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Inventors Told There’s Safety in Numbers

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Inventors of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your naivete.

Such could be the motto of Joseph Gray, a youthful consultant here who has launched a new computer service for independent inventors. His hope is that by communicating and sharing experiences electronically, the lone wolves tinkering away in their garages can help each other avoid being victims of rip-offs.

“We need to make people aware that they can be taken advantage of,” Gray said.

The danger involves invention promotion companies that help develop and market innovative ideas--for a fee. Too often, such firms are unscrupulous operations that take an inventor’s money but make little or no effort to actually bring a product to market, Gray said.

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Invent Net, a computer bulletin board that has been launched in Orange County and will go nationwide within a few months, enables inventors to exchange information about scam operators and find potential investors. The service also has 16 “special interest groups,” which feature ongoing discussions about invention fields such as energy and medical products.

Eventually, Gray said, the nonprofit network will also provide access to databases on patents and a wide variety of existing products. There is no charge for using the service, which is supported by Gray and some donations.

Alan Arthur Tratner, president of the Camarillo-based Inventors Workshop International Education Foundation, said the new network could fill an important need. “It would be very good to have that kind of hookup,” he said.

His organization is dedicated to eradicating inventor rip-offs and will provide anyone free information on how to avoid scam operations. He even has a “dirty dozen” list of firms that often charge inventors thousands of dollars for marketing programs that are never carried out.

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Tratner said he knew of one company that had more than 2,000 inventors on its roster, and not one of them had ever made any money. “Everybody believes if they have a good idea, they’ll make a million dollars,” he said. “But inventors need to get real.”

Persuading independent inventors to cooperate, however, is not always easy, Tratner said. And Gray, who writes a column for Invent! magazine, concedes that part of his motive for starting the network was to cut down on the amount of time he spends counseling those who call him after reading his column.

“Inventors are a crazy group of people, very unrealistic, and they will monopolize your time if you let them,” he said. “I’m trying to reroute people into a help-yourself situation.”


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