Will It Sell?TM
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Who Are Your Gatekeepers?
© Copyright 2001 James E. White
If you think you don't have any gatekeepers filtering the information that gets to you and into your brain you're naive. However, before we get into that let me clear up some possible confusion regarding censorship.
What is censorship? It's the act of preventing publication or expression of "objectionable" material. Is it illegal? No. That may not be the answer you expected. Is government censorship illegal. No again. Surprised? From the First Amendment: "Congress shall make no law [...] abridging the freedom of speech or of the press." State constitutions usually limit such laws also but thousands of local governments and no businesses or individuals, and not even federal or state government, are legally barred from practicing censorship themselves. "Objectionable" is relevant only in the eye of the beholder and meets no other standard. In fact, most self-appointed censors block not only what is clearly "objectionable" in their eyes but what they even suspect might be "objectionable."
Everyone is free to know information you don't know and to decide NOT to pass that information on to you. The federal, and most state, government(s) simply cannot pass laws that abridge anyone's freedom to speak or publish. A parties freedom to control what they DON'T pass on to you is likewise not abridgable. There is absolutely no guarantee that your message, or mine, or anybodies will be gotten to everyone either by the government or the press or by anyone. When we don't actively seek information from many sources, when we let others tell us what they want us to hear, when we choose not to think but to passively accept, we should not be surprised if what we "know" from information passed on by the actively thinking sources is biased for the very benefit of those sources and not us.
Now that we know it's perfectly legal for gatekeepers to withhold information from us let's take a closer look at who those gatekeepers that surround us might be and see why their interests might not be so compatible with ours as we might think.
Let's start with the pinnacle, Joanne Hayes-Rines and Inventors' Digest. This article could have wound up in the trash instead of published [In fact, Joanne so far has decided it's too "angry" for her to publish]. Do you think just any article that gets submitted gets published? What if a scam artist submitted an article that touted their firm and how it could do absolutely everything to get your invention on the market if it has merit? What if Joanne knew from inventor reports that the firm always told every inventor that they thought the inventor's idea had merit but, just to be sure, they would—for the small fee of $700—pass it by their professional marketers for a market report. And further Joanne had learned that all the "market reports" simply showed an industry with hundreds of millions, maybe even billions, of dollars of "potential." Would you fault her for not publishing that author's article.
What if some firm with no known track record submitted ads—with the advertising insertion fees, of course—for Joanne to publish. Maybe a patent attorney firm. She assumes the firm is honestly interested in doing the best they can for inventors and publishes their ads for a year. In every report back from inventors who responded to that ad Joanne heard a glowing inventor say "they did a patent search and told me they were pretty certain they could get a patent for me." Now the firm submits an article that talks about the technical requirements for submitting "publishable" drawings with an initial patent application. Seems simple enough, a useful article, "glowing reports," renewal of the ads for another year. So Joanne publishes the article which further "legitimizes" the patent attorney firm doing the advertising.
Do you begin to see a problem? Does accepting the advertising dollars have the potential to bias Joanne's decision? Could she excuse any potential bias because the reports were glowing and the article is informative? What would you do? I'm glad I'm not in her shoes! It could take 3-5 years before disgruntled inventors started discovering that they were duped into paying for very narrow patents with no chance of commercial merit because, in reality, the essence of their invention had already been covered in a long expired patent. How many would be more embarrassed than disgruntled and not tell Joanne? What if she does start hearing from a substantial fraction of the disgruntled now that she's published 5 informative articles by the attorneys plus their ads for 4 years. Should she stop publishing their articles and accepting their ad fees? What would you do? Could you excuse her publishing more of their ads and articles because, after all, the articles are informative and the attorneys did "get patents" (albeit worthless ones) for clients that wanted them?
What if ad dollars aren't even an issue? An article appears out of the blue that seems informative enough and the author's contact info is available but there are no negative (or even positive) reports on them anywhere. Does it get published or not?
