Every day and week apparently innovative products and concepts cross our screens. Most of them sink without a trace and some of them deservedly become successes. Others draw research and startup funding better spent elsewhere.

But how can you spot ‘innovations’ which are best avoided when you don’t have depth in a particular field? The following are a series of questions you can ask quickly and easily with the help of Google. Each question represents a potential red flag. The more red flags, the more likely the innovation is actually a dud or worse. 

Technology Red Flags

  1. Do they claim to exceed an accepted law of physics or limit for the field? 
  2. Is it an old technology claiming to be a new technology? 
  3. Is their product just a design concept or graphical rendering as opposed to at least a working and tested prototype?
  4. Is the only data from tests that they have performed, as opposed to independent, third-party labs, and do they expose the data?
  5. Are their patents actually describing their product, or something else entirely?
  6. Are they claiming greater efficiency than existing technologies based on anything other than an ISO standard, full-lifecycle accounting that has been independently assessed?
  7. Are they claiming to integrate new features into their product that are already better served by separate components as part of a system?
  8. Do they respond to documented criticism of their technology with factual rebuttals, or do they attempt to discredit the authors of the criticism?

Business Model Red Flags

  1. Do the principals have backgrounds entirely in fields unrelated to the field they claim to be disrupting?
  2. Are they starting from a general market product as opposed to a specific and tightly targeted market niche?
  3. Are they claiming that their product will replace the dominant and market-proven technology?
  4. Does the product introduce major new liabilities that are unstated by the inventors?


  1. Do they disparage the dominant technology in the market using inaccurate statements as an attempt to differentiate their product?
  2. Do they have an online presence that is just a static webpage, lacks email contact details or is missing entirely?

In the absence of time to develop technical expertise in a particular field, this approach can help you be appropriately skeptical. A few minutes with online statements from the company including press releases and any product specifications, and a bit of Googling can answer all of these questions.

Be skeptical. There are companies and individuals who will happily take your hard-earned dollars as ‘investment funding’ with no realistic chance of a return. And in the process they will make you inappropriately skeptical about things that work very effectively and are being incrementally improved daily. 

I developed these quick assessments to help quickly separate the good and bad bets in wind energy over the past few years. For an example of how this can be applied, have a look at this ranking of 18 wind-generation innovations, including the SheerWind Invelox which was profiled in a recent Future Tech newsletter.

Mike Barnard is Senior Fellow - Wind for the Energy & Policy Institute, a U.S. 501(c)(3) non-profit, pro clean energy think tank. Mike focuses on bringing data-centric reality to bear in policy, innovation, siting and social license discussions related to wind energy around the world.