Archive for February, 2008

Getting Your Invention On Store Shelves in 30 Days

Friday, February 29th, 2008

If your invention is done, functional, and ready for sale, congratulations! You have reached a plateau that few inventors ever see with their own eyes – a finished product that is destined for store shelves. But now, it’s crunch time. You want to be in stores 30 days from now. What do you do to prepare? That is the focus of today’s article.

If you want to sell in stores, there is a rule you need to know front to back, inside and out: “Show me the inventory.” That is the mindset of buyers and managers at nearly any store worth selling in. A article called “Selling to Stores” explores the issue further:

“Forget catalogs – store owners want to see the merchandise. Your sales will increase if you approach them with samples in your hands. Sales will increase even more if you have inventory to leave with them at that moment. While some stores will pay cash for their merchandise, most prefer terms of thirty days net.”


What this means in practical terms is that you had better have the capacity to create and store inventory. This is no small issue, and it should command your full attention if you are even thinking about getting into stores. Do you need to hire people to help you? Do you need to rent storage space to keep a certain number of units on hand? Do you have enough room in your house? (Make sure your wife and kids are on board before saying yes, it only creates problems later if you don’t!) The point is that keeping inventory will be a necessity for getting into (and staying in) stores. Do not approach the matter lightly.

Another consideration is that you probably cannot get your invention into huge, big-name department stores right away. An article called “Selling Your Invention” explains the more likely reality:

“Unless you’re very lucky or very connected, you probably won’t launch your product directly into mass-market retail stores like Target or Wal-Mart. Instead, there’s a product sales lifecycle you should follow that basically takes you from the ground up, allowing you to build sales in a smart, methodical fashion, starting with small independent retailers and moving up to the big guns.”

Instead of staking everything on the ill-premised hope of “Wal-Mart or bust”, the article outlines a more reliable and time-tested approach to getting – and staying – into stores.

o Start by selling directly to end-users. This’ll give you confidence in selling and create “referenceable” customers. You can also get their feedback on the product and packaging to make improvements before expanding your sales efforts.

o Once you’ve ironed out your product and packaging wrinkles, begin selling to local independent specialty stores and online stores. For instance, if you’ve designed a line of greeting cards, approach your local gift shops. Become successful with these retailers, and you’ll have the leverage and negotiating chops to go on to the next level.

If you take this kind of approach, getting into stores within 30 days becomes a realistic goal. However, you must still make sure that the invention itself is prepared for the store environment. Primarily, this is a matter of packaging. This should not be overlooked either, because packaging can add both weight and cost to your product. If it weighs more, it is more expensive to ship. And if the packaging itself costs a lot of money, that gets added to your costs as well, making your break-even point higher.

For this reason, it makes sense to use as little packaging and excess as you can get away with. Early on, cash is king, and you cannot afford to squander it on grandiose packaging that does nothing but make your invention seem big and flashy.

If you have figured out the answers to your inventory questions, set realistic goals for your in-store launch, and square away the matter of your packaging; you are just about ready to get your invention into stores.

What remains is a solid and easy-to-use system of keeping records. Once you start selling in stores, you will encounter a whole new series of record keeping issues relating to taxes, receipts, inventory statements, sales records, and all kinds of other paperwork. Without a reliable way to keep track of all this, your life will be considerably more difficult.

Therefore, you should invest the time to create one before your invention hits the shelves. That way you establish habits of organization before things spiral out of control and leave you in a mess of random papers.

If you do not have the capacity to get your product store ready yourself, you may want to consider licensing or selling your patent to an entrepreneur, retailer, or manufacturer who does.

With all of these matters taken care of, you will be better positioned to push for store shelves. Remember the strategy: avoid big stores at first, and build your track record at smaller outlets. It is a recipe for success that has been tried and battle-tested.

Eric Corl is the Founder and CEO of, the online marketplace for intellectual property that gives inventors the opportunity to showcase their intellectual property to consumer product companies, entrepreneurs, retailers, and manufacturers. You can email him at

Keep Going – Don’t Give Up

Monday, February 25th, 2008

These words are easy to say, but not always so easy to do. Nowhere is this truer than in your fight to invent something new or grow a prevailing business. As you strive to bring your vision to life, you will face countless obstacles and barriers to success. These obstacles can take on many different shapes and forms. Whether it is someone stealing your ideas, business partners flaking out, or even loved ones leaving you behind, the life of a creator is an ongoing test of wills. Can you learn to see the beauty in struggle and persist toward the life you desire?

The world of literature offers an inspiring example of what this attitude means in practice. In the groundbreaking novel “The Fountainhead”, readers meet an architect named Howard Roark. A few years into his career, Roark is alone, struggling financially, and consigned to working in an obscure rock quarry while his corrupt colleague basks in fame and prestigious assignments. While these circumstances are enough to reduce anyone to hopelessness and despair, Roark heroically refuses to give up. His reason?

“Throughout the centuries, there were men who took first steps down new roads, armed with nothing with their own vision. The great creators – the thinkers, the artists, the scientists, the inventors, stood alone against the main of their time. Every new thought was opposed, every new invention was denounced. But the men of unborrowed vision went ahead. They fought, they suffered, and they paid – but they won.”