Does every library have every book available? Of course not. Forgetting the fiction, do they have every valuable reference or informative book available? Of course not again. How do they selectively choose the books they will make available then? Librarian selection is the obvious one. (But there is an even better one we will get to shortly.) When the librarian chooses, what criteria do they use? Price, past patron topic interest, personal interest, reviews, mostly from one library jobber's catalog, publisher, the odds the book will be stolen—all of these and more. Let's look just at the last two for the moment.
Should either publisher or theft-potential be cause for non-selection of a book? If the truth be told, they are. And with good historic reason too. Should the library acquire self-published books? How about vanity press books? Self-publishing is where the author deals with and pays for typesetting, printing, binding, cover artwork, etc. while vanity publishing is where the author pays a "publisher" for taking the manuscript and handling all the details of production (and sometimes some marketing).
Even as little as 10 years ago self-publishing was somewhat impractical and vanity publishing was rare. The material was almost always of very low quality and had been rejected by numerous publishers. Librarians knew, or with little effort could determine, that the odds of finding quality in self- or vanity published books was small, so they mostly ignored them. But today technological advances make self-publishing practical and it is dramatically growing in importance in fields where the volume of sales might not be enough to excite traditional publishers. Many quality books for inventors are self published yet the Library of Congress continues a strong anti self-published book policy which may also trickle down to your local library.
Chilton's Auto Repair manuals were so frequently stolen from libraries in the 1960s and '70s that many libraries simply quit buying them. Unfortunately today the same thing occurs with inventor books. And it's a shame because if one or two quality inventor titles are stolen the librarians simply don't buy any inventor titles (or worse, stick with ones so useless nobody wants them!). What if you are the naive inventor that reads the book not worth stealing and you rely on it's misinformation? (Aside: Can you imagine someone wanting the intellectual property protection of a patent for themselves but willing to steal to avoid paying for someone else's copyrighted intellectual property?)
As a general rule, librarians hate censorship of any kind even though they must practice it as part of their fiscal responsibility to their funding source. Can you get your local librarian to overcome their biases and fiscally required censoring? Yes you can. Even better than librarian selection of materials that appear on their shelves is that you can just ask your librarian if they will get the books you want. Often they will though you may then have to be willing to accept non-circulating reference use only restrictions or paying a deposit of the value of a much-in-demand book to get permission to check it out.
Professional drafters, engineers, patent agents, attorneys, prototype makers, tooling makers, molders, marketers, etc. all earn their living by doing their thing. You go to them, you pay your money, you get whatever you pay for. Or do you? Isn't it in the professional's best interest to just "professionally" apply their expertise to do what you ask rather than to help you understand that what you're asking for may not be best for you? Should a patent attorney tell you, for example, that less than 2% of all patents ever are worth anything. Should they clearly point out that you can't get a broad patent on oil drain funnels, only a very narrow patent on oil drain funnels with your seven features—others already hold patents on oil drain funnels with 5 of your features. Should a marketer tell you that your competition is the 2 feature funnel that has an 80% market share and sells for less than one third of what your retail price will have to be? Or should they take your fee, prepare your ads, and gladly collect and pass your ad insertion fees (less their 15% commission of course) to whatever media they recommend.
Should a tooling maker tell you that progressive stamping will be far more economical than casting for your parts if all they do are casting molds just like you came to them for? Are any of the above guilty of withholding information from you? Are they "censoring" anything? Who is responsible for looking out for your best interests? At what point does a professional have an obligation to educate you even if it costs them business? The easy answer, of course, is "never." You are responsible for your own education whether you get it by research and study or by paying for consulting time with a broad based expert that can sort out your options and then direct you to the specialists you will pay to execute your wishes.
Whoa! Aren't inventor clubs safe? I know of one inventor club that demands that professionals in the field be dues paying members of the club before they will be permitted to give a presentation to the club. Well, yes, a patent attorney that gives a presentation on international patenting, his area of expertise, MIGHT stand to make a profit way beyond the $55 annual club dues. But which is better, all club members floundering in the dark about international patenting processes, risks, and potential rewards or a few members getting the info while the club collects $55 and the speaker never makes a dime from club members? Can anyone that puts money into the club treasury get the right to present a program full of untruths and half truths designed to sucker in inventors who believe an appearance before the club validates the integrity of the speaker and their services?
