Our Guest Blogger, Jim Lowrence, is an inventor who successfully marketed, licensed and sold his inventions to stores like Wal-Mart and Bass Pro Stores. Jim now helps other inventors through his inventor consulting business, as well as work as a self-employed salesman. Jim wanted to share his invention story and the things he learned along the way with the inventors at InventorSpot.com in a series of articles. Here's his first article:
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The Story of My Success with the "Rod Floater", My Invention
In the early 1980s, I co-invented a fishing tackle accessory, an attachment for fishing rod and reel combos with my brother-in-law we named "The Rod Floater". We saw the need for an invention that floats fishing rod and reel combos, after having near-drowning experiences with our own rod combos and after hearing the stories of other fishermen who had lost their own rod combos to watery graves, never to retrieve them. This inspired us to also add the catch phrase to the Rod Floater packaging; "A Life Vest For Your Fishing Rods!".
Inventor Jim Lowrance
The Rod Floater is a very simple device, an 8-inch, cylinder shaped piece of poly-foam material, similar to what you see water noodles and Nerf type toys made from, that attaches to fishing rods, just above the rod handles, in the space above the fishing reel and just below the first rod eyelet.
We knew our invention had potential for the reasons I've stated plus the fact that children learning to fish and those who are physically challenged are also at risk for dropping their rod combos overboard. To top it all off, my father-in-law had lost one of his own rod combos overboard, while trolling and having his fishing line snag on brush in the lake, which flipped his rod over the side, never to be retrieved in the deep water. With the Rod Floater, we knew that such mishaps would not end in tragedy because with our product invention, rods dropped overboard, would float on top of the water, allowing for easy retrieval of rod combos. Add in the fact that we came out with Rod Floaters in bright yellow and orange, in addition to basic black and fishermen are also able to spot rods dropped overboard, even at a significant distance. The bright colors are handy if a rod is dropped from a speeding boat and you have traveled a distance before being able to turn around and retrieve it or if your rod is pulled overboard by a fish and he swims across the lake with it. Since marketing the Rod Floater starting in 1990, we have actually received letters from fishermen, including some from pro fishing guide services who were grateful to retrieve their rods after experiencing these very scenarios I have just described.
My Experiences with an Invention Company or Invention Submission Firm
My brother-in-law and I at the time were not familiar with the concept of invention companies but only had basic knowledge about them from seeing their ads in mechanics magazines. We decided we would contact one of them and request information. The one we contacted was one of the more publicized companies and upon receiving their information, we sent our invention concept to them in detail, on paper. They responded back to us promptly, assuring us that our invention had very broad potential. We decided to go with this invention company and paid for a "basic information package", which consisted of them providing us a folder with market-potential estimates for our invention and professional art-graphics, depicting our invention. Upon receiving this basic information package, the invention company strongly suggested that we enter a contract with them, for a second step they would then undertake, to present our invention to industry for licensing it and if a licensing were successfully accomplished, we would receive royalty payments from sales of our product-invention. We did enter this second phase of their services, with a cost to us of several thousands of dollars, the basic information package having cost us several hundreds of dollars.
Let me say at the start of this paragraph in regard to invention companies, that not all of them practice bogus or false services, just to get fees from inventors but some invention companies are legitimate and sincere. In our case however, the invention company we entered into contract with, was not completing the services they claimed to be providing. We were able to determine this, by contacting many of the companies they claimed to be making submissions of our invention to and these companies made it very clear to us that they had never received the submissions.
At one point, the invention company also claimed they had found a corporation interested in marketing our invention and they eventually entered into a licensing agreement with them to market our invention. We were actually provided contracts to sign, in order for this corporation to manufacture and market our product-invention.
After more than a year after we had signed the licensing agreement, with no word from the invention company or the corporation/licensee, we inquired with the invention company as to the status of their marketing and were told that the corporation merged with another company and this new entity no longer wished to continue with the license agreement! We were devastated to say the least and at that point, asked for a release from the remaining time/term of our contract with the invention company and they granted us the release. The lesson to learn from this example, is to thoroughly investigate an invention company, their reputation, references and past history, before contracting with one to assist you with your invention!
A few months after the release from our contract with the invention company, I called the Chamber of Commerce in the city and state that this corporation who entered the license agreement with us resided in and I was told that no such company ever existed and that if it had, regardless of their claimed merge with another company, they would have known about them. This confirmed my suspicions that actually began long before we asked for the release from our contract with the invention company, that they were indeed a bogus inventor's help-resource and not a legitimate invention company.
Marketing an Invention on Your Own
At this point, my brother-in-law and I decided we needed to pursue marketing the invention on our own. I moved from the area we lived together in, to another state, due to a job change at that time and so my brother-in-law agreed to allow me to undertake the marketing effort from my location. This invention had potential and we knew it and we were not about to stop the efforts for it at this point! I immediately began attempting to secure investment to put behind our marketing effort and was able to get several local business men, to agree to invest in our project for the Rod Floater, so that we could get it patented, packaged, insured and marketed! We formed a little corporation of partners we registered as "Low-Mac, Inc." and we launched the effort!
In a series of articles I will write for Inventorspot.com in regard to this effort and the success we experienced, I will detail our obtaining of a patent, how we made our first prototypes, promotional ads, materials and videos we used to help submit and advertise the Rod Floater, how we designed packaging and pitfalls in regard to packaging that inventors need to be cautious about and "product liability insurance" products are required by many outlets to carry, for them to consider your product for resale. I will also write in regard to licensing, which we eventually did with the Rod Floater, in 1996 and have received monthly royalty checks from that time, to date. Some inventors prefer licensing to marketing on their own and so I will give detail on this subject as well.
Before getting the wonderful licensee we now have, we previously got the Rod Floater into Wal-Marts (regionally), Bass Pro Shops, Cabela's, Academy Stores, telemarketed on national T.V. shows and a national promotional premium deal with a major oil company, who wished to promote their outboard motor oil, using Rod Floaters as a give away in cases of the boat motor oil.
I also ended up inventing and developing other products in the outdoors sports industry and was able to these into Wal-Mart stores regionally as well before selling the products out right to a company who still markets these as well.
I look forward to sharing the information through the articles and is my hope that my experience will lend to helping inform inventors through this great website!
You can find out more about my inventor services here in the Inventor Services directory.