In honor of National Inventors Month, we reached out to a true champion of inventors, Louis J. Foreman. Founder and Chief Executive of Enventys, a product development company, he is also the CEO of Edison Nation, a company that helps independent inventors commercialize their ideas. Foreman has a passion for innovation and small business and speaks regularly on the subject of patents and intellectual property.
STI: What’s happening in the world of invention that has you most excited?
LF: Right now we’re going through a renaissance in terms of inventions and innovation. The resources that people have to create and produce, and the amount of awareness about those opportunities has never been greater. There’s a growing interest in licensing ideas which is very positive for inventors. Companies realize that invention is critical. The ‘Not Invented Here’ mentality no longer applies at big companies, they are more agreeable to looking at ideas, no matter where they come from.
There is more and more interest in ‘open innovation’ a term coined by Henry Chesbrough. His belief is that companies need to be open to ideas from outside of the company. Even though Chesbrough coined the term, it was really Proctor & Gamble that popularized the process of reaching out and collecting ideas from outside of a company and licensing those ideas.
So today you see hundreds and hundreds of companies realizing that they don’t have to invent everything that they sell and market. They can license ideas and inventions from others. That’s what we do at Edison Nation. We have an open innovation platform where inventors from around the world can come up with great ideas. The majority of these ideas come from individuals who don’t want to start companies or they don’t want to be entrepreneurs, but they still want to be rewarded financially for their brilliant idea. We review their ideas, assume all the financial risk, and if we believe that we can commercialize their invention, we share in the royalties with the inventor. There is no downside risk to the inventor and we never try selling them development services.
STI: What are the biggest hurdles you see inventors currently facing?
LF What has us concerned is that if you make it more difficult to enforce a patent, then you’re making it more difficult to license, because companies won’t be interested in licensing a patent if they can’t enforce it. The licensing model can’t thrive in that environment.
Inventors are finding it very difficult to succeed with one invention and building a business with one invention. Companies today have lots of products and there is advantage to size and scale. Inventors don’t always want to be entrepreneurs. Licensing is critical to them. But when you make it more difficult to license because you can’t enforce your patent it takes away the incentive to invent in the first place.
STI: Do you think most inventors are aware of efforts to weaken patents?
LF: I don’t think so. Some inventors are aware, but the vast majority are unaware of the erosion of their rights that could potentially happen in Congress right now.
STI: How do we reach out to those inventors?
LF: The problem is that it’s very hard to categorize or to organize what is an inventor. We’re all inventors. There’s not a trade association for inventors. Edison Nation is the largest collection of independent inventors in the U.S., but it still represents a small subset of all the potential inventors. The media is filled with all sorts of rhetoric around patent trolls, and that seems like a worthwhile cause, but the reality is it’s not about patent trolls, it’s about destroying intellectual property rights and taking away the ability of someone to own something they’ve created and the ability to do anything that they want with it. Whether they want to start a company or just license the idea. Everyone should be concerned about this.
STI: How are state and federal legislation efforts helping or hurting inventors?
LF: From a legislative standpoint, I don’t see any help. We only see harm right now. Independent inventors will be the collateral damage from what’s currently happening in Congress. We will be the unintended consequence this legislation could potentially have. The government is doing some good things at the USPTO to help independent Inventors. The irony is that as much good as the USPTO is doing to help inventors, Congress is working very hard to make those rights very difficult to enforce.
STI: Tell us three things you would advise young inventors to do or explore?
LF: 1. Don’t take anything for granted. Always look at a problem and try to come up with a better solution. Just because we do something one way today, doesn’t mean that there isn’t a better way to do it tomorrow.
2. Figure out who your competition is. What’s unique about your product or service? Why would consumers want to purchase your product versus what’s already available?
3. Make sure there is a big enough market before you invest your time and resources.
STI: Thank you for your time Louis.
Louis Foreman is founder and Chief Executive of Enventys (www.enventys.com), an integrated product design and engineering firm. He is also CEO of Edison Nation (www.EdisonNation.com), and Edison Nation Medical (www.EdisonNationMedical.com ). Over the past 20 years Louis has created 9 successful start-ups and has been directly responsible for the creation of over 20 others. A prolific inventor, he is the inventor of 10 registered US Patents, and his firm is responsible for the development and filing of well over 600 more.
The recipient of numerous awards for entrepreneurial achievement, his passion for small business extends beyond his own companies. Louis is an adjunct professor of Entrepreneurship and Innovation, at Queens University. He received the Instructor Achievement Award for his teaching at Central Piedmont Community College, and was recognized by the National Museum of Education for his Distinguished Contributions to Education. Louis is an adjunct professor and the Entrepreneur in Residence at The McColl School of Business, and was the 2013 Distinguished Visiting Professor at Johnson & Wales University. He is a frequent lecturer and radio / TV guest on the topics of small business creation and innovation, and is frequently invited by the United States Patent and Trademark Office and national trade associations to be a featured speaker on the topic of innovation.
In addition to being an inventor, Louis is also committed to inspiring others to be innovative. Louis is the creator of the Emmy® Award winning PBS TV show, Everyday Edisons, and serves as the Executive Producer and lead judge. The show is in its Fifth season and appears nationally on PBS. In 2007, Louis became the publisher of Inventors Digest, a 32-year-old publication devoted to the topic of American Innovation. In 2009, his first book, The Independent Inventor’s Handbook, was published by Workman Publishing. In 2015, Louis was awarded the IP Champion Award by the US Chamber of Commerce.