Six Ways to Avoid Scams that Target Inventors

The following tips are intended to help both independent inventors, and the inventor clients of patent attorneys, steer clear of “invention marketing” companies that use unethical business practices. Many of these companies advertise their patenting and marketing services on television and on the internet via Google AdsSome of these companies send out mailers to inventors who have already received a patent. These mailers encourage the inventor to use the company’s marketing and licensing services. While the services promised by many “invention marketing companies” may look okay upon the first look, many inventors find out too late that they have not gotten their money’s worth after hiring such companies. Do very thorough research before doing business with any company or individual that claims to help inventors patent, market, sell or license inventions.

1. Visit the Following Inventor Fraud Prevention Websites

Review the United States Patent & Trademark Office’s (USPTO) Invention Promotion Firm Complaints web page. This page contains 62 or more individual complaints viewable in your Internet browser. Instructions for submitting a complaint to the USPTO concerning an invention promotion company are also on this page.  Also review the USPTO’s Inventor Targeted Scam Prevention Brochure – (browser based Adobe® PDF document – takes a while to load).Visit the USPTO’s Independent Inventor Program Office web site for more answers and guidance.For more comprehensive information on invention promotion company complaints reviewPreviously Unpublished Complaints Against Invention Promotion Companies that were submitted to the USPTO, but not published publicly by the USPTO.  These complaints are current as of the end of July 2008:

The Federal Trade Commission’s Facts on Invention Promotion Firms

Inventor Ed, Inventor & Entrepreneur Education Website

The National Inventor Fraud Center

RipOffReport.com Patent Company Complaints Section

The United Inventors Association (UIA) has some useful information for inventors. Note, companies pay for the UIA’s “inventor friendly certification.”  The UIA does not accept all companies into this certification program. If the UIA has certified a company as “inventor friendly” still do your homework when considering doing business with that company as this certification does not guarantee ethical services. The UIA currently does not publish complaints they receive against the companies they certify as “inventor friendly”. This lack of transparency should be noted when evaluating the UIA certification program.

The American Inventor Protection Act of 1999 requires invention marketing companies to share certain information upon the request of potential clients. One of the questions invention marketing companies must answer is how many of their clients have done better than break even (that is, how many of their clients have made more money than what they spent for the invention marketing company’s services). Other questions that the invention marketing companies must answer when asked are outlined in the Inventor Targeted Scam Prevention Brochure mentioned earlier.  Don’t be fooled by companies that say they are not an invention marketing company and therefore they are not required to answer particular questions or any questions at all. If they are selling you, an inventor, their services to sell or license your invention (and in some cases patent and then market your invention), then they are an invention marketing company. Therefore they are required by law to answer certain questions that will help you gauge their rate of client success and level of client satisfaction. The brochure mentioned earlier tells inventors to have a company provide the answers in writing.

Need to find out more information or websites warning about inventor targeted scams? Search on www.Google.com or other search engines using the following terms (or similar terms): Invention Scam/Invention Scams; Inventor Scam/Inventor Scams; Patent Scam/Patent Scams; Inventor Fraud. Be aware that some of the Google™ Ads that come up when using these search terms may include links to companies that have been known to scam inventors. Don’t stop doing background research on a company just because no negative information is found about a particular company on the internet (or only positive information is found). If little or no information on a company being background researched is found, ask that company to provide satisfied customer testimonials and ways of contacting those customers directly so you can gauge customer satisfaction for yourself. Ask them to provide in writing the answers to the 10 questions given in the Inventor Targeted Scam Prevention Brochure mentioned earlier.

2. Find a Reputable Registered Patent Attorney or Agent

Find a reputable registered patent attorney or registered patent agent in your area to write your patent application or even just to call for legal advice. Ask for references if necessary. Visit the US Patent & Trademark Attorney Finder web page to locate an patent attorney or agent in your area. The US Patent & Trademark Office’s Office of Enrollment and Discipline(OEDCI) can also tell you if the attorney or agent you may plan to hire is in good standing with the US Patent Office.

3. Find a Reputable Licensing Expert or Product Scout

A good inventors groups or a reputable patent attorney/patent agent may also be able to recommend reputable licensing experts or product scouts who help sell or license inventions on a contingency basis (no up front fees). Reputable product scouts and licensing experts that help inventors sell or license their ideas do exist, but they may be hard to find. Be sure to do thorough background research before doing business with any product scout or licensing agent.  Ask them the same questions that the “invention marketing companies” are required to answer.

4. Join an Inventors Group

Join an inventors group. See Internet Resources or our international Inventor Clubs List for more information on inventor groups.

5. Read Books Helpful to Inventors

Read books on inventing such as Patent it Yourself or How to License Your Million Dollar Idea.

6. Subscribe to Inventors Digest, Fast Company, Inc., and other Magazines

Subscribe to a publication such as Inventors Digest magazine for their educational articles. However, when you learn of a company via an advertisement in Inventors Digest magazine, this does not guarantee that this same company is reputable, honest, or fair to inventors. Be sure to do thorough homework on any company advertising in this or any other magazine. Fast Company, Inc., and Entrepreneur are also good sources of information.