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July 31, 2023
John Rizvi, Esq.

The Best Advice For Inventors and Couples | Successful Inventors | Purpose, Patents, and Profits

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The third set of inventors for the virtual Summit. It's such a pleasure, Dennis and Marilou, to have you guys back. Your last time we met you were just inspired so many people is wonderful. And I couldn't have the spiritual summit, I think it would be terrific to have inventors hear from you. Let me share my screen real quick. And then we'll get started. I was I have, I just can't believe how many different products that you guys have launched over the years. So this is just a slide showing the virtual summit and 10 inventors we've already heard today from Kevin Harrington and Tara Williams, of course, and now we're here with Oh, and I jumped ahead. Yeah, Dennis and Mary Lou, they have over 50 different products that they've launched, generating over $120 million in retail sales. One of their more famous ideas is the sneaker balls. And some of we're going to show a prototype and some pictures, and you might recognize that, but sneaker balls are just the tip of the iceberg, because I'm going to I'm going to go through some of these and, and eventually, I'm going to stop because I was like my, my graphics person that's helping me with this that John, how many do you want? And I said, What do you mean? And she goes, Well, they're they're just keeps finding more and more products. So this is phenomenal, I think. So those are just some of them. But let me stop the slide share. And the last thing I'll talk about is, it's a little bit unusual. As inventors, of course, all of us need a support system to help in our you know, in our careers no matter what the career is, but I can't imagine a group of people that need that more than somebody who's inventing a new product. So Dennis and Mary Lou had been married, gosh, I don't know, 20 years, 30 years, or 242 years. And in the book five star love how to treat your true love like a customer and get the marriage of your dreams. And anybody that's an inventor, whether your spouse is an inventor or not, you need to get a copy of this book because it's there's so much clarity that comes from it. And in venting is just strife with obstacles. And part of the reason is for a lot of things that we're doing that you guys are doing, there's no right answer. So it's not there's, it's not like, okay, she says, you know, yes, you say no, we're going to Google and look it up there isn't? There is no answer. You're not going to find that on Google. So you have to come to a compromise. So

there's only one question you need to remember that is when I say that to my customer.

Oh, wow. Yeah. That's, it's great. You have to stop stuff then in marriages wouldn't be said. Right? Or would be phrased differently. If that was the question. Was that something you would say to your customer? Right now? Love that. So with that, why don't you introduce yourself, instead of the starting with the products, let's go to where you were before inventing became your life. So take us back to the early stages.

Go ahead. You're the teacher.

Okay. Well, way back in 1975, I met Dennis and I was an elementary teacher. And this was an architect. And we started dating. And we realized that both of us share a mutual curiosity in life. And so we started looking around and Dennis didn't like his job. So I said, Well, why don't you just quit? How's that for just going off the deep end, right? So he, he, we weren't sure what he was going to do. But we got an idea for a product that were framed graphics. They were contemporary art graphics. And that idea we marched out with and we went to trade shows we were so ready, we're gonna take on the world. And of course, it flopped, because we hadn't studied the market. And we had a lot of breakage and shipping the product. So the great news is that most of the time for inventing when you have a failure, it opens your eyes to what else is out there. And we got the idea to do greeting cards. And so Dennis started designing greeting cards and we built a company around greeting cards, and did that until the mid 80s. And then we were bought by a public company at that point.

Well, first of all, the reason we sold is because we were not counting our inventory costs correctly. And we ran into a cashflow problem, but we had invented a number for different products that were that had value, so when we sold the company, we got cash for that to pay off all of our debts. And then we received royalties from the products. So then after that, about a year of that the company that we sold to went under, and so we were stuck with no income. So we had to come up with some new ideas to develop. And that's when we came up with the idea for sneaker balls.

And at that point you had already, Mary Lou, you had already resigned as a teacher, right? So you didn't have

to resign one year. And we're working with the public company. And then when they went under, I went back to teaching. And this is this was a real hard part of our life, because we lost our house. And so and we sold a car. And so Dennis was taking me to school every day well, and which was some of the best conversations we've had. And he started working on a novel. And then we got the idea for sneaker balls in 1988. And from there, then we decided to stick with inventing, you know, sample products, and went on to what you just showed,

yeah, wow. So at that, so you had you are not an architect anymore at that point.

Right. I stopped practicing and just work on the business.

