Free answers to technical and legal questions. Everybody wants them. So how can you get them?
But first, a warning: You cannot get free answers that are necessarily specific to your situation and you certainly cannot get answers for which you have much, if any, legal recourse against the party answering the question. This warning applies whether you are posting questions publicly or asking them privately of someone you discover on the internet or meet at a club meeting.
A further warning: For questions that relate to inventions, whether patent questions or material or design or whatever, where you must divulge proprietary information in order to even hope for a valid answer you may be risking (or actually losing) your future rights to patent claims when you divulge that proprietary information either publicly or privately without a contractual Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA). For more on NDAs see Non-Disclosure Agreements $ . Essentially any publication, public use, or public sale of your invention, by you or anyone else, before filing a patent application will bar you from getting a patent in any countries except the US or Canada and in those two countries you have only one year from the first publication, public use or sale in which to file your application.
One more warning: You can find several web sites, news groups, and list servers where question answering for inventors is offered for free. Some anyone can post answers to. Some limit responses to questions to a specific cadre of "chosen" "experts," (who, just incidentally <grin>, can provide you with services). Some censor posts (answers and questions) before, or if, making them public. Some censor only certain individuals for "whatever" reasons. Some are individual inventors trying to help (perhaps with little expertise). And some are really fronts for service business.
Those are the warnings. You have to make your own decisions. But think about this. Don't you want answers from people, such as service providers, who DO know what they are talking about? Do you want answers from people who are simply guessing? Or telling you what (luckily) worked for them as if it were the best answer for you? Won't you want to know when answers are censored because they give you too much information, information that might make the purchase of the provider's services unnecessary---or cause you to decide not to purchase services for other reasons? Won't you want to know when the answer is more geared to get you to purchase services than to inform you?
Scared yet? A little nervous? Censorship, BTW, is perfectly legal though you may have thought you learned it wasn't. See this Gatekeepers $ article for more details on censorship. My bias is to direct you only to totally uncensored question answering locations but, as far as I know, there is "essentially" only 1 so I will tell you about it (and it's companion) plus provide info on a couple of others along with my commentary.
alt.invetors is a news group. You can access it via Google Groups (but it's extremely awkward and slow) or you can access it via a news reader program. Outlook Express and many other e-mail programs have news readers built in---but some ISPs (internet service providers) DO NOT provide news server service so you may not be able to join even if you have the program for it. Study the "Help" information for your e-mail or news reader program to see how to turn it on, access (download) the news group list, and subscribe to a group. (Instructions may be linked to from here in the future. Hint: you can write them up and provide them if you wish.)
misc.int-property ("int" standing for "intellectual") is kind of a companion to alt.inventors in the sense that most participants in each news group belong to both and often message threads are cross posted to both. The misc.int-property group also often has discussions about various points of the law or patent practice that should be interesting to inventors. For more information on news groups and how to get maximum value from them see "Questions?--How to Look Intelligent and Maximize Your Results?" $
Ignore the alt.inventorworld news group. It was started by an idiot that had the brilliant idea of having a news group for inventors, so he created one. Then he did his research and found the existing alt.inventors news group so of course he announced his news group there and that everybody should switch to his. It's behavior like that that get inventors the "kook" reputation so don't engage in it yourself, do your research first. Mostly that news group only gets spam and the occasional serious poster is directed to repost on alt.invetors.
I no longer participate in the above news groups.
InventoEd.org has a list server and some pretty sharp experts (and some "hire me" trollers). It is generally worthwhile joining the list (or you can see the postings on the web at http://rjriley.net/pipermail/inventors-l_inved.org/ but that is fairly inconvenient). However, this web site is subject to censoring by the webmaster (I've been banned completely, I don't try to make IDIOTS "feel good about themselves," and, shame on me, I provide links to my informative web sites) but most of the time debate over, shall we say, "less than in the inventor's best interests" postings is allowed.
Another couple of question answering places I don't recommend and why.
The question answering at the United Inventors Association web site is farmed out to a "chosen" set of "experts" most if not all of whom stand to make a buck off of you by participating in this "honeypot" (you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar) site. (I'm kind of on the vinegar side as you've no doubt figured out by now, I want to deal with winners not catch flies!) You send in a question and it's farmed out to the experts and maybe one or more answers get posted. Unfortunately some of the answers are wrong or quite misleading or even self-serving but there is no debate. The selected(?) answers get posted and that's that. You have to sort the wheat from the chaff on your own. I do however strongly recommend you read through much of the material at the www.uiausa.org $ web site. It is a solidly educational site.
Another NOT recommended list server is InventNet which is a collecting place to concentrate inventor wannabes to make them accessible to service providers. (Differential preference probably is given to service providers who voluntarily contribute money (i.e., PAY) to be a part of the site and list.) But people who challenge the pablum dispensed there or point out self-serving service provider postings or in any way disrupt the peacefulness of the list are kicked off. Myself included. It's not that you can't sometimes get good information or advice there but you run a strong risk of getting pablum instead of wisdom.
And, of course you can ask me a question directly via the e-mail address and link below. But, before you do:
I enjoy helping people and answering questions. But only from intelligent, hard-working people. If you are too lazy to have read through this web site before you ask your question then the chances are you are too lazy to be a success as an inventor. Most successful inventors go through 2-5 years of hard work or more to achieve success. They also know the difference between an intelligent and a lazy question.
Before you ask a question you should first decide if it is a general question for which the answer could benefit many inventors or if it is specific enough that it would only be of use to you or if it is a just plain stupid question. A stupid question is one that's so broad there are a thousand variants on the answer or for which minimal basic research is required to find the answer. When someone tells you "there is no such thing as a stupid question" what they mean is that in face-to-face, such as classroom, situations where questions and answers are expected you are indeed smart to ask your question and get an answer on the spot (we'll assume you won't embarrass yourself by not having done any required homework in advance). It is NOT, however, smart, just because you're lazy, to pose a question such as "how do I get a patent" or "where do I find licensees" to a news group or list or even directly to an "expert," such as a patent attorney (unless you fully intend to pay the fees the expert expects). If it's a general question then I strongly recommend you ask it at one of the above identified places.
If your question is specific and concerns a legal issue, I am not a lawyer. I can give you a general answer and advise you to see an attorney. Attorneys won't likely answer specific questions either without being paid because they would need to ask you lots of specific questions to nail down exactly what your specific situation really is from a legal issues standpoint. If your question is specific and not legal I may be willing to answer simple questions for free but I, and many other folks who freely answer questions in the News Groups also have programs where we work for fees.
Also read these "beg" letters $ which are typical of what I and others who try to help wannabe inventors are inundated with. Trust me, you don't ever want to be perceived as one of "them."
And lest you think I'm the only obnoxious person who thinks like this I suggest you study How To Ask Questions The Smart Way and wake up to the fact that more and more people will get wise to your lazy ways and stop jumping for your benefit.