By staying true to his vision, Roark persisted through his temporary hardships and ultimately triumphed in his chosen field. If you want to keep going, you need to become a man of unborrowed vision yourself.  But how can you do what Roark did? It’s one thing for a fictional character to inspire us to great things. It is another for a real flesh-and-blood person to actually do so. Fortunately, history is filled with strong-willed men and women who have done just that. Their larger-than-life stories offer us both wisdom and encouragement to keep going when we know that we should.

One of the most inspiring stories of all belongs to Steve Jobs. Most of us know Jobs as the high-flying founder of Apple, the man who brought us the iPod, iMac, and every movie to come out of Pixar’s studios. But in 1986, Jobs was anything but. Exiled from the company he started, Jobs found himself alone and for the first time in his life, without a purpose. Jobs offers a rare personal glimpse into this dark period of his life in a commencement speech he gave at Stanford University in 2005.

“I was lucky; I found what I wanted to do early in life. Woz and I started Apple in my parents’ garage when I was 20. We worked hard, and in 10 years, Apple had gone from just the two of us in a garage, into a $2 billion company with over 4,000 employees. We had just released our finest creation, the Macintosh, a year earlier, and I had just turned 30.”

If we stop the story there, many of us would envy Jobs. How many people can say that they found the work they love and achieved that type of success at such a young age? However, the story does not end there. Jobs continues:

“And then I got fired. How can you get fired from a company you started? Well, as Apple grew, we hired someone who I thought was very talented to run the company with me. And for the first year or so, things went well. But then our visions of the future began to diverge, and eventually, we had a falling out. When we did, our board of directors sided with him. And so at 30 I was out – and very publicly out. What had been the focus of my entire adult life was gone, and it was devastating. I didn’t really know what to do for a few months. I felt that I had let the previous generation of entrepreneurs down, that I had dropped the baton as it was being passed to me. I met with the board and tried to apologize for screwing up so badly. I was a very public failure and I even thought about running away from the valley.”

Here, we see Jobs at rock-bottom. The fruit of a life’s labor gone in the blink of an eye. A gaping void where a beaming pride and sense of direction once was. Against such crushing odds, a lesser person might have simply given up and resigned to failure. Not Jobs.

“But something slowly began to dawn on me: I still loved what I did. The turn of events at Apple had not changed that one bit. I’d been rejected, but I was still in love. And so I decided to start over. I didn’t see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could’ve ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life. During the next 5 years I started a company named NeXt, another company named Pixar, and fell in love with an amazing woman who would become my wife. Pixar is now the most successful animation studio in the world. In a remarkable turn of events, Apple bought NeXt, and I returned to Apple, and the technology we developed at NeXt is at the heart of Apple’s current renaissance. And Laureen and I have a wonderful family together.

Sometime’s life’s gonna hit you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith.”


Like Roark, Jobs was a man of unborrowed vision. Cast off from all of his material success and legacy, he retained what no outside force could take away: his intransigent love of what he did. There is a lesson here that every person should learn. It is not your social status, possessions, or professional ability that makes you who you are. They are important, but they are only effects, not causes. They are the just rewards of an attitude, of the refusal to let any hardship tame the fire of your passion and hold you down.

So, if you find yourself staring down impossible odds, keep going. Don’t give up.

  Eric Corl is the Founder and CEO of, the online marketplace for intellectual property that gives inventors the opportunity to showcase their intellectual property to consumer product companies, entrepreneurs, retailers, and manufacturers. You can email him at

Inventor How To- Developing the Habit of Decisiveness

Monday, February 25th, 2008

Read about any successful inventor or businessman and you will inevitably notice something: a habit of decisiveness in all that they do. What is decisiveness, exactly? It is a word we often hear, but rarely define.  In simplest terms, decisiveness is accepting the fact that you are in control of your own life. It is the methodical, systematic effort to determine the best course of action and then carry it out. Put negatively: it is the refusal to let the random gyrations of society, chance, and whim set your course. Psychologist Michael J. Hurd sums up decisiveness as “trusting and acting on the conclusions of one’s mind.”

Obviously, decisiveness is a quality inventors stand to benefit from enormously. So how can you develop this habit in your own life? Hurd offers some practical tips on being decisive in his article, “What Should I Do?”

When stuck with the question, “What should I do?” don’t stay stuck. Don’t fall prey to the temptation to blindly asking someone else what you should do. Instead, ask yourself — and answer — the following questions:

What are my options in this situation? (If there is only one option, your question is already answered. If there are two or more options, then proceed to the next question).

What are the likely immediate and longer-term consequences of each option? (Make a list of each set of consequences and confine the lists to one page).

Which options are the most desirable and the least desirable, and why?

What is my final choice? (If you cannot answer this yet, then first develop the top 2 or 3 finalists. Then go to a final judgment).

Questions like these will become invaluable guides to action, as inventors face decisions all the time. Which supplier should I use? Do I believe this cost is legitimate? Is this deadline realistic? Do I have too much on my plate? Questions like this crop up all the time, and successful inventors are the ones who are comfortable answering them.

Of course, it will be far easier to ask yourself those questions if you accept that you are the author of your own destiny. As appealing as this sounds, few of us ever fully accept what it means in practice. Hurd elaborates more on this helpful point, which is essential to creating a lifelong habit of decisiveness:

“This exercise is an example of using your own rational judgment instead of letting others tell you what to do. It’s the alternative to both do-as-I-say dogmatism and do-as-I-feel subjectivism. It’s called being objective. Some don’t like the idea of objectivity because it seems too cold or harsh; others feel it’s too hard, or too much work. What’s the alternative? Self-defeating impulsivity? Doing what a dictator tells you to do? Praying to the skies and hoping for an answer in code? Get real!”

