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If patent assistance sounds too good to be true, it probably is

By Tony Kindelspire
The Daily Times-Call

LONGMONT — “Do you have an idea for invention, or do you know someone who does?”

We’ve all heard that commercial or something like it, enticing would-be inventors with an easy way to get their product patented and sold on the market.

Don’t be fooled, the experts say.

“They’re the bane of the inventor,” said Jim Poole, a Fort Collins patent attorney and a board member of the Rocky Mountain Inventors and Entrepreneurs Congress. “They may get a patent for somebody, and the patent may or may not be worthwhile.

“The only thing they’re really good at is taking large amounts of money from inventors. They really prey on inventors who are gullible.”

The RMIC is a 25-year-old nonprofit agency that helps inventors with advice and assistance — sometimes even criticism, which you won’t get from for-profit agencies like the example mentioned above.

“A general mistake is not seeking advice from the proper sources,” said Poole. “It’s better to talk to trusted advisers. Even family members will tell you what you want to hear.”

The RMIC has access to many experts that can be of assistance to someone with an invention. Besides legal advice, the organization can tap experts in licensing, marketing, plastics, physics, metals and a host of other areas. The organization’s membership chairman is Warren Roh, a former aerospace design engineer for Martin Marietta for more than two decades.

The RMIC holds four meetings a month in various locations around the Front Range, and Roh said the most important one of those is probably the “CIA” — or “confidential inventor assistance” — program.

“What it is is a forum where people can come and discuss their inventions in complete confidentiality,” said Roh. “An inventor can go there at any stage of his process — the earlier the better.

“We tell you before you ever see anybody — a marketer or a patent attorney — come to one of these meetings.”

Roh also warns against contacting any of the for-profit companies that advertise for inventors, calling such companies “probably one of the largest scams in the United States, because everybody’s in love with their invention, and anybody who likes their invention is a good guy.”

Roh said the old adage applies: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

“The person needs to not only have a good idea, but they need to have a great patent,” said Roh, who holds a patent on a “baby shield” himself. “You can get a patent on anything, but getting a great patent is a different story.”

While the rules are complicated, the RMIC is there to help simplify things and see whether that idea you woke up with in the middle of the night really could be your ticket to “The Good Life.”

“One of the greatest inventions in the history of the United States is that Starbuck’s insulator that goes around the coffee cup,” said Roh. “The inventor of that has made millions and millions off that. And it’s just a piece of cardboard.”

Correction: A piece of cardboard with U.S. Patent No. 5205473.