For inventors and entrepreneurs, their businesses and their products are their babies. The pride and excitement of sharing this baby with the world can blind even the most business savvy creators, a process Paula Brillson Phillips knows all too well.
Phillips is the author of the recently released tell-all As Stolen on TV and an Attorney at Digital Law Group. Phillips has built her career advising start-up companies and mentoring hundreds of individual inventors worldwide to navigate the complex process of getting a business or product off the ground.
Protecting Inventors Rights
Philllips also works directly with executives to help them make effective decisions to protect their intellectual property, meet their business goals, and leverage the value of what they have already created. Just as I've experienced with my clients, Phillips points out that a lot of inventors just don't have the resources to protect their rights and they usually don't realize this until they are in the midst of a disaster.
Why the Heavy Focus on Protection?
Phillips' book unveils accounts of rabid infringement, sophisticated counterfeiters and dastardly tactics aimed at killing the independent inventor's dream. There exists instance after instance of inventors being seduced with stories of success, preyed on by those they've hired, and dreams stolen. As I always say, hope isn't a plan. Even worse, that hope can sometimes be perceived as desperation, leaving creators and inventors vulnerable to risks they aren't even aware of.
Justice Isn't Served Equally
As Stolen on TV also features stories from real-life inventors; through their experiences, you'll be able to learn about the challenges, pitfalls and the obstacles you may face as you launch your own invention. And every story included isn't one with a happy ending. In these scenarios, justice isn't available to everyone, so Phillips wanted to, at the very least, provide a platform for these stories to be heard.
Like This One...
Fred and Natasha Ruckel, creators of the original Ripple Rug were doing research to try and find out who had created a national TV campaign for a knock-off 'Ripple Rug' product, when they stumbled upon an ugly truth. There were several other knock-offs being marketed by what they called unscrupulous bad guys... the American Dream being stolen right out from under inventors everywhere. The Ruckels' product photos, labels, personal images (even of their cat Yoda), and text were stolen, and used to send out a blast email that led buyers back to a website that looked almost identical to theirs. This took place 41-days after their launch, their entire brand identity stolen in broad daylight. Rather than defeat, this duo of inventors went the route of empowerment by knowing, learning, and pushing forward to protect what they knew was rightfully theirs.
Shining A Light On Truth
One of the knock-offs the Ruckel's stumbled upon was the Spyder Sprinkler, a rip off of the NoodleHead Sprinkler by inventor Randy Cooper. With this information, the Ruckel's reached out to Noodlehead Sprinkler using the contact information on their website, and were very sad to learn that Cooper, the inventor, had passed away. It was during this conversation, the Ruckel's learned that the Cooper's had been fighting knock-offs of their sprinkler for many years, creating years of significant stress and financial strain. Cooper inspired the Ruckel's to create a foundation, the Randy Cooper Foundation, which also happens to be the recipient charity of all the proceeds of Phillips 'As Stolen on TV' book.
Bright-Eyed and Bushy-Tailed
With this book, Phillips hopes to inform and educate new and excited inventors about the unseen challenges they may face. We never want to assume the worst, or expect people to steal ideas, or even accept the fact that with infringers there are no limits... but this is reality, at least for now. These conversations, books, and articles, all aim to shed light on processes currently taking place in the dark, to force these "bad guys" from the shadows.
Some Protection Advice
Some of what Phillips covers in the book is nitty gritty, applicable advice you really need to know before launching a new product or sharing your ideas publicly. Here are a few that jumped out at me:
Clauses are to be read thoroughly. You may be offered a money or royalty clause of 3-5% (typical) but few inventors know to look at the deductions coming out of that percentage. For example, if website costs are built into that clause as a deduction but there's no budget attached to that, you have no idea what you're agreeing to.
NDA's are not your golden egg. "Well everyone can sign an NDA..." An NDA is only as good as the paper it's printed on, as Phillips puts it, and your ability to enforce what's on that paper. Patents fall under the same rule, so don't let your guard down just because you have something that sounds official. If you don't have the resources to act on violations of these documents, they don't matter.
One more clause to look out for. A poorly written sell-off clause lands inventors in trouble all the time. When a contract goes bad (which they do) and you decide to split ways with whoever has helped you get to this point, there will be plenty of decisions to make. Like, for instance, if they've got an inventory of 100,000 units of your invention, what will be done with those items. If there's no agreed upon sell-off price or provision that allows you to buy those units at cost (or cost plus a small amount) what will happen to your product and how will it affect your brand? If you go into a Big Lots or Dollar Store and see a shelf full of products for $9.99, that were $29.99 last month, you're probably looking at the results of a poorly written sell-off clause.
One final piece of advice I always share with my clients is simple and helps you protect yourself, your inventions, and your potential success: Set up a Google Alert for your name, your product's name, and your business name, and check those emails every week. This will help you stay on top of any funny business and nip it before you see your dream stolen.