Robert Susa is likely to jut his jaw Bill Cowher-like as he ponders.
So when president of invention submission company InventHelp, Susa’s been doing a great deal of pondering lately.
Since overtaking many of the day-to-day operations from founder Martin Berger a couple of years ago, Susa continues to be vexed by what he believes is undoubtedly an unfair characterization from the company as being a place that rips off inventors.
“Everybody here really cares about inventors,” Susa says. “We want to be the good guys.”
Susa says InventHelp isn’t for every single inventor. InventHelp can be a turnkey, soup-to-nuts operation for hands-off inventors. It’s for the individual who wants other people to approach potential licensees and put together virtual as well as other prototypes.
The corporation says it uses “a selection of methods” to submit a concept or new invention to companies, including mailings, publicity releases, advertising and attendance at trade shows.
“We simply do not feel that our opinion or anyone else’s opinion from the possible acceptability or market potential of the new product idea or invention is any not only that – an opinion,” InventHelp’s Web site states. “We cannot make any correlation between that opinion and predictable acceptance with the marketplace. The only opinions that matter are the type of companies who may take a look at invention.”
While that seems pretty straight-forward, few companies from the inventing industry are already as polarizing as InventHelp, the Pittsburgh-based business commonly known to many as Invention Submission Corp. or ISC.
InventHelp may be the a trade name of Invention Submission Corp. (ISC), also known as Western Invention Submission Corp. as well as a division of Technosystems Consolidated. InventHelp hosts the Invention & Cool Product Exposition or INPEX, the largest inventor tradeshow in the usa.
InventHelp sales reps tell prospects their inventions will be the greatest things since sliced bread to market them $800 information proposals. The proposals are derived from a template – a mass-production, cookie-cutter binder of boilerplate with the description and image of the invention electronically inserted – and brought to general addresses of targeted companies. And in case or when those info packets neglect to produce a licensing agreement, InventHelp sales reps urge inventors to purchase upgraded services for thousands.
“We don’t evaluate inventions,” he says. “And we give everyone the full value of our services on the first meeting and survey clients to see if they received that information at the start.”
With regards to accusation that InventHelp Pittsburgh offers cookie-cutter invention proposals as a technique to snooker inventors with escalating services and fees:
“We don’t pretend the first report will be all encompassing,” Susa says. “The basic information package is really what we think we have to present something to some company.
“Most patent attorneys make use of a template. As soon as you describe an invention, you’re really talking about the current market it fits into. That marketing facts are something we’ve purchased from government along with other sources. The details are regarding the market, not the invention.
“If you have a child product, be it a crib or perhaps a bib, you’d research the baby market,” he adds. “There is a sameness into it.”
And as for escalating fees, Susa says InventHelp’s fees “are given to a person in the first meeting. There’s no escalation. I realize businesses that keep asking for money; that’s not our policy at all.”
To make sure, InventHelp has received a colorful history, including run-ins with all the Usa Patent and Trademark Office along with the Federal Trade Commission.
In 1994, without admitting guilt together 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 your promotion services it sold to consumers.”
Under the terms of a consent decree, the organization put in place a $1.2 million account to spend refunds to customers. InventHelp also says it instituted greater oversight of sales reps, distributed over some 50 offices throughout the country.
“We have embraced the consent decree and get managed to get component 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 U.S. 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 continues to be the objective of lawsuits and consumer complaints, a few of which have the USPTO’s Site. Other Web sites warn inventors to keep away from your company.
This year InventHelp sued and settled an unfair competition case against Gene Quinn and his awesome wife Renee for unflattering posts on Quinn’s influential blog IPWatchdog.com. Although specifics of the settlement remain confidential, Quinn did remove some posts where he characterized InventHelp as a scam.
Yet in today’s hyper-connected, information saturated society, is definitely the “scam” label really justified? Can a business that’s been used since 1984 still thrive if this were “scamming” inventors every day?
“From 2007-2009, we signed Submission Agreements with 5,336 clients. Because of our services, 86 clients have obtained license agreements for his or her products, and 27 clients have received more money than they paid us of these services.”
It means .5 percent of InventHelp office location clients made money from licensing agreements through InventHelp between 2007 and 2009. That’s double the amount percentage from years 2003 to 2005.
