Telling people about inventions

I have a friend who several years ago told me about a simple invention. Easy to market, mass appeal and easy to prototype and produce. One of those once in a lifetime type inventions that could be worth hundreds of millions of dollars over a period of a few years.

I call him every few months and durring our conversations I always ask if he has done anything with his invention. Answer is always that he just has not found time. I offered him 25% of the company if he would just give me the ok to go forward with it on my own. He was highly insulted??  Did I do something wrong here, I felt I was being fair. I have never betrayed his trust and discussed this with anyone. This guy is a bit of a drinker and a dreamer and I know he won't follow through on this. 

I did the basic patent searches and can't find anything even remotely close to it. 

Fast forward to present, I find out it is not really his idea but someone elses who asked him to build a prototype. The guy with the original idea is also a drinker and dreamer and getting along in age and in bad health. I have no idea how many people he has told about this.

At what point would it be ethical to go forward with something like this? My gut tells me not until someone croaks but it seems like such a shame.

In this case it sounds like you’re going to have to move forward by yourself unless they have licensed, trademarked, registered etc. the product in some way that precludes you going off and doing it on your own. Your insulted “build it” friend probably has no legal standing in the matter. You do have decision to make in that if you approach the older guy with the original idea he may say no or yes, but you will definitely lose the friendship of the intermediate guy regardless of how it turns out.

Before you spend any serious money and time on this you should have an extensive patent search conducted not just a basic review.

Re waiting for someone to die some drunks in poor health can seemingly live forever. I don’t think that’s a plan.

It sounds like the plot to an Agatha Christie novel.

First, did the inventor document the invention in a way the patent office or a court would accept?

As for you, an ethical thing to do would be to get an attorney to draft a contract allowing you to patent and market the invention (under the inventor’s name, of course) in return for giving him some money and a share of profits.
As astro said your friend has no standing - in fact he did wrong by disclosing his customer’s proprietary information - but you might cut him in for a share also.
Then you can start an application and do a full search.
But the first thing to do is to find a patent attorney and an attorney who can do contracts. It will cost you.

More like Nancy Drew. There was a book where the McGuffin was a song guaranteed to make the heir of the writer lots of money. Wish I knew how to identify a song like that.

Heh. That’s the exact idea that gets mocked in DEATHTRAP, come to think of it.

Coming back around, seems to me the unethical thing would be to do nothing, and someone else independently comes up with the patentable idea, and you commiserate by saying yeah, I knew how to make you a fortune, and smiled a lot instead.

How confident are you that it will be that successful? For example, if this was something for dogs, have you talked to any pet stores?

You should probably have a lawyer get his claws into this to get the real scoop. Typically, the inventor will have a confidentiality agreement they would have people sign before sharing the idea with them. In this case, that didn’t happen. But this situation must be very common in the real world where two people are talking about stuff and come up with an idea and then one person goes off and creates it without the other person.

The other issue is the real-world situation where this thing will get copied if it’s that successful. Expect big companies to make their own version and foreign knockoffs to be produced. There needs to be enough capital available for you to flood the market with product and marketing so that you stay ahead of the knock off versions. You’ll likely have to license the product to a big company or find investors who will bring the money (and take some ownership).

You will need a patent attorney eventually so I would say find one now and ask them. This is why the rule of thumb is that you don’t talk about your invention to anyone until filing a provisional patent application. Especially as the USPTO doesn’t require a prototype unless you are patenting a perpetual motion machine (seriously).

This country is first to apply now not first to invent so in response to Voyager’s reply the original inventor would either need a provisional application less than a year old or a non-provisional application filed with the USPTO.

There’s a sticky area here to deal with, the guy who originally thought this up may have contracted your friend to build the prototype with the understanding that your friend should keep the matter secret. Now you sort of know of that. I have no idea if there are legal consequences, but it is in some ways akin to receiving stolen property. I would go with Voyager’s advice and talk to an attorney. It’s entirely possible the inventor didn’t show due diligence and you are free to pursue a patent yourself, and then it’s up to your moral or ethical sense to decide to cut these other guys in. But unless it was legally necessary I wouldn’t even discuss the matter with them until you knew you had something to cut them in on. They (or their heirs) might try to sue you and even if they have no valid grounds it’s still something you don’t want to have to deal with.