If you work at it, you can stop yourself as you are about to fall into these traps. Do you find yourself thinking “Ahh, I can’t be bothered with this now; I’ll cross the bridge when I get to it.” Or how about, “I know this is important, but it’s just such a big decision that little old me can’t possibly decide it.” If you think these thoughts, drop what you are doing and change them. Successful inventors cross bridges miles ahead of them in their own minds and are better off for doing so. They do this by asking themselves, “If I don’t decide, who will?”

So, instead of succumbing to those passive thoughts and letting them move you, take a different approach. Will yourself to sit down and consciously decide the pressing questions before you. If you need to write a business plan, don’t think “oh my God, this is such an important task that the slightest little error will screw it up. I might as well not even try.” Instead, put on a pot of coffee, sit back, and do some research. Read a few sample business plans. Get some expert advice. And then, sit down and write one. It doesn’t have to be perfect the first time, and you can certainly go back and edit. The important point is that by doing this, you have made the decision to move forward. You have gone from thinking to doing.

This same thinking applies to any decision you face. Instead of getting stuck in analysis-paralysis, calmly think about what this decision requires of you. One way of staying calm is to remind yourself that no matter what you are doing, someone, somewhere, has done it before. It may be challenging, but it is doable. You can also save yourself a lot of mental anxiety by asking, “Where do I start?” Once you figure this out, the rest tends to unfold naturally.

Above all, keep your cool and always remember that you are in charge. If you resolve to make this a part of your outlook, it is almost impossible to fail.

 Eric Corl is the Founder and CEO of, the online marketplace for intellectual property that gives inventors the opportunity to showcase their intellectual property to consumer product companies, entrepreneurs, retailers, and manufacturers. You can email him at


The Power of Focus

Sunday, February 24th, 2008

If you aspire to high achievement, focus is a power from which you cannot abstain. Inventing something new, bringing a product to market, and authoring your own destiny are not things that you luck into by chance. If you are to reach these plateaus, you must do it consciously, with full focus and awareness of what your goals require. But what is focus, exactly?

The achievement-celebrating philosopher Ayn Rand offers an excellent definition of the mechanics of focus:

In any hour and issue of his life, man is free to think or to evade that effort. Thinking requires a state of full, focused awareness. The act of focusing one’s consciousness is volitional. Man can focus his mind to a full, active, purposefully directed awareness of reality—or he can unfocus it and let himself drift in a semiconscious daze, merely reacting to any chance stimulus of the immediate moment, at the mercy of his undirected sensory-perceptual mechanism and of any random, associational connections it might happen to make.

When man unfocuses his mind, he may be said to be conscious in a subhuman sense of the word, since he experiences sensations and perceptions. But in the sense of the word applicable to man—in the sense of a consciousness which is aware of reality and able to deal with it, a consciousness able to direct the actions and provide for the survival of a human being—an unfocused mind is not conscious.

Psychologically, the choice “to think or not” is the choice “to focus or not.”

If you want to succeed, you need to focus. You need to focus your mind to a “full, active, purposefully directed awareness of reality.” One way to begin doing this is to spend some time thinking about it. This seems obvious, but is often taken for granted. How often do you make time to sit down and think about what really matters to you? This is important if you want to achieve a state of focus. After all, you cannot focus without something to focus on. However, you need to be careful to ensure that you focus in the right way.

In his book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, Stephen Covey reveals that there are actually two kinds of focus. The first (the good kind), he calls “proactive focus.”

“Proactive people focus their efforts in the Circle of Influence. They work on the things they can do something about. The nature of their energy is positive, enlarging and magnifying, causing their Circle of Influence to increase.”

This is the kind of focus you want to exercise: rational, healthy focus aimed at what you can and should change. The other kind of focus is called “reactive focus.”

“Reactive people, on the other hand, focus their efforts in the Circle of Concern. They focus on the weakness of other people, the problems in the environment, and circumstances over which they have no control. Their focus results in blaming and accusing attitudes, reactive language, and increased feelings of victimization. The negative energy generated by that focus, combined with neglect in areas they could do something about, causes their Circle of Influence to shrink.”

Now, let’s compare each type of focus with a practical example. We will assume you are an inventor and you are competing with another inventor for a spot on Wal-Mart’s shelves. Here is how a person applying proactive focus might approach the competition.

“Gee, this sure is gonna be tough. If I don’t land this spot, it might mean going back to the drawing board. However, I am not going to let that cloud my thoughts. I know my product is valuable. I am confident in it. If I really flesh my presentation out, I have a pretty good chance of beating this other guy. Therefore, I’m not even going to think about what if I lose or what my competitor is doing. All I can control is how my invention and I come across to the store reps. Time to get working on it.”

This is the type of focus you want to achieve. Notice that this person has blocked out all kinds of irrelevant thoughts – the downsides of losing, any advantages his competitor might have, etc. His sole concern is making his invention look as good as possible. Now, let’s look at how a person exercising reactive focus might think about the same situation.

“Arg, this is going to be so hard. If I don’t land this spot, it’s game over for me. Why should I even try? This other guy has way more money than me. We can’t all get an inheritance and a huge staff to work with. How can little old me compete with all of that? Ugh..whatever. I guess I’ll go in there and sling mud at the wall and hope it sticks.”

