell for one of a million different reasons. If you aren’t producing 100’s of good ideas all the time, it’s doubtful that you’ll ever produce a winner.

Besides, if your idea was so great and unknown chances are it needs tons of development before it gets patented and nobody is willing to do that work except for you. Usually. Yes, there are stories, and they’re true, of multinational conglomerates stealing inventors ideas … but creative independent people will almost never steal another persons novel idea because they are so invested in their own ideas. And uncreative people are too stupid to know what to do with a great idea. So loosen up … and share your idea. Preferably you would share it with a potential partner who is interested in forming profitable and long-term relationships with unusually creative practical and intelligent people. I suggest http://www.evergreenip.com/. No, I’m not associated with them, but my Uncle, a lifelong inventor, works with them and they’re doing a number of his inventions.

Rule #3) Chill out. By this I mean write it down and forget about it. Go to a nice park. Walk around the park. Get involved in life. Again, forget about the idea. Then come back and look at the idea with fresh eyes. I’m sure had the infant-death-trap inventor had done this they’d have privately cringed in shame instead of publicly doing so. You know … once it’s in the patent database it’s there forever. You can’t remove it. It’s out there for all posterity to see and respond, “Gee what was that guy smoking?!” (which is a tad bit less encouraging than “Wow, you have quite an imagination”). Unfortunately inventors tend to think that great ideas grow on trees enough that if they don’t do something immediately someone will beat them to the punch. That’s not true. Take the iPod. There were MP3 players, many which were nearly as good, years before the iPod. Being first isn’t necessarily best. It’s being best that’s best.

Rule #4) Find out if a patent is the right thing. According to Newsweek “patents are usually worth less than the paper they are printed on”. This is because they’re either unnecessary, invalid, or just very weak.

Rule #5) Be prepared to spend a TON of money to do it right. DON’T DO IT YOURSELF, AND BE CAREFUL WHO YOU HAVE DO IT. Most patents are worthless because they were written poorly and are either too non-specific to have any valid claims or are so specific that they can easily be rendered useless.

Rule #6) Remember that protecting patents are 100X more expensive than acquiring them. Be prepared to pay this price, or at least give the patent the professional appearance that you are able to pay this price. THERE ARE NO PATENT POLICE. You are your own Patent police. Companies do the math … and if you look like some joe-nobody inventor they’ll calculate it’s worth walking all over you. This is one of the reasons you don’t want to do it yourself – to scare away unscrupulous corporations. Be prepared to fight multi-national corporations with bottomless pockets even if your patent is unbelievably well written. Often it’s worth it to them to drag it out as long as possible until you have less than nothing left.

Rule #7) Do a thorough search before spending too much time on it. I’ve made this mistake to find out someone already had a very thorough patent on an idea of mine. It was a CD case storage that doubled as a universal remote-controller for any mega-CD-player, so when you pressed on the CD case the CD would play. I’d spent hours making mockups and putting the idea online. It was already patented, and the patent holder was just sitting on it. I could have spent that time walking in the park and getting involved in life instead of wasting it on something that was already patented.

Gee … now don’t you have some warm feelings about just what a free enterprise we live in? Don’t get bummed. Keep thinking … and eventually one of those 1000 ideas of yours will be a home run.

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