This is exactly my thinking. I have a feeling this has been discussed with plenty of other people over the years. I used the term friends very loosely. We have a very casual but firendly working relationship. Never have met in person. I am actually finding it hard to believe that it has not already been invented. If it has not I am certain someone will eventually come up with it.

As far as confidence goes. Part of me is very confident and there is another part of me that thinks maybe others don’t think like me, so I would say 50% confident. Not very high when considering risking my own bankroll.

Knowing myself the way I do once I give my word I stick to it and I did give my word. I think my best option is to be very direct with him and lean on him a bit more. I would be more than happy if I could get a cut for helping out in the development and helping to keep the project moving. No true prototypes have been built and as far as I know only sketches exist.

This sounds  logical but I know I wouldn't feel right about going this rout. As more time goes by I do find myself more and more tempted I have to admit.

What stops you? If you feel a moral obligation to the inventor you can do what you feel is right later on when you’ve made something out of all this. At the moment it’s going nowhere, with no benefit to anyone.

Did you have something in mind to speed that along? :eek:

Heh. How do you recommend doing that, without one of the pet-store guys getting a faraway look in his eye while scribbling down a million-dollar idea?

(I’m being flip, but I’m serious.)

To pour cold water on all of this, an “idea” for an invention is pretty much worthless. There are big companies who have thousands of proposed products sitting on the shelves that never made it into production because the proposed invention didn’t seem like it would be profitable.

The idea might be workable, it might solve an actual problem that actual people have, it could be a great idea. That doesn’t mean you can figure out a way to make money from it. Do you have an experience running a small business? Or a large business? Have you ever manufactured anything? Run a manufacturing facility? Done any marketing or sales?

Almost all patents never make the inventor a dime, only a tiny fraction are worth anything. And of those that are worthwhile, you have to be a natural businessman to bring the product to market in a profitable way.

I used to work for a guy who was literally a brilliant inventor. He was the kind of guy who would call his own voicemail a couple times a day and dictate a new invention idea…one of my jobs was to check his voicemail every day and transcribe all of his ideas and document them. He was one of the co-developers of T9, the old 10-key text entry system used on old phones. But of course he realized that most of his ideas would never amount to anything. He literally had thousands of ideas for products. But he only seriously pursued a dozen of them, and only made money from three or four.

Point being, if someone handed you a production facility and employees and bank accounts and legal whatevers already set up, would you have what it took to run that business profitably? Now consider whether you’ve got the talents and deep pockets to get from step zero to this step.

Products or patents? For our products (which were process oriented) we had a gate system in which ideas would get screened for feasibility and then utility. Things that didn’t make it didn’t really sit on a shelf. Product development is expensive enough so I can believe that ideas get shelved, but not things that make it to product status.

Patents are another matter. Back in the good old days at least big companies protected themselves by trading patent licenses with other big companies. The company which had more patents had more clout - how good the patents were was not a big issue. I have four, all pretty much useless. I actually got some money for two of them.
So big companies do have a nice portfolio of useless patents.

Did the second guy, the “builder”, actually build it? Having theoretical standing or not to a piece of the action, if he has a working model of the item and can bring it into a courtroom, and anything to suggest he built it before you took any action about it, your acquisition just got enormously more complicated.

As far as I know it has never gotten past a rough sketch. The concept is what interests me. The actual sketch as described to me I didn’t think too much of. Some of the appeal of this product is in how easily it could be prototyped and developed. The marketing would also be much easier than usual as it would require very little to almost know education on the product, it is self expalnatory and the target customers are very active in keeping up with new technology. The big question mark is how well would it work? A very rough test on my part indicates it would work very well. I have no personnal experience in the application it would be used for.

I think I will get back in touch with the guy who shared it with me and try to light a fire under him, I would be happy to do the prottypes and initial testing myself. I have access to everything I need for this stage. Not so sure I am confident enough in it to invest much though, I have that lingering feeling that I may be seeing more in it than others might.

They’re is nothing wrong with you going ahead and making a prototype yourself. You haven’t stepped on anyone’s rights if you don’t try to sell it or claim it as your own. If you can make the prototype maybe the other guys will get off their butts.