Okay. One of the things that is tougher an inventor for a lot of inventors, it's one thing if you start out with a success, then you're more likely to continue, it's almost, I don't know, if you go to Vegas, if you get a small win, then you continue playing longer, because you've got that that win kind of fueling you and you know, what can be done? How did you but that was not your story, your first venture flopped, like how do you get the courage to say let's, let's try it again. And then did that cause any strife in like, getting back to this, like, stripe in the relationship? Are both of you saying yeah, let's do it. Or one of you saying, Hey, I think a day job in teaching or architecture for one of us would make more sense. Well, you're right, once

you get hooked, whether it's Las Vegas, or stock market, or,

or anything fishing, I mean, right, you catch, you get one bite, and then you're gonna stay out there a lot longer than if you go with no bites, you just give up easier. So you guys, you didn't get a bite on your first cast. So that that must have been tough.

Yeah, it was tough. We had some tense moments because I was so focused directly on coming up with new ideas and new products, that I didn't spend as much time on the marriage as I should have. And one day, Mary Lou's dad came to visit us and he had a good talking to me about what was important. And so I sort of got myself back on the track of paying attention to the marriage as well as to developing products. So it's finding that balance, because life in the in the invention business or in any business is a roller coaster. You have your highs and your lows, and you can't let the highs make you overconfident and you can't let the lows get you depressed, so that you can continue to move forward.

Well, and also necessity is the mother of invention. But desperation is the Father. And so part of that was when the first company with our first idea went under it was it was really what are we going to do now? And you're right. Right? Yeah, you're right. It was it was comfort that I had the ability to keep on teaching. But I also really believed in Dennis's talent. And I knew from that one product, that this was really something he was meant to do. And so we just decided, all right, we're gonna, we're gonna risk and we'll keep working. And then the idea for our first line of greeting cards came. And it just made sense. From then on, we just kept finding new ways to express how two people could communicate with one another. So you just you just really have to treat each other with respect, and love and trust. And going back to that idea that you treat one another as your best customer. It makes such a difference with how the conversations go.

Yeah, I mean, I'm thinking the first thing that comes to mind is is like a review online. I mean, if you look at the way businesses respond to somebody with a negative review, it's it's like they put gloves on and they're like, I'm really sad. But you know, when a spouse gives you a negative review or so you know, it says like, if I work with a giant you keep leaving Uh, you know, the socks on the floor or whatever something I'm not, I don't always respond like I would to a customer to oh, I'm really sorry about that I'll try hard at you. Sometimes you respond in a way that you couldn't even imagine a business responding that way online, or even in person. So that's, I love that analogy. So if people just keep that in mind, what do you say to a customer? And if you wouldn't say to a customer, who, you know, maybe here today gone tomorrow, why would you say to a spouse?

I don't want to lose their business. Maybe that's right. You're much more polite? Well, you know, it's amazing how that has, when we discovered that idea, maybe 15 years ago, we it really does change our marriage. And we think about it all the time. It's a simple thing. But it works.

Yeah. And it's something that easy to call each other out on. When somebody violates that you can be as simple as, hey, wait a minute, remember? Would you say that to, you know, a purchaser of one of our products, if they said, whatever your packaging broke, or something broke? Just, you know, cuz things happen. And you're right, it's, you're right, that things happen in business in general. But inventing is just there's so many factors outside of the inventors control that the likelihood of of something not going as planned is just incredibly high. I don't have to tell that to you guys. Because absolutely, you know that. Let's start because you just have so many different products, perhaps sneaker balls, because I love the story behind that and how it started how you got triggered with the idea, and then improvements along the way that you've done to make it better? Well, we that are familiar, like maybe start with what is, you know, why would anybody want a sneaker ball? And what in the world does it do?

Yeah, well, we got the idea for that when I was in New York at a trade show pitching a new line of greeting cards to license. And I called Mary Lou back at that night, and she was driving by car because hers was in the shop. And she said, I hope you're not careful driving anybody else around in your car. I said, why is that? So? Because it smells terrible? And said really well? Why would Why does it smell bad? And she was well to your gym bags in the backseat? And it's you know, it needs? It needs something you need to get better air pressure for the car or something. And I said, yeah, maybe I get an air pressure for the bag. And then we said, well, maybe we'll get air pressures for the stuff that's causing the stink. And that's the shoes. So that's the way the idea became restarted. And then we started kicking around the idea of what would it look like? How would we make it and that's, that's kind of how it all started.

Right? So when they say necessity is the mother of invention. Did you look first for a product you could buy to solve? The problem was that is that the first step and say, let's see what's out there that we could purchase that would solve it for us. We did.

