Monday, January 11, 2010

Thank The Whistleblower

Recently, Bradley Birkenfeld blew the whistle on some U.S. tax evaders. It’s reported as the largest tax fraud in the world and a Swiss bank paid a $780 million fine to the U.S. while giving up names of 4,450 suspected tax cheats. Birkenfeld was rewarded with a sentence of more than 3 years for his activity in handling such wealthy American clients, even though he cooperated with the internal revenue to recover billions. The National Whistleblower Center is enraged at the severe sentence. I’m upset for other reasons.

I know very little of the facts, particulars or legalities of that case. Likewise I’m informed only by public news reports of similar cases of involving repenting whistleblowers. So, I shouldn’t judge them. However, I must express my concern over our apparent overall distaste for whistleblowers. It’s unfortunate that we Americans are taught not to tattle, squeal on friends or bad mouth a brother. Damn, that’s bad news for an inventor!

Inventors are easy prey for unscrupulous people. We’re emotionally attached to a great idea. We love to hear how wonderful our widget is, and how successful it will become. Naturally, we welcome unsolicited interest and assistance from others. We imagine such great rewards. Our invested time and money become justified, necessary and often encouraged by new found friends.

But, responding to assistance for product development often places our name on a suspicious mailing list. Enthusiastic product promoters appear from nowhere. Inventors become bombarded by golden opportunities promising likely profit. If our patent is issued, we're mailed personal congratulations from unfamiliar marketers - and it appears long before the official USPTO announcement arrives. The inventor is promised a means of marketing, mass distribution and corporate presentations. We hear bragged abilities and promised results to encourage the next payment plateau. Actual results are always anticipated if not assured. Meanwhile more funds are requested. Novice inventors have particular trouble telling the good guys from the bad. No-one needs a whistleblower more!

Thankfully, inventors have reputable clubs, associations and other sources that preach scam awareness. Blogs, newsletters and networking issue alerts on who or what to avoid. But, we still hear tearful tales of unfortunate friends being tormented by ugly realities of product pursuit. And money continues to be wasted on imaginary assistance.

When finally selling product, we’re duped by devious marketing contracts. They often include orchestrated penalties hiding deep within vendor compliance terms. Inventors and entry vendors often lack patience or understanding of intricate shipping rules, labeling, delivery windows and designated carriers. Your invoice payments may (surprisingly) show imposed deductions for chain store advertising, new store openings and defective merchandise allowances. Such things remain legal, usually identified by fine print, and seldom emphasized as important – until your ravaged check awakens personal concern. Didn’t anyone tell you?

Lucky inventors learn such things early from their peers and seasoned sources. Mentors willingly disclose pitfalls, promises and personalities the unwary should avoid. We all love success stories, but need to hear he nasty side of business too. Please, don’t call it squealing! We deserve a level playing field. We should all abide the rules of honesty and integrity. Every inventor, entrepreneur and businessman should thank the whistleblower.

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