This person is focused too, but on the wrong things. Dwelling on how much money the other inventor has or his huge staff does nothing to move the goal closer to realization. All it does is squander the inventor’s precious energy on irrelevant matters. Meanwhile, the proactively focused inventor is locked in on the things that matter, tirelessly pursuing the best within him and doing all that is within his power to succeed.

This, in a nutshell, is what focus is. It is a state of mind where you resolve to let nothing stand between your ambitions and their uncompromising achievement.

Eric Corl is the Founder and CEO of, the online marketplace for intellectual property that gives inventors the opportunity to showcase their intellectual property to consumer product companies, entrepreneurs, retailers, and manufacturers. You can email him at

Immunize Yourself Against Inventor Baby Syndrome

Tuesday, February 19th, 2008

Inventor Baby IdeaMost inventors are tough-minded people who thrive on ingenuity and a willingness to experiment. However, inventors need to be on the lookout for an insidious beast, an attitude hell-bent on robbing you of your fire and ambition: Inventor Baby Syndrome. If you permit yourself to succumb to its progress-sucking powers, you will experience roadblocks in your quest to bring an invention idea to market. So what is Inventor Baby Syndrome? Before attempting a full diagnosis, here are some symptoms:

1)      Refusal to adjust your original idea in any way, shape, or form.

One thing that victims of Inventor Baby Syndrome have trouble grasping is that the idea is less important than execution; ie, less important than the problem you are trying to solve. Venture capitalist Paul Graham discusses this in an article relating to startups:

“In some fields the way to succeed is to have a vision of what you want to achieve, and to hold true to it no matter what setbacks you encounter. Starting startups is not one of them. The stick-to-your-vision approach works for something like winning an Olympic gold medal, where the problem is well-defined. Startups are more like science, where you need to follow the trail wherever it leads.”

Replace the word “startups” with “inventions”, and you will understand the point being made. Clinging to your original conceptions in the face of rational evidence that you should make changes is a disastrous policy. Be careful though! Rushing to start over all the time is another symptom of Inventor Baby Syndrome.


2)      Constantly scrapping your progress and starting over.

In the same article, Graham cautions against the opposite problem: starting over too frequently!

You have to be prepared to see the better idea when it arrives. And the hardest part of that is often discarding your old idea.

“But openness to new ideas has to be tuned just right. Switching to a new idea every week will be equally fatal. Is there some kind of external test you can use? One is to ask whether the ideas represent some kind of progression. If in each new idea you’re able to re-use most of what you built for the previous ones, then you’re probably in a process that converges. Whereas if you keep restarting from scratch, that’s a bad sign.”

This is an Inventor Baby Syndrome symptom because it’s just a way for you to put off that fateful day when the market decides if your invention will fly. By endlessly starting over, you never finish. It seems obvious enough, but this is a surprisingly common problem.

3)      Refusing to partner with anyone or disclose anything

Perhaps the most common symptom of Inventor Baby Syndrome is guarding your idea with such jealous hostility that you turn away perfectly harmless people who just want to help. The obvious downfall of this is that depriving yourself of partnerships and assistance makes the road to selling your product much more challenging. If you need a database programmer, you should hire one. Make him sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement and swear him to secrecy, but hire one! This is often the only way to get your invention to market. Trying to carry the whole operation on your shoulders will only lead to an overstressed life, not runaway success.

If you do any of these things, you are afflicted with Inventor Baby Syndrome. It is a harsh name, but an accurate description. Inventing something and convincing people to buy it is hard work, and anyone who tells you differently is lying, naïve, or both.

If you want to throw this success-stealing monkey off your back and face the challenges ahead with open eyes, there is a cure: a rational, reality-based approach to inventing. To achieve it, you need to confront and fully accept some basic facts about what you are doing.

The first fact is that people don’t buy inventions because they’re really cool ideas. They don’t walk into Wal-Mart or Home Depot, pause, imagine all the painstaking work that went into making the product or how unprecedented it is and then, in a rush of inspiration, decide to buy it. Rather, they buy things that they believe will solve some pressing need that they have. That is why you should not cling to your original idea at all costs. Instead, hold true to your vision, but make changes if reason and logic tell you that you should.

The second fact is that constantly starting over is just a defense mechanism to shield you from the pain of possible failure. “What if no one buys the product?” you might subconsciously wonder. Well, that is eminently possible. But what is the alternative? Giving up and living the 9-5 grind that helped drive you to invent something in the first place? Instead, adopt a mindset of optimistic realism. “Yes, failure is possible, but I am confident in my ability and the value of my invention. I am going to persist as though I will succeed until actual evidence makes me think I wont.”

The third fact is that, to be totally honest, most people do not care about your idea. Yes, you should take reasonable precautions like NDAs. But in all actuality, there are not swarms of people just dying to steal your idea. Most people will not drop everything they are doing to pursue an idea they just heard of. For the most part, this will not happen and you should not let it dominate your thoughts.

Above all, keep the end in mind: getting that product to market. If what you are doing is inhibiting the process then stop doing it and start making new decisions. You have to have sensory accuity and figure out what is working and what is not. Don’t expect the market to suddenly change it’s response to your product. You must grow and adapt to meet the markets demands.