In fact, when I was at the trade show, I walked the show looking for anybody that had already solved this problem. And of course, the first thing I saw were a little cedar balls that people put in the closets, but could have could have dropped in the shoes, but that's really not an invention. So we had to come up with a way to create something that people would see as different, but appropriate for shoes for sports shoes, especially. There were already sprays out there and odor eaters and through the insoles, but there was nothing that was designed specifically for sports shoes, so and something that you could that wouldn't change the fit of the shoe either. So the older readers changes the fit. So we wanted something that you could take in and out of the shoes. So if you had an extra shoes in the closet, for example, you could keep balls in there and keep the smell from coming into the room. So that's kind of about how that all developed.

And so when we got the idea that we wanted a ball shape, we went actually to a local hobby store and found a keychain in the shape of a ball that had a hemisphere that we could pry apart. So our first prototype was basically that plastic ball, and we we had it apart and we stuck cotton in the middle here. We had a cotton ball with scent on it. We scotch tape two hemispheres together. And that was our first that was our first prototype. This is This was later when we figured out how to hook it together. But anyway, Dennis was carrying this in his gym bag at the gym and somebody noticed that he pulled it out of the bag and said what is that? And so then he went ahead and found us an investor.

Yeah, that the guy that I played basketball All virtually every day. And I would have been playing ball with this guy for months and didn't really know Him. And so he said, Well, I'm a stockbroker. And I think I can raise some money for you for this product. And that's how we got the financing for it. And that's a very long story, which we won't go into. But that's kind of how it all developed.

So that original prototype was it was just taped together.

Yes, it was scotch tape together. So it was just the two balls with tape. It was, it wasn't ready.

We gave about, I don't know, maybe half a dozen samples to our friends and said to test this out, see if you liked, how it how it worked, how it performed, and that it gave us encouragement, they all liked the idea and thought that we should continue to develop it.

And then it it as we kept on going, we turned it into a product where it twists. We realize oh, it is now. So here's in the stores, this is what it looks like now. So this, eventually, we sold the company to sold our company to m plus sossel. And so this is how they currently then are marketing the product and national chains. So after all that time 1978 till now 32 years, and it's sold all over the world.

Well, it still has got to be an amazing feeling to see to walk into a store and still see the product in you know, on store shelves. It's it's funny

thing. Hi, kids. So

we made it all from recycled soda bottles. So it was all made from recycled plastic.

Oh, and was that at a time when there was a push for environmental friendly products as well? Because yeah,

1988. Yeah, it was hard at the time to find good recycled plastic that didn't have a lot of metal in it. So that was a challenge also. But

it's funny, the reason I bring this up as the story behind post it is that initially, for some products, you don't realize you have a need until the product is exists. It's not a lot of so they had to give these out. And then only then did people start realizing that they had a need for it. So you found out with the snooker balls as well, because you created a whole new market segment. It's not as if you were competing with something that people were using already that really addressed it because you're right, the the older readers, they, it adds like a quarter inch or something to the inside of your shoe. So it changes the fit. And you know, for dress shoes, it might not be as important for sports shoes, it that makes a big difference. And the sprays are, require a lot of I guess, I mean, you have to be diligent you have to use you have to remember where is this, it looks like it's kind of does all the work for you. You simply throw it inside the sneaker and you're done.

Yeah. And you could have put a, like a little tree or a little leaf, air pressure carrier pressure, you could have dropped back in the shoes while they were sitting in your closet. But that isn't appropriate for sports. So one of the largest markets for this product is fathers and mothers buying them for their teenage sons. So it's a and daughters and daughters, for hockey bags and gym bags, and all sorts of different but the idea is it's appropriate for the use. And it appeals to kids that are interested in sports.

Yeah, and I know you guys have your children are grown now. But was that part of the impetus behind your idea as well? You could say like, no, Dennis, it was just your shoes that stink. Or was it the kids as well?

Definitely. It's our kids to

our son was in the backseat of the car and I was driving him back from the game. I knew the instant he took his shoes off in the backseat. It just permeated the car. Not that mind wouldn't do the same thing. I mean, the good thing about this product is it was a universal problem. It it was no There's no age limit. There's no gender limit. There's no country LeMat it really was one of those things that everybody can relate to.

Yeah, it's funny. We have two comments right now and in our questions. One person says they had bought the product for their teenage boys and want to thank you for that. And there's another one that said they actually see it at their store and didn't know who the inventors were, but now so now you know the inventors behind it.

