Slim Odds For Inventors

The Wall Street Journal reports that In an effort to better connect with inventors, some large manufacturers including Clorox Co., Kraft Foods Inc., , General Mills Inc., Staples Inc., Procter & Gamble Co. and GlaxoSmithKline PLC, have launched websites in recent years for soliciting product ideas. Some of the sites occasionally feature specific requests from the companies’ research-and-development teams.

Before they launched, “inventors would typically have to find someone to pitch their idea to and it would maybe make it to someone else and then someone else,” says Greg Piche, who works in Clorox’s innovation group. “It wasn’t a very streamlined process.”

Clorox in May also launched a two-month campaign to solicit proposals for new antibacterial cleaning products; the yet-to-be-determined winner will receive a $2,500 advance and other compensation based on sales.

Similarly, General Electric Co. and several venture-capital partners in July solicited proposals for a next-generation power grid. GE says the program–the first of its kind for the company–attracted nearly 3,000 submissions. Five winners will each receive $100,000 to develop their ideas, though there’s no guarantee GE will invest further in the products.

Even if an inventor’s idea gets noticed, the odds of reaping big bucks are slim. Companies typically offer compensation in the form of royalty fees, small percentages of wholesale earnings. Some companies also provide one-time upfront payments, depending on the stage of development an invention is at, what type it is and whether it has legal protection.

Competition is fierce. AllStar Products Group LLC, a private Hawthorne, N.Y., company perhaps best known for its marketing of the sleeved-blanket Snuggie, receives more than 10,000 submissions a year from inventors, says Scott Boilen, founder and chief executive. The company enters into licensing deals for between 75 and 100 inventions a year, with Mr. Berger’s Side Sleeper Pro being a recent example, he says.

Photo by USPTO.

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