Your Competition Never Sleeps

Monday, February 18th, 2008

Idea CompetitionThe world of business and inventing is cutthroat to say the least. When it comes to creating new products, everyone with a serious stake in the process knows that time is of the essence. The reason for the frantic pace lies in something called the first-mover advantage. According to Wikipedia:

First-mover advantage is the advantage gained by the initial occupant of a market segment. This advantage may stem from the fact that the first entrant can gain control of resources that followers may not be able to match.

There are several advantages that can be gained from entering first:

  • Scarce resources can be preempted, e.g. occupation of prime retail locations
  • The ability to register patents and trademarks that will protect the first entrant from future competition.
  • Changing the economics of the market in a way that second entrants will not have an economic justification to enter.
  • Early profits can be re-invested in improving the resource base.
  • Reputation will likely have the advantages that come from suppliers, distributors and customers who are familiar with and loyal to their products.

Those are some pretty hefty advantages for first-movers. With all of this being the case, is it any wonder that competition is so fierce? This is where the saying “your competition never sleeps” comes from. It is an immutable law of business has been operating and will operate so long as there is business to be conducted and profit to be made. So what should you do about it? The best defense is to protect your secrets, get to market as fast as you can and protect yourself once you arrive. Fortunately, there are some savvy, common sense steps you can take to achieve this.

1) Secure intellectual property protection

One effective way of shielding yourself from fast-working competitors is to get a patent, trademark, or copyright for your invention. Most likely, a patent will be what you are going for. The chief benefit of having a patent is that it gives you the right to stop others from capitalizing on what you have the patent for. Therefore, if you have invented a new, lighter and more puncture-resistant bicycle tire that utilizes new rubber alloys and aerodynamic formulas, you can secure patent protection and, in effect, retain the sole rights to capitalize on those things. Clearly, this is one way to make competing with you a less attractive prospect for anyone who was planning on it. However, you probably will not succeed in getting a patent unless you..

2) Create a prototype

The United States Patent and Trademark Office requires that you produce some actual, tangible embodiment of your idea before you can receive a patent for it. For this reason, it makes a lot of sense to create one. But the other important reason to create a prototype is that it gets you from dreaming to doing. Ask yourself this question, and be honest with yourself: if your competitor has a prototype already and you do not, which one of you is likely to reach the market first? All else equal, the answer is obvious. Once you reach the prototype stage, you are much closer to that glorious day when your creation reaches paying customers. And rest assured; your competitors know this and know it well. You would do well to make creating a prototype your number one priority in your day to day efforts.

3) Negotiate exclusive agreements with vendors

Once you are ready to hit the market, see if you can get creative with your vendors. If you are selling via the web, for example, you may be recruiting affiliates to sell for you. Promise them an extra cut if they abstain from selling competing products alongside yours. If you are selling in stores, the same principle applies. Many vendors can be talked into an exclusive relationship with you if the price is right. This is one reason that Microsoft holds such a dominant position in the operating systems market, and you can benefit from a similar approach. If you can secure some type of exclusive agreement, you will make it that much harder for competitors to crowd in on your target market and take away your hard-fought sales!

4) Get your partners to sign NDAs

If you have partners or employees, you should get them to sign Non-Disclosure Agreements whenever possible. Although they are not airtight, they legally compel those who sign them to keep your secrets under wraps from anyone that you do not explicitly authorize. If anything goes awry down the road, you will have the early workings of a case against them, perhaps even the ability to seek damages. In the best case scenario, the NDA will simply function as it was intended: to keep your private information under wraps.

Follow these simple tips and, you will be armed for the never-ending battle of speed, wits, and savvy with your competitors.

Eric Corl is the Founder and CEO of, the online marketplace for intellectual property that gives inventors the opportunity to showcase their intellectual property to consumer product companies, entrepreneurs, retailers, and manufacturers. You can email him at

Rearden Steel – Lawmakers Steal Royalties from Capitalists

Friday, February 15th, 2008

America is often called the land of opportunity. Work hard and play by the rules, we hear, and you can lay claim to all that you have produced. It is the reason people risk death and imprisonment to set foot on American soil year after year. However, this magnificent legacy of freedom, justice, and achievement is under attack by Republican senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama. At the behest of a powerful lobbying group called the Financial Services Roundtable, Sessions is pushing an amendment through the Senate that would set a terrifying precedent for the protection of intellectual property rights.

The amendment centers around a company called DataTreasury, the creators of a patented system of digitally scanning, sending, and archiving checks. DataTreasury’s technology is used by most of the major financial institutions in the United States. However, many of those banks are infringing on DataTreasury’s patent by using their technology without paying royalties to do so. And although the United States Patent and Trademark Office upheld the patent when it was challenged last summer, Sessions’ amendment would prevent DataTreasury from collecting the royalties it is owed. According to the Washington Post:

“The provision, passed without dissent by the Senate Judiciary Committee in July and inserted into legislation scheduled for a vote by the full Senate this month, is a rare attempt by Congress to intervene in ongoing litigation, congressional experts say.

Although the amendment would not invalidate DataTreasury’s patents, it would spare the banks from paying for infringing them should courts decide that’s warranted. If DataTreasury collected a royalty of just a couple pennies per check, the cost would run into billions of dollars.”


Such an amendment would relegate DataTreasury’s patents to figureheads, stripping them of the rights our courts are sworn to protect. It all started when the Financial Services Roundtable mobilized their lobbying efforts, agitating for patent reform that would spare them from having to pay the royalties they owe. Of course, the lobbyists did not explicitly name this as their purpose. Instead, they cloaked their support for patent reform in the guise of “protecting banking institutions complying with post-9/11 security requirements from the abusive practices of patent trolling trial lawyers seeking personal enrichment, which ultimately will be paid for by checking account customers across America.” The amendment was approved by the committee within minutes and was given next to no attention by major media outlets.