That's great. Thank you very much.

So, tell us the enemy. Gosh, I know because we have spoken before I was gonna say that mistakes that you have made that you wish you, somebody had advised you in advance not to make. So, you know, don't be one of those, what would you do differently type of questions.

Well, here's an example of a product that we took sneaker balls, and we turn them into car air fresheners. And during the World Cup back in 2000, we had developed a soccer ball version of the of the product to sell as a as a car air freshener. And we had a lot of orders from our European distributors for this product. So we had to develop a way to learn how to print on the ball to make the Whadjuk and to build molds to build the soccer ball shape. And then we had to be able to print the patterns on the ball. Well, we didn't really test out the inks properly, so that when we shipped containers of this product to Europe, they all arrived, it was during the summer, and they all arrived with the ink smeared all over the balls, because we hadn't taken the time to thoroughly test the NX. And that was a half million dollar mistake that we wish we learned from them that you always test your product, run it through cycles to find out, you know, over a period of time how it works. And whatever problems you come up with that you can solve before you go worldwide with the product.

Right? So So test first, locally where the costs are not as high, because obviously that involves a lot of returns. And

yeah, well, I'm my my big thing is to research research research may not see your idea exactly. But you may see something like it. And then as to your point earlier, John, you see, oh, well, there is a category for my product. And if you start reading the reviews in Amazon, you can find out what's wrong with the products out there and incorporate that into your idea and come up with even a better product that maybe you thought of in the first place.

Wow, that's you know what, it's funny that such, it just seems so intuitive in hindsight, but it's just brilliant look at Find a one in two star reviews for competing products and address those problems. Because then you know, especially if there's a you're finding a trend, you're finding a number of one star reviews for the same thing happening if you could address that, that would help. Absolutely, yes. Yeah, no, that's, that's helpful. One question that came in was from Ken. And they were asking, when you mentioned showing it to people sneaker balls, and having them tested. And I know what concern they're getting, they're saying was that before or after you filed for a patent?

That was before but it wasn't publicly disclosed. It was among friends.

Okay, so like close, trusted people that that you could rely on?

Yeah, and they know that we don't want them to just tell us that they like it because they're our friends. In fact, we sell them I want you to find out everything that's wrong with the product. And that's what every inventor needs to ask about their product is what's wrong with my product, because that's how you make it better.

Right, and the positive stuff is nice to hear but that doesn't really improve the product so

I see your positive things you need that encouragement also. But yes, it's good to know why people don't like the product.

Right? Is there and I you know, the I don't know the the answer to this but is there a product that you've launched that you didn't get positive feedback on? But you decided you went with your gut anyway and launched it anyway

see, trying to think about any event we showed that

we will we've had things that were we had positive responses on that we put out that didn't sell but I don't think we

well one product was I had this idea after I had a a minor wreck with my car for a bandaid for the car. And and it had it was large and and had sayings on it like my husband was driving or you know something that was like a bumper sticker that you would put over the dance until you could get it to the shop. And that product did not work because people were so afraid that when they put it on the car that it would take the paint off. So it just died. I mean that was one that was a fun idea. It was a fun idea but was not didn't work.

Yeah, so I mean, that's one of the things that the unpredictable aspect of inventing that you can't predict. And that's, that's partly what makes it fun that human nature aspect of, of ideas. You know, as a patent attorney, we, you know, we're kind of known as nerds. So there's a lot of products that, like pocket protectors that are really practical, because you don't want your ink like ruining your shirt. And I don't know, Dennis, if, as an architect, you face that as well. But we can't, you know, there's just such a negative stigma associated with that, even though from a technical standpoint, it's a good useful product, the clip on ties another example, we're in South Florida, it's hot is anything and wouldn't it be nice if lawyers can wear clip on ties? And from a practical standpoint, we can, you don't have to have a strap of thick fabric behind your neck, but wouldn't be caught dead doing that. So that's the that's the unpredictable aspect of product development like you would you don't in your, in this case, Mary Lou, it's, it seems like maybe that was predictable that people wouldn't want the paint coming off. But um, you know, but you don't know you don't know until you tested?

No, not until we got it in the auto stores and they just sat on the shelves. And that was then we started trying to find out why. And that's another when you can go into brick and mortar stores. It's such a great thing to talk to the salespeople and say, you know, what, have you heard about this product? Are people interested? Because they'll give you eight back and that that's a great source that you might not get otherwise?

