Beware: Invention Promotion Scams

The United States Patent and Trademark Office estimates that every year unscrupulous invention promotion companies cost independent inventors hundreds of millions of dollars. These sham companies offer their services in evaluating new designs and in promoting new inventions, but in reality they take advantage of an inventor’s optimism and enthusiasm while making false promises and charging substantial fees. Many of these companies claim they can get an idea or invention into the marketplace, beginning with the initial development and evaluation and continuing through patenting and marketing. Often times the things they charge thousands of dollars for can be done for just a few hundred dollars by the inventor alone, or are better left to a qualified patent attorney or agent.
This is how these scams work:

First, they hook you with an exciting TV or radio ad where they offer help to independent inventors, and they may even claim to provide a free evaluation. Then, for an upfront fee, they offer some kind of report on the evaluation. More often than not, their appraisal will be very favorable. Then for an even more substantial price, they may promise to patent the invention or market the idea to industry. In the end, an inventor may have nothing more than an empty wallet.
There are numerous warning signs that inventors should be aware of regarding these scams. Here are just a few red flags:
1. The company avoids providing information in writing. Do not accept verbal assurances, but instead get references and success rates in writing.
2. High-pressure salesmen ask for money right away. Find out (again, in writing) what the total costs will be and beware of any hesitation or avoidance of the issue of cost(s).
3. They ask you to write down your ideas and mail them to yourself. This offers no protection of your invention.
4. The company offers a money back guarantee. No one can guarantee that any patent will be granted or that any product will be highly marketable.
5. The company leaves you out of patenting decisions. You should be able to select your own patent attorney or agent (they represent you, not the company) and see for yourself (yet once again, in writing) the patent search results, a patentability opinion, and patent filings done by a licensed patent practitioner.
There are legitimate promotion and marketing companies out there, but it is always a good idea to check with the Better Business Bureau, the Federal Trade Commission, the Attorney General’s Office, or an attorney who specializes in patent law. The US Patent and Trademark Office and the FTC are aware of these scams—for more information see:
http://www.inventorfraud.com/pto.pdf
https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/some-invention-promotion-firms-do-nothing-you
or contact the Wyoming Technology Transfer and Research Products Center at (307) 766-2520 or WyomingInvents@uwyo.edu