Patent (s)pending

If necessity is the mother of invention, bogus invention promotion companies are the sketchy brothers-in-law. That’s why inventors who think they may have that Next Big Thing should investigate thoroughly before signing on with a firm that promises to evaluate, patent, and market an innovation. Some make pie-in-the-sky promises, but serve up crumbs.

Unscrupulous promoters try to take advantage of inventors’ enthusiasm by overstating the benefits of their pricey services while downplaying two tough truths: 1) Few inventions ever make it to the marketplace; and 2) Although a patent may offer valuable protections, getting a patent doesn’t necessarily increase the chances of commercial success. If you know someone who’s trying to market an invention, share these tips about evaluating the services of invention promotion firms they may see advertised.

Flattery will get them everywhere.  Invention scammers are skilled at exploiting inventors’ high hopes. Many offer to do preliminary market research — for a fee, of course. What comes back is a rosy forecast they claim is custom-tailored to your invention. Chances are it’s fresh off the photocopier and pretty much the same as what they’ve given other clients. Demands for hefty upfront cash is a tip-off you may be dealing with a dodgy outfit. Reputable licensing agents usually don’t insist on large advance fees.

Sing you sinners.  Fraudmeisters have been known to hire shills or “singers” to play the role of satisfied customers. So consider those success stories with a grain — nay, a shaker — of salt. Ask for a long list of references and make sure that you — not the company — pick the ones you talk to. Check out the online buzz, too. Anonymous reviews can be suspect, of course, but doing a search for the company’s name and the word “complaints” could make for eye-opening reading.

Friends in “lie” places.  Another technique of invention scammers: falsely claiming to have buddy-buddy connections with national manufacturers looking for new product ideas or the inside track on trade show exposure. If you get that pitch, ask for proof — like names, dates, and contact information you can verify.

There ought to be a law.  The American Inventors Protection Act gives people certain rights when dealing with invention promoters. Before they can enter into a contract with you, companies have to disclose certain information about their practices — including how many inventions they’ve evaluated, how many got positive or negative evaluations, the company’s total number of customers, how many of them got a net profit from the promoter’s services, and how many have licensed their inventions due to the promoter’s services.

Speak up.  While the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office doesn’t have civil authority to bring law enforcement actions against shady invention promotion outfits, the agency will post your complaint if you use their online form. Read complaints and responses on the USPTO’s Inventors Resources page.

Looking for more tips? Read Invention Promotion Firms.

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