not offered a nondisclosure, then it certainly was a mistake. Concerning the deposit, we would only ask for one if the inventor wanted to move forward with our services.”
Determined to see the process through, Johnson began her own online research. “I went to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office Website, which gives you all the steps you need to follow,” recalls Johnson, who hired an attorney to help her with the patent application. “When searching for a manufacturer, I drew up a nondisclosure agreement, which I had them sign before sharing my idea with them, and I chose the best manufacturer for me and my product.”
Because of her experience with InventHelp, Johnson took a more cautious approach to hiring help, and her caution paid off. She applied for a patent in April 2005, and the Total Travel Bag now has a patent pending. She estimates she invested only about $2,400 to get her product to market.
Last spring, Johnson left her job as a paralegal to work full time on building her company, Jaz Innovations Inc. Her Total Travel Bag (www.totaltravelbag.com) is sold in baby boutiques, on TV, and via the Internet, including at BabyUniverse.com. Johnson is currently in negotiations with two major retailers, Target and Seventh Avenue, to carry the bag. Sales in 2006 reached 2,800 units and $280,000; her profits were $98,000.
Helping Black Inventors
In 2003, Flowers founded the Chicago 1st Black Inventors/Entrepreneurs Organization (www.cfbieo.org)
to help guide inventors through the development process. “When I was working on getting my product to market, I got a lot of help from my community,” says Flowers, who lives in Chicago. “Friends, family, and neighbors all scraped money together until I had enough to get my product patented and manufactured.” He is determined to return the favor.
The organization has 75 members, all of whom have been helped by its services, which include providing members with idea evaluations, invention process workshops, market strategies, and guidance from the group’s carefully screened network of attorneys, manufacturers, and marketing professionals. Flowers adds, “African Americans have always been inventive, but we haven’t always known that our ideas have value or enjoyed the associated wealth.”
Be Smart: Determine the Legitimacy of an Invention Promotion Firm
Get what you pay for. A reputable invention promotion firm will not ask for large amounts of money up front. Such firms depend on royalties from the successful licensing of client inventions and are selective about whom they work with. If a rep tells you that your idea has merit and then asks for lots of money in advance, the firm is probably not legitimate and you should take your idea elsewhere.
“Our philosophy is that inventors should be in the business of cashing checks, not writing them,” says Michael Collins, CEO of Big Idea Group (www.bigidea group.net), a well — respected invention promotion firm that profits only by receiving a percentage of the royalties earned on a successful product.
Investigate promotion firms before giving them any money. The American Inventors Protection Act of 1999 grants inventors the right