Big Boost

The Challenges Of Inventing

Like most inventors, Heroff has had to handle plenty of day-to-day problems. "One of my biggest challenges is coordinating the production of the bra strap supplier, the bra manufacturer and Private Label Industries," she says. "Producing a quality product has also been a challenge. Workers had never made a product like mine before, and the manufacturer had to appoint a trainer to show each worker exactly how to make it."

Heroff started stocking retailers in July, and within 30 days, she had 30 retailers on board. She has an enthusiastic set of representatives selling her product, and she expects to have a very strong start in her first year. She's also considering licensing the product. But Heroff still remembers the hard times. "Every hour I spent on my new top was an hour I wasn't spending promoting my graphics arts business," says Heroff. "I couldn't help but wonder if I was making the right choice."

Heroff's success is the result of hard work, persistence and, most of all, recruiting the partners she needed to get the job done. The partners helped Heroff because they liked her, they liked her product, and they liked having a chance to cash in on a great idea. And it could happen for any inventor-help is there for the taking. Inventors often struggle because they try to do everything on their own. Remember: Even the Lone Ranger had Tonto.

Not A Chance

Stephanie Heroff's product is currently patent-pending. But she wasn't willing at first to spend the money on a patent, knowing that introducing a new product was a risky venture. Before she started spending too much money, Heroff wanted to get more market feedback. Her lawyer insisted she get a nondisclosure agreement, or Statement of Confidentiality and Non-Use, a document that says the person who sees the idea won't disclose or use any confidential information they receive from the inventor.

One step Heroff took to research her idea was to go to the Apparel Merchandise Mart in Minneapolis to seek feedback from manufacturers' representatives. Only one would sign the document. "[The others] were insulted or asked me to leave when I asked them to sign," she says.

Heroff ran into the same disdain when she talked to manufacturers and other industry people. She did get some people to sign, but most refused. This isn't unusual, primarily because these people rarely see something new. They worry what will happen if they sign a confidential statement and it turns out that the inventor's product is one that they have seen before or are even working on. Why should they take that chance on getting sued? Another reason industry folk balk at signing is that they feel the document is a sign that the inventor is paranoid and will be difficult to work with.

Be prepared for lots of rejections if you are going to ask people to sign a nondisclosure document before you show your idea. Unfortunately, your only alternatives are to either apply for a provisional or standard patent, or to take a chance on showing your idea without a signed nondisclosure agreement. Heroff took the safest course of action for an under-financed inventor by insisting on getting the nondisclosure agreement signed and accepting the potential for rejection.

Extra! Extra!

USPTO Today is a free newsletter put out by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office that offers insights into new patent legislation and the workings of the patent office. The newsletter also includes tips on how to make claims more valuable and how to determine if you are infringing on an existing patent. You can get the quarterly newsletter sent to you free through e-mail ( or by writing: Editor, UPSPTO Today, Office of Public Affairs, U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, Washington, DC 20231. You can also read the newsletter by going to

Don Debelak ( is a new-business marketing consultant who has been introducing new products for more than 20 years. He is the author of Bringing Your Product to Market (John Wiley & Sons).

Contact Source

Heroff Group LLC, (612) 623-4923,

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This article was originally published in the November 2000 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Big Boost.

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