Right? Yeah, that makes sense. Let me see. There's one other see what there is? Oh, okay. Well, this is more a patenting question. But I could answer it from a legal standpoint. But what better than to ask inventors, from an inventor standpoint, please address the international patent necessity before going to market. And that's to protect outside of the United States. Maybe it's important for something like sneaker balls, which is sold worldwide, which were sold were are sold worldwide. I don't know if the patents are still enforced, because patents are only good for 20 years. But talk about that. When do you when do you pursue international protection?

Well, we didn't have a patent on secret balls. Well, I shouldn't say that we didn't have a utility patent. We applied for one, but it wasn't granted. We did have a design patent. And we had a signed trademark as well as a name, trademark, and of course, our trade dress. But we applied for a design. I'm not sure what it's called in Europe, a design something rather, it's it's not like a patent. It's more like a design patent. And we apply for trademarks in Japan. And we didn't in any other countries, because we just didn't have the money at the time. And of course, after we released the product, it was too late. So it's expensive to do worldwide patenting, and you better have a very good idea of how successful your product is going to be before you spend a lot of money. Yeah, yeah,

the one thing I'll add, and we have a separate interview with you completely about that the lawsuit state and the experience you have there. So we won't jump into that. But you do have after you file for a US patent, you have a one year grace period to seek international protection. And that's the time period, whereas Mary Lou said you want to test to see if your product is going to survive. So like the automotive dent Band Aid idea, you want, you don't want to just start out filing patents throughout the world, it's going to cost you a lot of money. And if you you know, if you've got her the project, then you're on the hook for all those funds. So it's better to file in the United States or whatever country you're in, test the product for a year. And then if the revenue supported only then go overseas.

All you have to remember to that if you are filing patents around the world, you're going to have to defend those patents. And that's very expensive. Yep. So there's this us is a huge market. And we were always totally satisfied with what money we could make in the US. So we didn't get too, too greedy. We had companies filed trademarks for our product in other countries that we that we couldn't control. But, you know, we still sold secret balls in I think was 24 countries at the time. We sold it to us to Implus there. I'm sure they've expanded that market since then. But you know, you can make a lot of money in just the United States. So I would advise you not to get too greedy.

Yeah, it's good advice. We're, we're about out of time, but is there too It's kind of like an open ended question for both of you like, and, gosh, maybe one of you can answer it because I even married 42 years, it's gonna be hard to find that you guys might agree on this answer. But what's the one thing you would like to leave inventors with the one piece of advice you your parting advice for them? And I guess each of you, why don't what Dennis maybe you go first and then we'll see if Mary Lou agrees or she has her own piece of advice for them. Yeah, I

think we agree on this. But she would say it differently, I'm sure. But I think the thing to remember is that this is a process of being like on a roller coaster, and you're going to have your highs and your lows. Don't let the highs make you overconfident and don't let the lowest get you depressed. Just keep trying to maintain an even keel and, and just continue forward and learn from everything you do.

With that, and then I think the, the other part of it is just in those moments when you're uncertain to keep on swimming, just keep on trying. And also, it's just important to keep talking to one another and helping to have that perspective, that male female perspective in our situation. And it's really wonderful to have if you don't have a spouse, but find a trusted partner, someone to bounce ideas off of you need to you it's hard to invent in a vacuum

correctly. That's terrific advice. Again, for those of you who want to improve your marriage fivestar love. And for everyone that's here. I'd like to offer a free copy for anyone that is part of the virtual summit of my book escaping the gray and Jenny's or moderator in the if you can put the link for the PDF in the chat channel. And then for tomorrow, we're going to have the virtual Summit is three days today, tomorrow and Friday. Tomorrow we have three inventors Christina Dave's the inventor of CASP medic designs. Wayne from if those of you who don't know him, he's the inventor of the original selfie stick. be fascinating. And finally, Joe theory, the inventor of flex screen. That's all tomorrow from 12 to three. And then anybody that's not part of the inventors mastermind, our private Facebook group for the patent professor. We're going to post links to a masterclass that talks about patenting, prototyping, manufacturing, all of those areas as well. And that's where Jenny if if I saw that she posted in the chat channel, but if you go to the inventors mastermind on Facebook, we'll post a copy of escaping the grave there as well. So that's all I have. Thank you again, guys. It's been wonderful. And for everyone. We'll be back tomorrow.

Thanks, John. Registered, we'll see ya

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