The unvarnished truth, however, is that the financial industry is using its immense lobbying muscle and the entrenched culture of political corruption to avoid paying what it owes. Their concern is not bank customers, but the hit their own wallets would take. Tragically, it looks as though this amendment will pass and this horrifying degradation of property rights will become law. But how is this possible? How could such a travesty of justice take place in a nation founded on the rights to life, liberty, and property? The answer lies in the world of literature, in a work that has inspired millions of businessmen since its release.

In the watershed novel Atlas Shrugged, readers were introduced to Hank Rearden. A hardworking, self-made steel magnate who fought intransigently against tyrannical government invention in his affairs, Rearden symbolized a productive genius being exploited by lesser minds. Readers also meet Jim Taggart, the inept and corrupt railroad executive who operates by means of pull and government favors. At the behest of Taggart and his cronies, Rearden is brought to trial by the Bureau of Economic Planning and National Resources. His crime: selling his own product without government permission. The events leading up to Rearden’s trial are frighteningly parallel to DataTreasury’s predicament.

In bringing Rearden to trial, Taggart and his hoodlums appeal to “the public good” and “the national welfare” as reasons to limit Rearden’s profits. The justifications given for the limiting of DataTreasury’s patent royalties are similar. “This is a glaring example of the abuse of the system,” said former congressman Steve Bartlett (R-Tex.), president of the Financial Services Roundtable. But the goal of Sessions and Bartlett (the “Jim Taggarts” of this case) is not the sanctity of patent law – it is the attempt to subvert justice by means of intellectual dishonesty and political favoritism.

The Financial Services Roundtable has accused DataTreasury of being a patent troll who bought up patents with the intent to shakedown the financial industry. But the truth is that DataTreasury is a real-life Hank Rearden. From the same article:

[DataTreasury founder] Ballard asserts that he developed the basic architecture for the system in the mid-1990s, and applied for patents in 1997 and ’98. He said he realized at the time that paper would one day be obsolete for financial transactions but that paper and electronic images would have to coexist for a while. His system helped make that possible, he said.

Like Rearden, Ballard put his time and energy into the creation of a valuable product – and, like Rearden, a pack of corrupt competitors is conspiring to ensure that he never receives his just rewards.

Heroically, Rearden defeats his enemies. In a courtroom of his peers, he exposes the poverty of his attackers and their empty claim to be fighting for a noble purpose. Can DataTreasury do the same? Only time will tell, but its best hope for victory is to assert its rightful claims as Rearden did: openly, proudly, and without guilt. Nothing less will expose the moral bankruptcy of Sessions and these modern-day Jim Taggarts – and nothing less will secure the glorious tradition of property rights for future generations.

“I shall answer all the questions you are afraid to ask me openly. Do I wish to pay my workers more than their services are worth to me? I do not. Do I wish to sell my product for less than my customers are willing to pay me? I do not. Do I wish to sell it at a loss or give it away? I do not. If this is evil, do whatever you please about me, according to whatever standards you hold. These are mine. I am earning my own living, as every honest man must. I refuse to accept as guilt the fact of my own existence and the fact that I must work in order to support it. I refuse to accept as guilt the fact that I am able to do it better than most people – the fact that my work is of greater value than the work of my neighbors and that more men are willing to pay me. I refuse to apologize for my ability – I refuse to apologize for my success – I refuse to apologize for my money. If this is evil, make the most of it. If this is what the public finds harmful to its interests, let the public destroy me. This is my code – and I will accept no other.”

Eric Corl is the Founder and CEO of, the new technology and product marketplace where intellectual property is bought and licensed. You can email him at

Kill Bad Ideas Quick

Thursday, February 14th, 2008

Some inventors make the mistake of pouring years of their lives and thousands of dollars into bad ideas. Maybe their idea was ill-formed and nobody actually wants it. Maybe they wasted years pursuing an idea that actually will not work the way they originally thought it would. Whatever the case may be, the end result is lots of wasted time and energy on a dead idea. By this point you are probably thinking, “There must be a better way!” Fortunately, there is. It is a bold, decisive strategy that is best summed up as “Kill your ideas quick.” What does this mean, exactly?

Basically, you want to expose your idea to as much critical scrutiny as you can, as early as you can. In this article, we will discuss two main ways of doing that. The first and easiest way is to collect feedback about your idea. Ask people questions like, “Would you buy this? What need would this fill for you? Can you think of any reason why you would not want to buy it or use it? What about your friends? Do other products do what my idea is going to do, better? How so?” The more detailed feedback you get, the better. However, merely collecting this feedback is just the starting point. What you want to do is implement the feedback you get into your prototype or working model. Doing this as quickly as possible will help you determine whether your idea is a winner or a bust. As you force yourself to actually create it rather than endlessly theorize, you will discover whether it is too expensive or too big or too hard or impossible.

Of course, the best scenario would be if you know someone in your field that you trust and can ask for advice. They above all people will have a good sense of whether your idea is unrealistic or not. The feedback they provide will also be immensely valuable, especially if your idea doesn’t need to be killed.

