Robert Susa will jut his jaw Bill Cowher-like as he ponders.
So that as president of invention submission company InventHelp inventor service, Susa’s been doing plenty of pondering lately.
Since overtaking many of the daily operations from founder Martin Berger a couple of years ago, Susa has become vexed with what he believes is an unfair characterization in the company like a place that rips off inventors.
“Everybody here really cares about inventors,” Susa says. “We want to be the excellent guys.”
Susa says InventHelp isn’t for each and every inventor. InventHelp is actually a turnkey, soup-to-nuts operation for hands-off inventors. It’s for the individual that wants other people to approach potential licensees and put together virtual along with other prototypes.
The corporation says it uses “a selection of methods” to submit a perception or new invention to companies, including mailings, publicity releases, advertising and attendance at trade shows.
“We just do not think that our opinion or anyone else’s opinion in the possible acceptability or market potential of the new product idea or invention is any not just that – an opinion,” InventHelp’s Website states. “We cannot make any correlation between that opinion and predictable acceptance by the marketplace. The only real opinions that matter are the type of companies who may take a look at invention.”
While that seems pretty straight-forward, few companies within the inventing industry have already been as polarizing as InventHelp, the Pittsburgh-based business also known to many as Invention Submission Corp. or ISC.
InventHelp will be the a trade name of Invention Submission Corp. (ISC), also called Western Invention Submission Corp. and a division of Technosystems Consolidated. InventHelp hosts the Invention & Cool Product Exposition or INPEX, the greatest inventor tradeshow in the usa.
InventHelp sales reps tell prospective clients their inventions would be the greatest things since sliced bread to promote them $800 information proposals. The proposals derive from a template – a mass-production, cookie-cutter binder of boilerplate with the description and picture of the invention electronically inserted – and shipped to general addresses of targeted companies. Of course, if or when those info packets forget to produce a licensing agreement, InventHelp sales reps urge inventors to buy upgraded services for lots of money.
“We don’t evaluate inventions,” he says. “And we give everyone the full value of our services in the first meeting and survey clients to find out if they received that information in the beginning.”
With regards to accusation that InventHelp Pittsburgh offers cookie-cutter invention proposals as a means to snooker inventors with escalating services and fees:
“We don’t pretend the original report is all encompassing,” Susa says. “The basic information package is the thing that we think we need to present something to your company.
“Most patent attorneys work with a template. After you describe an invention, you’re really talking about the marketplace it suits. That marketing details are something we’ve purchased in government as well as other sources. The details are in regards to the market, not the invention.
“If you have a child product, whether it be a crib or even a bib, you’d investigate the baby market,” he adds. “There might be a sameness to it.”
So when for escalating fees, Susa says InventHelp’s fees “are presented to a customer with the first meeting. There’s no escalation. I am aware companies that keep asking for money; that’s not our policy whatsoever.”
To be certain, InventHelp has received a colorful history, including run-ins using the United states Patent and Trademark Office and also the Federal Trade Commission.
In 1994, without admitting guilt and with no finding of wrong doing, the business settled allegations with all the FTC, which said Invention Submission Corp., “misrepresented the nature, quality and recovery rate of the promotion services it sold to consumers.”
Beneath the regards to a consent decree, the business setup a $1.2 million account to cover refunds to customers. InventHelp also says it instituted greater oversight of sales reps, distributed over some 50 offices across the country.
“We have embraced the consent decree and also have made it a part of our corporate policy and culture,” Susa says. “Every new employee signs a document agreeing to adhere to the consent decree as a condition of employment.”
The collective conduct of certain invention submission companies compelled the Usa government to adopt the American Inventors Protection Act of 1999, which requires those invention submission firms to disclose licensing success rates, amongst other things.
InventHelp is the prospective of lawsuits and consumer complaints, most of which are on the USPTO’s Internet site. Other Web sites warn inventors to stay away from the company.
This coming year InventHelp sued and settled an unfair competition case against Gene Quinn along with his wife Renee for unflattering posts on Quinn’s influential blog IPWatchdog.com. Although details of the settlement remain confidential, Quinn did remove some posts in which he characterized InventHelp as a scam.
Yet in today’s hyper-connected, information saturated society, is definitely the “scam” label really justified? Can a company that’s existed since 1984 still thrive if it were “scamming” inventors each and every day?
“From 2007-2009, we signed Submission Agreements with 5,336 clients. On account of our services, 86 clients have received license agreements for his or her products, and 27 clients have received more cash compared to they paid us for such services.”
It means .5 percent of InventHelp Pittsburgh clients made money from licensing agreements through InventHelp between 2007 and 2009. That’s double the percentage from years 2003 to 2005.
Inventions sent to direct response TV or infomercial companies have success rates around .5 percent, depending on interviews Inventors Digest has conducted with Telebrands and Lenfest Media Group, both DRTV companies.
Meanwhile, InventHelp’s rival Davison Inc., also based in Pittsburgh, reports on its Site that within the last 5yrs:
“The total amount of consumers who signed a Contingency Agreement or other licensing representation agreement is fifty thousand ninety eight (50,098). … The total amount of consumers within the last 5yrs who made more income in royalties compared to what they paid, in total, under almost any agreements with Davison, is fourteen (14).”
