Companies have started to change their attitudes about accepting outside idea submissions from lone inventors. In the past, many companies instituted policies rejecting any outside idea submissions and instead relied on their internal R&D departments to come up with new products. Many of these companies did so to avoid potential patent infringement or other IP claims.
However, with the change in the economy, many companies are cutting back in their R&D budgets, so they are realizing that accepting outside ideas to buy or license is more cost effective. A prime example is Procter & Gamble, where Greg Swartz of Arizona, a lone inventor invented a battery-operated odor-eliminating device called the “Hang ‘n’ Fresh” that hooks inside garbage cans. Swartz took the approach of simply emailing P&G and received a response in 24 hours, in which the company took the invention under consideration. If approved, Swartz may have a large royalty license agreement or assignment (total sale of the invention) to P&G. In fact P&G established an external-ideas program in 2001. In 2008 P&G received 3,740 submissions, and has about 1,000 contracts under the program.
Patenting your invention, or in the very least filing the patent application now, and doing the proper homework as to the right contacts at the right companies, can land you a similar royalty or a million dollar assignment of your invention.