Inventions submitted to direct response TV or infomercial companies have success rates around .5 percent, according to 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 Web site that over the last five-years:
“The total variety of consumers who signed a Contingency Agreement or some other licensing representation agreement is fifty thousand ninety eight (50,098). … The complete number of consumers in the last five-years who made more cash in royalties compared to what they paid, in total, under all agreements with Davison, is fourteen (14).”
If you the math for Davison, that’s a .027 percent rate of success during the last 5 years.
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 within the new name in 2007 (please visit our May 2009 article, What’s New about AbsolutelyNew?).
“To the best of my knowledge, our company is in compliance 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 Site (even though others, like Davison, might be asked to do so from federal litigation against them). We share our stats within our first substantive communication with inventors.”
Since February 2009, AbsolutelyNew had 565 clients with contracts in progress, as outlined by a document AbsolutelyNew provided Inventors Digest last 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 given money for marketing services,” the document adds. Again, doing the math, .3 percent had earned more in royalties compared to what they paid in fees to AbsolutelyNew as of early last year.
Freund says the corporation has launched “a bunch of new releases,” so the volume 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 are better than I figured these folks were.”
“If they might double what they’re doing now, simply how much better could you possibly realistically expect these to do given their take-all-comers business structure? I’m not seeking to be an InventHelp apologist,” Quinn says. “You have to recognize the last. But to get really fair, you also have to recognize this current trend.
In college Susa blew out an elbow en path to a baseball career and later sought as a fed – a “G” man, a drug enforcement agent or perhaps a spook together 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 being a compliance manager with Invention Submission Corp. That had been 20 years ago..
He climbed InventHelp’s ranks. Since assuming a co-leadership role as well as founder Berger, Susa has been on a mission to rehab the company’s reputation.
His initiatives included dissecting why potentially promising licensing deals died. Sometimes they lacked prototypes. So Susa says he “brought in the guy who’s proficient at prototyping and virtual prototyping.” InventHelp also obtained services of any Chinese manufacturer that does small-inventory runs.
The company’s Web site offers multiple cautionary statements concerning the odds against financial success inside the inventing industry. And Susa says in case a salesperson misrepresents or otherwise overhypes what InventHelp can deliver, the business investigates. If it’s the first-time offense, the salesperson might have to undergo more training. If it’s a repeat offense, the salesperson may be let go, Susa says.
“We’re learning and receiving better when we go along,” Susa says, noting that InventHelp is on pace to eclipse 50 licenses this current year, the best ever for the 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 access to been better. Greater entry to information about the invention industry, a recession which has compelled many to pursue inventing and entrepreneurship, downsizing in corporate research and development, as well as the resulting desire for companies to appear outside their lairs for new ideas helps bring about a gadget renaissance of sorts.
InventHelp, looking to maximize these confluent trends, spends thousands and thousands of dollars each year on television 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 deal with large companies,” Susa says. “We have 6,000 companies in your data bank and have signed non-disclosure agreements and also have told us what regions of interest they wish to see.”
Susa says he personally involves himself in high-level negotiations with major firms that express fascination with licensing certain new items from InventHelp clients.
Quinn, the patent attorney and prolific blogger who arguably has more reason to loathe InventHelp than most others, avers that after many years for being viewed as the guys in black hats, InventHelp “seems able 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 happen to be rooked don’t have basic Internet skills,” says Quinn, noting that the Internet “is where every one of the good ‘buyer beware’ facts are.
“And they see something on television or radio, and say, ‘I saw this on ESPN, which means that this should be legit,’ and that’s most likely the sum total of the homework.
“The industry,” Quinn adds, “has a population that expects a check to reach without having done any much, if any, work.”
Even a lot of work fails to guarantee market success. Susa looks at the efforts his team put behind one inventor’s new type of toothbrush. Right after a promising start, a major DRTV conducted a market test inside the Midwest. The infomercial company bought filming, the works. Along with the product “bombed miserably,” Susa admits.
“That’s not much of a success for all of us, but we did a phenomenal job getting the product around,” he says. “It went through the same process blockbuster products go through.”
Following the day, Susa wants the inventing community to imagine him when he says InventHelp wishes to commercialize products.