If you the math for Davison, that’s a .027 percent success rate during the last 5yrs.
San Francisco-based invention submission firm AbsolutelyNew is not going to list licensing success rates on its site. AbsolutelyNew acquired certain assets of former – and notorious – invention submission company IP&R and relaunched under the new name in 2007 (please see our May 2009 article, What’s New about AbsolutelyNew?).
“To the best of my knowledge, we have been in compliance together with the AIPA requirements,” says AbsolutelyNew vice president of product-development Bill Freund. “I was told that we’re not essential to share our stats to our Website (although some other companies, like Davison, might be required to do this from federal litigation against them). We share our stats within our first substantive communication with inventors.”
At the time of February 2009, AbsolutelyNew had 565 clients with contracts in progress, based on a document AbsolutelyNew provided Inventors Digest this past year. Of 1,638 client contracts completed, 80 clients, or 4.88 percent, obtained licensing agreements.
Five licensed clients “have already earned more in royalties compared to what they purchased marketing services,” the document adds. Again, doing the math, .3 percent had earned more in royalties compared to they paid in fees to AbsolutelyNew at the time of early just last year.
Freund says the company has launched “a number of new services,” so the number of people who’ve made more income than they’ve paid in fees should “increase significantly.”
Quinn, the patent attorney who fought InventHelp and settled this year, says InventHelp’s “numbers can be better than I was thinking these were.”
“If they might double what they’re doing now, simply how much better can you realistically expect them to do given their take-all-comers enterprise model? I’m not seeking to be an InventHelp apologist,” Quinn says. “You ought to recognize the past. But being really fair, there is also to recognize this current trend.
In college Susa blew out an elbow en route to a baseball career and later on sought to become a fed – a “G” man, a drug enforcement agent or even a spook with the FBI. But he says a federal hiring freeze forced him to detour. Right after a brief stint with Pilsbury, he took at job as a compliance manager with Invention Submission Corp. Which was twenty years ago..
He climbed InventHelp’s ranks. Since assuming a co-leadership role together with founder Berger, Susa has been with a pursuit to rehab the company’s reputation.
His initiatives included dissecting why potentially promising licensing deals died. Occasionally they lacked prototypes. So Susa says he “brought in the guy who’s great at prototyping and virtual prototyping.” InventHelp also obtained services of a Chinese manufacturer that does small-inventory runs.
The company’s Site offers multiple cautionary statements in regards to the odds against financial success within the inventing industry. And Susa says if a salesperson misrepresents or else overhypes what InventHelp can deliver, the company investigates. If it’s a first-time offense, the salesperson might have to undergo more training. If it’s a repeat offense, the salesperson could be let go, Susa says.
“We’re learning and getting better while we go along,” Susa says, noting that InventHelp is on pace to eclipse 50 licenses this season, the very best ever for that company. “I bring a simplistic view to things. Here’s where we have been. Here’s where we want to be. I’m about identifying the roadblocks and eliminating those roadblocks.”
His timing could not have been better. Greater access to information about the invention industry, a recession that has compelled many to pursue inventing and entrepreneurship, downsizing in corporate research and development, as well as the resulting necessity for companies to check outside their lairs for first time ideas helps lead to a gadget renaissance of sorts.
InventHelp, seeking to maximize these confluent trends, spends tens of thousands of dollars a year on tv and radio commercials. The company’s ads using the caveman logo are ubiquitous on ESPN and CNN.
Susa dismisses criticism that InventHelp lacks contacts and relationships with company buyers.
“It’s virtually impossible for independent inventors to manage large companies,” Susa says. “We have 6,000 companies in our data bank and all sorts of have signed non-disclosure agreements and also have told us what areas of interest they need to see.”
Susa says he personally involves himself in high-level negotiations with major firms that express fascination with licensing certain new services from InventHelp clients.
Quinn, the patent attorney and prolific blogger who arguably has more reason to loathe InventHelp than most others, avers that after years being viewed as the guys in black hats, InventHelp “seems willing to join the polite community.”
Also, he contends that inventors or would-be inventors ought to do their homework.
“It’s amazing to me what number of these inventors who state they have been rooked don’t have basic Internet skills,” says Quinn, noting how the Internet “is where all of the good ‘buyer beware’ facts are.
“And they see something in the media or radio, and say, ‘I saw this on ESPN, so this should be legit,’ and that’s possibly the sum total in their due diligence.
“The industry,” Quinn adds, “has a population that expects a check to come without having done much, if any, work.”
Even lots of work does not guarantee market success. Susa covers the efforts his team put behind one inventor’s new type of toothbrush. After having a promising start, a serious DRTV conducted a market test from the Midwest. The infomercial company purchased filming, the works. As well as the product “bombed miserably,” Susa admits.
“That’s not much of a success for people like us, but we did a phenomenal job getting the product around,” he says. “It experienced a similar process blockbuster products experience.”
After the time, Susa wants the inventing community to assume him as he says InventHelp wants to commercialize products.