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Dishonest invention promoters 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 promotion 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 promotion firms may be looking for you. To avoid scams, it helps to 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 promotion firm’s operations and clients before you sign a contract. The firm must give you information about 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 promotion 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 promotion company is headquartered. Check out the list of complaints against invention promoters published by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and 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 promotion 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, so people might be less likely to post them. 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 promotor to give you particular names — and ask about their experiences. For example, did the promotion firm follow through with its promises? Were former clients satisfied with the firm’s marketing services?

How To Avoid Invention Promotion Scams

Honest invention promotion firms can help mainly amateur inventors develop or market their inventions. They may, for example, evaluate the patentability of inventions, file patent applications, help build prototypes, and get licenses needed for manufacturing.
 
Dishonest promoters will promise to deliver similar services but end up charging you thousands of dollars in fees for little in return. They’ll tell you that 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 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 such manufacturers.
 
If you’re thinking about working with an invention promotion 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 promotion 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 promoters might say you have to pay several thousand dollars upfront. But reputable invention promotion 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 promotion 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 promoters 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 promotion 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 invention promotion scam from the USPTO.

What to Do If You Paid an Invention Promotion Scammer

Once a dishonest company has your money, it can be challenging to get it back. If you can prove that the promoter lied to you or omitted 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.

Report Problems

If you run into an invention promotion scam or problem, report it to the USPTO. They will forward your complaint to the promoter and publish its response online. And please report it to the FTC at ReportFraud.ftc.gov.

Other Resources

For more information on invention promotion firms, start with the USPTO website:
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