By Rebecca Lovering, social media coordinator
This is the second part of my interview with Mary Ellroy, a local Connecticut toy inventor and agent. You can read about her and how she got into her field here. Today I’m covering the part of our conversation that dealt with the world of invention in general, and her tips for being successful there.
Tomorrow’s post will be specifically about her insights on the toy invention industry.
Q: What’s the single best bit of advice you can give a would-be inventor, and what are the best and worst parts of the world of invention?
A: “Your idea is 1% of getting rich on your idea.”
Worst Part of Invention: I highly advise a new inventor to join an inventor’s association to protect you from fraud. Be very careful of general-purpose invention companies. Some are good, but I always recommend that you Google the name of the company and the word “fraud.”
I did a public speaking gig at a museum in New York, and this guy had spent $18K of his retirement with this scammy company, and he called me, crying, – I’ve had three or four people call me in tears – saying “they want more money,” and it was just painful to see. A lot of bad stuff goes on in the invention industry. Inventors just get preyed upon. Companies like that have a lot of media space, and you have to be careful about how to teach people how to do it themselves.
Best Part of Invention: working for yourself! If you’re creative, it’s an outlet. It’s thrilling to see your product on a real shelf, being sold.
Q: On to the nitty-gritty, what’s the other 99%? How do you profit from invention?
A: Advances and royalties are the main part of my income, both from the games I invented and the percentages from those I represented.
Q: What about patents and trademarks? How do you protect your Intellectual Property?
A: I have filed patents, but because [the toy industry] is fad and fashion oriented, the time and money to file a patent [is too great a cost. Instead] you sign submission agreements, which kind of give you some rights. Some companies are becoming more onerous with those agreements though, [including clauses like] “we don’t owe you anything, show us at your own risk.” It’s very expensive and it takes a couple of years to get a patent.
If someone comes to me with a functioning device, I advise them to file a provisional patent, which holds it for a year. If it has a high success rate, you can file for a full patent. When you file the full patent, the start date shows as the date you received confirmation of your provisional patent.[My recommendation is] don’t rush to patent. It doesn’t protect you, it just allows you to sue the infringer, sometimes at very great expense.
Q: Okay, say I have an idea. What should I do? How do I get to that advance?
A: You want to find out if there’s a market for your product. Do research on your industry. If it’s hardware, find out what the hardware association is and get their journal and read it from cover to cover. If you have a toy, go through toy channels. Google “Toy Industry Association,” “Hardware Industry Association,” or “Kitchen Tools Industry.” Do a lot of homework. Industry rather than invention: this is what people don’t understand. They think “I’m an inventor!” and they call a number on a matchbook, and they get scammed. It’s really your industry that you want to focus on, not the notion of invention.
A corollary would be, “license rather than manufacture.” Don’t go to China and make it, you don’t know how to do retail and planagrams. If you don’t know that, [then] you have an idea for an ashtray [not a new business]. Get help.
I have four clients who self-manufactured. All four then decided they wanted to license their toys, and all four I told from the start that no toy company would buy their inventory, and all four had garages full of inventory. The risk is ridiculous. If you license, maybe you spend money on a prototype, but you’re not setting up a factory and then trying to offload a thousand units.
I wouldn’t negate Kickstarter and Indiegogo – you can’t. I think you do need to keep an eye on the new media, but usually those people are looking to start a business around their item, but you could use those platforms to get awareness out there and perhaps to get a licensing deal. Don’t become the guys who can’t carry through because they’re overwhelmed.
Your idea is 1% of getting rich on your idea.
Do you have an invention story or idea, a question or comment?
Let us know by posting it below!
Mary’s and my conversation wraps up tomorrow with her insights specifically on the toy industry. If you haven’t already, check out part one here, where we talk about how she got into the biz.