Join 3,425 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


How do I pitch an idea to a corporation without getting screwed?
July 2, 2010 5:36 PM   Subscribe

Can I make a company sign a contract that says that they will have to pay me a certain percentage of profits for an idea?

I have an idea for a fragrance and want to pitch it to a company, say Ralph Lauren, but I don't want to flat out tell them what the idea is without being sure that I will see some profit out of this idea. Does it make sense, then, to draft a contract that would prohibit the company or anybody involved in the company from using my idea without cutting me a certain amount of the profits? Is this something that people do? If not, does it sound like a sound plan?

Also, how hard is it to get a meeting with someone I can pitch my idea to at a corporation? If this all works out, I will buy everyone on meta filter a Hundred Grand chocolate bar. Thanks!
posted by defmute to Work & Money (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
I think you're looking for a non-disclosure agreement. They won't sign it though; ideas are cheap, and they won't want to risk your idea colliding with one they already have.
posted by Leon at 5:41 PM on July 2, 2010 [3 favorites]


most corporations won't take ideas from anyone not already on the payroll for fear of signing over a portion of the profits forever. perfume is a huge business, filled with specialists, and the idea for a fragrance is really the easy part. i don't think this is a sound plan at all, sorry.
posted by nadawi at 5:49 PM on July 2, 2010


You have absolutely no leverage. No company will sign your NDA. Why would they?

Fragrances, too, are never much about the smell and more about the celebrity they can get to market it for them. Or they'll get the celebrity first and then have them come up with something they like with their odor scienticians.
posted by inturnaround at 5:50 PM on July 2, 2010


snowball/hell

about sums it up...

my kid in the film business rejects 90% of the mail that comes to him, he literally does not accept mail unless he recognizes the return address. He won't talk to anyone he doesn't know about any "idea". I suspect that any "creative" business operates that way.
posted by HuronBob at 6:05 PM on July 2, 2010


I've read that corporations can be very good a hiding profits.
posted by bonobothegreat at 6:10 PM on July 2, 2010


A company will pay you $0 for an idea.

A company might pay you something for a working-prototype of your product, one that has preferably been tested. Or, in your case, a formula for an already created and tested fragrance. If you believe that the idea is the hard part, and making and testing it is the easy part, you should have no problem at all creating the fragrance and the packaging to demo your idea.
posted by jeanmari at 6:13 PM on July 2, 2010


Unsolicited ideas policies. Almost no company will want to deal with unsolicited product ideas.

Like HuronBob's kid, when I was in a position to read customer email, I would pretty much delete any email after reading "I have an idea..." or similar. I was instructed by our legal team to do so.
posted by birdherder at 6:13 PM on July 2, 2010


Yeah, not only can you not ever get an arrangement like this, but they won't even listen to the pitch to begin with. They'll stop you at "I have an idea," no matter how awesome it is because of the reasons stated above. They have ideas, too. If they've heard your idea and it's similar to one they've already had and they produce theirs, it might invite trouble. They'd just as soon not listen to your idea, but pay their employees for ideas they can own outright.
posted by disillusioned at 6:19 PM on July 2, 2010


wow. thanks everyone. yeah, sounds like i'm going to have to do this myself if i'm going to do it at all. i needed that reality check for sure. man, the world of business is a cold place.
posted by defmute at 6:20 PM on July 2, 2010


What ideas are worth without execution.
posted by mendel at 6:36 PM on July 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


Examples of the kind of responses you'll get to unsolicited ideas:

When I suggested Crayola release a set of emotion colored crayons called EmotiCrayons (color me impressed, color me color me surprised, etc):
Crayola is constantly striving, through our own internal departments, to develop new products and concepts, and to improve existing ones. While we appreciate your thinking of us, we are not considering ideas from outside the company at this time.
When I suggested Double Bubble use "Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn, and caldron bubble" in a gum commercial.
Thank you for writing. Our consumers are loyal, and consequently, we do on occasion receive letters of suggestion from the public.

Our product research and development, as well as marketing and advertising, are all internal, and so we do not accept outside suggestions.
And these responses were on letters where I went out of my way to say I had no interest in the idea and was giving it to them for free. You might even get veiled legal "warnings" like I did when I suggested that Bayer HealthCare LLC come out with "Midol for Men," since men are usually crabby all month long, and I got this:
Thank you for taking the time to contact Bayer HealthCare. We appreciate your interest in Bayer Consumer Care products.

We have forwarded your message to our legal department. They will be handling all future correspondence directly.
I can probably come up with more, but those are the ones I remember off the top of my head.

Hefty trash bags did tell me they would look into the idea of "coming out with a bag that tastes horrible to discourage animals from biting through the plastic," but that kind of response is super rare and I am sure it would have gone way differently if I asked them to say they would give me some of the profits.
posted by cjorgensen at 6:51 PM on July 2, 2010 [5 favorites]


You should do some research into the perfume industry, and try to identify how entrepreneurs develop and sell their ideas. Until you talk to some people in the know, the advice above is the best you will get.
posted by b1tr0t at 6:51 PM on July 2, 2010


Can I make a company sign a contract that says that they will have to pay me a certain percentage of profits for an idea?

You can't make anyone sign a contract. On the other hand, you can contract on any terms you wish, provided they're not illegal. Getting someone to accept your offer is another story. I'd recommend making your first meeting with any company about what sort of partnership or affiliation they're looking for.

I have an idea for a fragrance and want to pitch it to a company, say Ralph Lauren, but I don't want to flat out tell them what the idea is without being sure that I will see some profit out of this idea. Does it make sense, then, to draft a contract that would prohibit the company or anybody involved in the company from using my idea without cutting me a certain amount of the profits? Is this something that people do? If not, does it sound like a sound plan?

When you say an idea, are we talking a broad concept, or do you have a formulation? If you have a formulation, it'd be worth talking to a patent attorney. Whatever you do, do not publish your idea anywhere.

So, my advice is to:

1. Sort out your intellectual property rights.
2. Meet a range of different companies to discuss possible business relationships. If these don't satisfy you, consider going on your own.
3. Meet your chosen company to discuss the idea itself.

Don't merge steps 2 and 3. Do expect the process to take a long time (at least a year, probably a few years).

If this all works out, I will buy everyone on meta filter a Hundred Grand chocolate bar. Thanks!

I accept your offer and the advice in my post is consideration for your offer.
posted by doublehappy at 11:43 PM on July 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


I design perfume for a living. The reason perfumes get a gigantic loophole from the FDA in terms of ingredient disclosure is because they get just about zero protection in the intellectual property rights area. If you've mixed a great perfume, awesome - you're better off selling it under your own label, or marketing it on a boutique level. Major corporations that do produce perfumes go to specific perfume designers that work for one of four major chemical companies in the world, and those contracts are tied up incredibly tight.
posted by medea42 at 10:41 AM on July 3, 2010 [4 favorites]


« Older Do I take this job or shove it...   |  Plant/Computers Filter: What's... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.