Another way to kill your idea fast was pioneered by Internet advertising guru Perry Marshall. He advocates using the cheap, fast-response ad medium of Google AdWords to test public interest in your idea before diving headlong into pursuing it. Perry describes the nuts and bolts of his approach in his free e-course on Google AdWords:

“Let’s say you’ve got a product idea. The product itself costs $50,000 to develop, and you’re sure it’s a good idea because it solves a really thorny problem.

So here’s what you do: You write a report, e-book or white paper about how to solve that problem. You create an opt-in page where people can get your report in exchange for their contact information.

Then you buy keywords, send people to that page and see how many people you can get to opt in.

That alone will tell you something.

And if you absolutely cannot get anybody to opt-in to your report – or if you can’t find keywords that anyone is searching for – then that’s a good sign you should abandon the project before you throw any more money at it.”


Perry’s point is that you can use an inexpensive testing medium to see if your idea is a winner. At the very least, you will be positioned to proceed on the basis of actual knowledge instead of wishful thinking. Perry continues:

“Not only will this process validate that you’re solving a worthwhile problem; it will also fine tune your efforts so that you’re dealing with the real problems that real people have!

It’s worth repeating: after testing your concept on Google AdWords, you’ll never throw good money at a lousy product idea. And when you need assistance or investment money, you’ll have proof that people are looking for what you have to sell.”

Perry’s method can be applied to virtually any invention relating to something that people would look for on a search engine. Best of all, it does not need to be expensive. If you can spare a few hundred dollars, you will get real-time market research from people who are actively looking for what you are making. What could be more valuable than that? And like Perry says: if no one likes your idea, it is probably a dud and at least you know for sure.

Whichever method you choose, killing your ideas quick is sound practice. It is also a bold step away from the “Inventor Baby” mentality who seeks to protect his idea from harsh contact with the real world and its desires. You will be facing reality as it actually is. You will not spin your wheels on ideas that are doomed to fail. And most importantly, this will free up your precious time and energy for more fruitful projects.

Eric Corl is the Founder and CEO of, the online marketplace for intellectual property that gives inventors the opportunity to showcase their intellectual property to consumer product companies, entrepreneurs, retailers, and manufacturers. You can email him at

How to Get The Right People Behind Your Invention

Wednesday, February 13th, 2008

All inventors have, at one time or another, pined for “the right people.” Be they investors, programmers, distributors, writers, architects, butchers, bakers, or candlestick makers, personnel is a crucial ingredient to the success of any invention. But getting the right people behind your invention is a road more easily mapped than traveled. In this article, we’ll walk you through finding and keeping the personnel you need to make your invention a hit. The task can essentially be divided into two categories: investors, and everybody else.

Investors (and how big a slice of future profits to give up for any personnel)

Some inventors are so desperate for investment capital or key personnel that they offer irrationally high percentages of future profits for those people to come aboard. In addition to advertising your desperation, this is a mistake for standard business reasons. John T. Reed, Harvard Business School graduate and real estate guru, explains why:

“At Harvard Business School, one of the lessons we learned was that one’s cost of capital was an indication of one’s competence as a businessperson. To put it briefly, if you are paying 50% interest or 50% of your profits to your silent partners, you are an incompetent businessman. Some successful investors would protest that was how they got their start. I don’t doubt it. I know some of them. But it was still a dumb move and the investors in question are lucky such terms did not blow up in their face and ruin their reputations before they got started.”

If you are a competent, accomplished person in your area of expertise, you should not be giving up half of your future profits for an investor to fund you. The same goes for other personnel you need. Unfortunately, many naïve or beginning inventors fall into this trap because they lack start-up capital or believe they must do whatever it takes to attract X person to their operation.

Instead, use a different approach. The best route is normally to forgo outside investors altogether and bootstrap your invention with savings or small loans from friends or relatives. However, if this cannot be done, you should approach investors after you have a proof-of-concept of your invention. If at all possible, you should try to get some cash flow going before seeking outside capital. Try to drum up some kind of sales or progress with whatever you have accomplished so far. The website explains why this helps you to attract investors later:

Pretend for a moment that you are a venture capitalist or angel investor. Two founders visit you about separate deals. You ask them each what progress they have made in the 3 or 6 months that they have been working on their respective projects.

* One entrepreneur answers that he has been able to finish his business plan as well as find a means to generate cashflow which is being used to move the main project further along. Now he needs more money to fully capitalize on this developing opportunity.

* The other entrepreneur can only point to the “great” business plan he’s polished to perfection over the past 6 months and the “great” opportunity lying before him.

Which entrepreneur would you be more impressed by if you were the investor?

This demonstrates that you have something tangible. It also lets you keep your dignity when negotiating terms rather than begging them to accept half of your future profits.

Professionals with special skill sets

Of course, inventors don’t just need money to get their invention off the ground. They also need people with certain special skills to create the invention in the first place. So how do you bring such people into the fold?

The most common response is to promise the personnel in question a share of future profits. While this is acceptable practice (as long as it is not an egregiously high amount as discussed earlier), it is not the most effective way, either. The most effective way to get the right people behind your invention is to pay them to help you.

Not the answer you were looking for? Well, look at it from a realistic standpoint. Pretend that you are an experienced professional with a valuable skill. (If you are inventing things, you probably are such a person.) Now pretend that someone you don’t know is asking you to work on a project you’ve never heard of. That by itself is probably enough to make you a little uncertain. But then, to top it all off, they ask you to work for free, with no base pay, on the hopes that it someday pays off and you can collect when it does. At this point, your well-honed skepticism should kick in and dissuade you from doing the deal. Your time is simply too valuable.