What about the clubs "owned and operated" by patent attorneys or marketers or whatever? Will they strongly recommend practices that minimize the use of their services or just pay lip service to the high risk of inventor failure while gladly accepting fees for services a rational third party would be nearly certain were worthless? Even if your club doesn't appear to be "owned and operated" for one party's benefit might it be used by multiple "mutually back scratching" business people to collect inventors into one place where they can more economically "advertise" their "inventor help" wares? Will these "back scratchers" point you outside the "club," or even suggest killing your idea completely if those actions hurt the pocketbooks of the back scratchers?
Does your club have an elected board and officers all selected by the membership from among all members? Are you willing to put some effort into the club yourself? Or a new club? If not then maybe you are getting the results you deserve even if it's not what you think you're getting. Even a club with an elected board and officers will "censor" what gets through to the membership but at least the odds are it will be done by other inventors in what they believe is the general member inventors' best interests.
Have you figured out how the invention-idea-to-profits "system" works based on what your grade school teachers taught about Thomas Edison, what you thought you heard at a couple of club presentations, and what you've read in a few magazine or, ugh, newspaper articles? Do you automatically reject any evidence or teaching that is counter to what you think you know? Do you believe that licensing ideas is the key to success? Do you believe that patenting is the key to success? Do you believe that venturing is the key to success? Would it upset or surprise you to know that none of those are "the" key to success? The only "key" to success is profitable sales. Everything else is secondary and for any given "good" product idea any number of routes may well have a good shot at getting you there.
When you get a compliment sandwich do you hoard the bread and discard the meat? "That's a great idea" your doctor says viewing your new wound protection cover. "My grandpa was a doctor before my dad and he used something very much like that. In my dad's time they came up with what we use now which isn't as economical as your idea but it prevents more reinjuries. I love it, that brings back so many fond memories; you're very ingenious to come up with that." What will you remember to tell your friends and family? That the doctor said you had a "great idea" and she "loved it" or the meat that says your idea is old and superceded by better inventions?
Psychologists tell us that even though we may initially accept the meat, if we then gatekeep the meat of truth from our friends in order to keep our "idea" genius status high, we will most certainly experience some internal "cognitive dissonance" and our subsequent (and most probably unproductive) behaviors will be to continue face-saving development of the old idea. The secret to avoiding this problem is to have with us a party with no emotional attachment to the idea when we do solicit feedback or to have a non-emotional third party solicit and report the feedback to us, or, at the very least, to come clean with such a party as quickly as possible. Having a great idea that is 50 years old is not so bad when you can quickly move on to a really great, new idea that is totally yours.
Aha, you say. But the idea, your idea (supposing that it is new), comes first and that is the true key to success—if other people blow it along the way and don't achieve profitable sales for you it was their failure, not your idea's or yours. If it were true that the mere idea was responsible for success then 100% of all patents (which must be novel and non-obvious to be granted) would be valuable instead of less than 2%. The video phone, invented in 1927, would be ubiquitous; perpetual motion machines (still getting patents) would generate all power; and the Hula Hoop would have been a worldwide phenomenon before Wham-O created a trademark and a marketing plan for an old, essentially unprotectable toy [the creator did get a patent but it really couldn't be used to "protect" the essence of the Hula Hoop from copycats]. Airplanes were not the Wright brothers' idea, light bulbs were not Thomas Edison's idea but the Wright brothers and Edison do, and should, get a substantial amount of credit for seeing the ideas through to invention and commercialization.
Are your gatekeeping filters still working? Have you added a few new ones? Maybe loosened some others of your own? I hope you now see "censorship" and your responsibilities in a whole new light so that you can apply your new understanding to new situations. What might be the gatekeeping role of an organization that puts on "inventor" shows and conferences? What might be the gatekeeping role of a patent examiner? I urge you to always keep questioning. Question the answers you get too. And question the source of the answers to understand any possible biases. And question your own beliefs to make certain you haven't simply slammed the gate shut to information that indicates it's time for you to move on to another invention idea—or another approach to success. Seek out, understand, and properly use the "hidden" information all your gatekeepers have been censoring, it's perfectly legal for you to have it!
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