Dishonest invention marketers lie about the profit potential of your invention to get you to pay for expensive, but often useless, services. Here’s what you need to know to avoid an invention marketing scam.
Investigate Before You Commit
Every year, tens of thousands of people try to turn their ideas into something they can market and sell. If you’re one of them, you might be looking for help — and shady invention marketing firms may be looking for you. Invention marketing firms, also called invention promoters, provide services to inventors to help them develop or market their inventions. To avoid scams, investigate the company or individual before you commit to working with them.
- Get information. Federal law gives you the right to get information about an invention marketing firm’s operations and clients before you sign a contract. The firm must give you information for the past five years, including
- how many inventions it evaluated
- how many of those inventions got positive or negative evaluations
- the total number of clients it served
- how many of those clients ended up with a net profit after using the firm’s services
- how many of those clients licensed their inventions through the firm’s services
This information can help you determine how successful the invention marketing firm has been, as well as how selective it’s been in choosing the inventions it promotes.
- Check for complaints. To see if there are any complaints against the firm you’re thinking about working with, start with your local consumer protection agency and the attorney general in your state, as well as in the state or city where the invention marketing company is headquartered. Check out the list of complaints against invention promoters published by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Also search the FTC’s website for past cases — go to ftc.gov and search for the word “invention.”
- Check out online reviews to see what others think. Search online with the name of the marketing firm or the representative you’re dealing with, plus words like “review,” “scam,” or “complaint.” But know that some dishonest companies post fake reviews or may threaten to sue former clients with baseless — but intimidating — charges like extortion or defamation if they post negative reviews. That means people might be less likely to post bad reviews. See How to Evaluate Online Reviews for more information.
- Verify references. Ask for the names of many previous clients. Pick and choose who to call — don’t rely on the marketer to give you particular names — and ask about their experiences. For example, did the marketing firm follow through with its promises? Were former clients satisfied with the firm’s marketing services?
Honest invention marketing firms can help mainly amateur inventors develop or promote their inventions. They may, for example, evaluate the patentability of inventions, file patent applications, help build prototypes, and get licenses needed for manufacturing.
Dishonest marketers will promise to deliver similar services but end up charging you thousands of dollars in fees for little in return. They’ll tell you there’s a proven market for your invention without showing any real proof. They’ll guarantee that you’ll make money when no one can really guarantee success — and the reality is that very few inventions ever make it to market or make any money. They may claim to have special relationships with or access to manufacturers that are interested in licensing your invention, but you’ll have to pay first. Once you pay, you’ll find out there are no relationships with manufacturers.
If you’re thinking about working with an invention marketing firm, here are some ways to figure out whether you’re getting real help or paying for a scam:
- Get the total cost of services before you sign up. Many invention marketing firms offer at least these two services:
- A research report or market evaluation that usually includes information on who your customers are, where they’re located, who are competitors, and other details that give you a view of the marketability of your invention.
- Patenting and licensing services that may make it easier for you to navigate these processes.
Ask for the total cost of the firm’s services early on — including research, marketing, and licensing. Walk away if the salesperson refuses to tell you.
- Don’t pay in advance. Dishonest marketers might say you have to pay several thousand dollars upfront. But reputable invention marketing firms usually don’t rely on large upfront fees. Instead, they depend on the royalties they earn by successfully licensing their clients’ inventions. If a firm is enthusiastic about the market potential of your idea — but wants to charge you a large fee in advance — take your business (and your idea) elsewhere.
- Find out exactly how they’ll do market research. Will the firm do it themselves, or will they hire a market research expert? Questionable firms often don’t do any genuine research or market evaluations. Instead, they’ll give you a “positive” report that’s mass-produced and designed to sell you more services.
- Remember: no one can guarantee your invention’s success. Shady invention marketing firms will tell inventors that their ideas are among the relative few that have market potential. The truth is that most ideas don’t make any money.
- Don’t believe promises of a “global” patent. In the United States, patents are issued by the USPTO, usually for 20 years, and require maintenance fees. Sometimes marketers will tell you that their fees will cover the cost of getting a “global patent” from the USPTO that’s valid anywhere in the world. But there’s no such a thing as a global patent. U.S. patents are effective only in the U.S. and U.S. territories but have no effect abroad. You must apply for patents in each country where you want patent protection.
- Get promises in writing. Before you sign a contract with an invention marketing firm, make sure it contains all the terms you agreed to — including any verbal promises. Often, the salesperson says one thing, but the contract says something quite different. If possible, ask an attorney to review the agreement.
Find out more about how to avoid an investment promotion scam from the USPTO.
Once a dishonest company has your money, it can be difficult to get it back. If you can prove that the promoter lied to you or left out information that was crucial for you to know, you might be able to successfully sue the company under the federal American Inventors Protection Act.
Also, depending on how you paid the scammer, there may be steps you can take to recover your money.
If you run into an invention marketing scam or problem
- Report it to the USPTO. They will forward your complaint to the marketer and publish its response online.
- Report it to the FTC at ReportFraud.ftc.gov
For more information on invention marketing or promotion firms, start with the USPTO website: