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WARNING, WARNING, WARNING just because something purports to be a "club" that does NOT mean it is not a "profit making operation" for someone. There are several clubs I know about FOR SURE that are in essence "owned and operated" primarily for the benefit of their "leader"/founder. A club where all the organizing and marketing is done by a patent practitioner, no matter how "nice" the person seems, is ALWAYS a club operated for the benefit of the practitioner FIRST and you second, or even incidentally.
It may also be the case that an unofficial and informal (with no malice aforethought) cadre of professionals, patent practitioners, marketers, accountants, tooling makers, machinists, whatever, has formed, or at least now runs, a club and that while they generally provide solid assistance they may also take some advantage of novices at business. It is YOUR RESPONSIBILITY to understand what you want out of the club and to be sure you get it. It is YOUR RESPONSIBILITY to LEARN enough to make sound business decisions about what services provided by club members you will use.
Owner as Guru
Just because everyone in the club seems enthralled by the (owner) leader DOES NOT mean the leader is trustworthy and will look out for your interests. All it may mean is that those poor fools have just not "caught on" yet. The people who have wised up to the true interests of the leader, whether it took them 2 minutes or 5 years, will NOT be showing up at the club meetings. While the wised up people very well might attend one or two meetings after they get smart and try to disabuse other members of their... er, misplaced worship of the leader they will inevitably quickly tire of the wasted time on their part.
"Worshipers" of any stripe rarely thank anyone who attempts to acquaint them with the true facts, rather they tend to dig in their heels and staunchly defend their worship, call any negative facts (no matter the evidence) lies, and internally maintain their own ego by believing in their own "rightness" (at least until the truth becomes too obvious to ignore and until the party that brought some of it to their attention is out of sight).
Board of Directors
One thing I believe should be part of a club is always an unpaid, volunteer, elected board elected by the members. It makes no difference how formal the "incorporation," how weighty the bylaws, or how the officers are chosen so long as the club is run by and for the members with a board that meets and debates the issues before deciding (as opposed to someone dictating decisions). Ask for the lowdown in ONE-ON-ONE discussions with very active and less active members before you officially join a club. If you find some dissatisfaction dig for why. Talk to more members and compare the answers you get. It very well may be that this is a club that is solid and honest by-the-members-for-the-members club (with a few disgruntled "I'd be the best leader" types that didn't get elected) or it may be a club that is itching to break free of an owner. Deal with what you find in the best way that you can.
A word of warning about some club members too. I have been in clubs (note the "s" and I've heard of other clubs) where someone has the bright idea that "the club" ought to pick one idea and work on it for the financial benefit of the club--and soon enough, so the theory goes, so that "the club" can begin funding other member inventors. I am CERTAIN such a scheme will never work. (If you know of any that have please let me know.)
The scheme sounds terrific to people who think of themselves as "idea people," even ABOVE all other inventors (in their mind anyway). Unfortunately these "idea people" just don't have the knowledge, skills, finances, time, you-name-it capability to actually accomplish the work (whether any or just some key pieces). Luckily there always are a few club members who do have the requisite skills, etc. and the idea is those capable people will do the work without compensation till after the "great idea" product is on the market and, of course, generating fantastic revenues.
There are a few details. Like how the "great idea" to be worked on gets chosen. Then there is the reality that the "idea people" whose idea didn't get chosen simply won't work on the (stupid) chosen one. And, of course there's the little detail that the folks with the requisite skills, etc. are keenly aware that the reality is that (at least) 999 out of 1,000 "great ideas," even when truly great, will not be successfully commercializable in good circumstances let alone when all the labor is essentially volunteer and the financing is... is... umm... where?
Oh, yeah, GRANTS! As if that solves anything. The people that give out grants (generally) aren't stupid. They also may be legally constrained to only give grants to "non-profits." "Non-profits" is a fuzzy term because reality is ALWAYS that money flows only to people who, whether they admit it or not (Mother Teresa perhaps being an exception), look out for themselves first. It is also true that these agencies that give grants want to see a proposal first--and it better be good enough to outcompete other proposals they get.
And who will write those winning proposals? You guessed it, the folks that have the skills, etc. and the knowledge that in the best of times (with rare exceptions) only one of three proposals is funded--and it has to be a quality proposal. Umm, compensation for these skills again to be deferred until the grant winnings come in...or maybe the finally successful product.
In short I've never heard of the scheme working and I've certainly never seen it work.
You will find a number of web sites that list inventor clubs. Just because a web site lists inventor clubs does not mean its proprietor is genuinely interested in helping inventors. Quite the contrary, it may mean they are simply looking to fool you into believing that they are interested in what's best for you. Go ahead, take advantage of their list (though many you'll find are way out of date and not maintained at all) but do not be naively tricked into feeling you owe that site proprietor any business. Evaluate your true business needs and their competitors and make a sound business decision before giving the site proprietor your patronage.
Affiliation with a Club
You will also find some club members whose only interest in the club is finding new people to take money from. How do you tell them from a service provider that is there to genuinely help----and get clients as appropriate? If you don't understand how to tell the difference there's probably nothing I can do to clue you in. You are a sitting duck or a sheep waiting to be shorn. (It's kind of like a (sleazeball firm) that's biggest push to convince you of their "honesty" is "Chamber of Commerce" or Better Business Bureau ***membership***. They paid their dues KNOWING the innocent might mistake continuing membership with endorsement, or at least some level of integrity.) The bottom line is DO NOT make your BUSINESS decisions based on any affiliation, base it on your needs and your verification that you can reasonably expect them to fulfil your needs competitively.
Copyright © 2004 James E. White
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