However, imagine a different scenario. The inventor explains his idea to you in a way that sounds persuasive and enticing, and also offers to pay you! It might not be a huge amount, or even what you could get at a salaried job someplace else. But the sheer fact that you will be compensated for your labor will, naturally, make you more confident about the project and being a part of it. When a person sees someone put his own sweat, blood, and tears into something, it just feels easier to trust them.

Therefore, you should either save some money or use a small loan from friends or family to pay the personnel you want. Of course, you can still sweeten the deal by promising them future equity in addition to their base.

When you have some money saved up, it is time to place ads for the personnel you need. The industry you are in will dictate exactly how to go about doing this. If you are creating a new kind of garden hose, for example, you might want to advertise for engineers in a lawn and garden trade journal or magazine. You might try help-wanted ads in the paper, or even Internet resources like

The idea is to offer something of tangible value to the people you want. This will go a long way toward getting the right people behind your invention.

Eric Corl is the Founder and CEO of, the online marketplace for intellectual property that gives inventors the opportunity to showcase their intellectual property to consumer product companies, entrepreneurs, retailers, and manufacturers. You can email him at

Why Paranoid Inventors Fail

Wednesday, February 13th, 2008

Paranoid InventorEvery inventor knows that it’s a mistake to go around bragging about your idea to everyone who will listen. Careless mistakes should obviously be avoided. However, there is another kind of inventor who commits just the opposite mistake, and suffers the same failure. That mistake is paranoia. It is an irrational, unfounded fear of everyone in his field that causes the inventor to clam up and wall everyone off. An excellent article called “Inventor Paranoia” profiles the problem as such:

Many beginning inventors are obsessed with secrecy. They’re convinced their latest invention is their “best” — and that anyone who hears of it will certainly “steal” it. They then become so obsessed with “protecting” their invention as to virtually guarantee that they’ll never see a dime from it.

Hey, guys, you can’t “protect” an invention. You can seek to acquire certain intellectual property rights in the invention. e.g., with a patent. And if your solution to the problem is truly superior, and if it’s commercially viable, and if the rights you acquire are sufficiently “strong”, i.e., your intellectual property covers ALL economical ways of providing the intended user benefit — you MAY be able to sell or license those rights.

However, even if you do everything ‘right’ — by the book — there’s no guarantee you won’t get ripped off. If someone chooses to copy your invention — without acknowledging your rights — all you can do is sue them. And a typical infringement suit starts in the range of a quarter million dollars.


If this is the case, why are there any paranoid inventors? And what is so disastrous about being a paranoid inventor? To answer those questions, we must first understand what drives this paranoia in the first place.

Nine times out of ten, an overly paranoid inventor places an enormous value on “ideas.” Not even just on his particular idea, but on ideas as such. In his or her mind, the quality of an idea is the sole determinant of whether an invention succeeds or fails. Consequently, inventors who believe this are extremely overprotective of any ideas they might have. They view the entire professional community as potential adversaries who, if they happened to discover the idea, would immediately drop what they were doing to pursue it. While this can indeed happen, it is far from likely. The truth is that ideas in and of themselves are not nearly as important as execution and the personnel behind them. However, many naïve inventors continue to think that ideas are sacred assets to be jealously guarded against intruders.

Silicon Valley venture capitalist Paul Graham clears up this misbegotten notion in his article “Ideas for Startups”

“They overvalue ideas. They think creating a startup is just a matter of implementing some fabulous initial idea. And since a successful startup is worth millions of dollars, a good idea is therefore a million dollar idea.

If coming up with an idea for a startup equals coming up with a million dollar idea, then of course it’s going to seem hard. Too hard to bother trying. Our instincts tell us something so valuable would not be just lying around for anyone to discover.

Actually, startup ideas are not million dollar ideas, and here’s an experiment you can try to prove it: just try to sell one. Nothing evolves faster than markets. The fact that there’s no market for startup ideas suggests there’s no demand. Which means, in the narrow sense of the word, that startup ideas are worthless.”


Invention ideas are somewhat different than ideas for startups, but the basic truth holds. If you never network with anyone or get your plans off the ground for fear of “your idea” being stolen, you are damning yourself to failure. You will turn away valuable networking opportunities. You will make it impossible to find the technical talent you need to create the invention. You might even turn down funding or buyout offers that would get your product to market faster or let you capitalize on all of your hard efforts. Clearly, this is not a smart or rational approach to inventing. So what is the solution?

The key is to abandon the fetish with protecting your idea. Instead, take reasonable steps to protect yourself and trust that you are smart and competent enough to get it to market. You cannot hire a database programmer, for example, if your refuse to tell him what his job is or what he’s doing. Therefore, you should have him sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement stating that anything you tell him is legally confidential. This gives you recourse against him if he spills your secrets, and more importantly, it gets you started in the invention process rather than stuck in analysis paralysis about what happens if someone steals your idea.

Risk is a part of invention because it is a part of life. The best you can do is take responsible actions to guard against worst-case scenarios and focus on getting to market as quickly as possible. Do not let paranoia prevent you from taking bold steps to succeed.

Eric Corl is the Founder and CEO of, the online marketplace for intellectual property that gives inventors the opportunity to showcase their intellectual property to consumer product companies, entrepreneurs, retailers, and manufacturers. You can email him at