Invention promotion firm

An invention promotion firm or invention submission corporation provides services to inventors to help them develop or market their inventions.[1] These firms may offer to evaluate the patentability of inventions, file patent applications and license them to manufacturers, build prototypes, and market inventions. They are distinguished from more conventional consulting firms and law firms offering the same or similar services in that they market their services primarily to amateur inventors through the mass media.[2]

The US government estimates that there are hundreds of companies offer invention-promotion services and that "virtually all of them are either ineffective or outright fraudulent." An official at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office "says he believes there are fewer than a half-dozen legitimate invention promoters in the country." [3]

PerformanceEdit

Prior to the 1999 American Inventors Protection Act (AIPA), accurate statistics of the success rate of invention promotion firms were difficult to come by. Nonetheless, as a result of certain legal actions taken against some of these firms, overall success rates have come to light. One such firm, Davison Associates, disclosed that of 900 ideas where a client had a prototype built of their invention at an average cost of $11,000, only 30 of those inventions were licensed within 6 months. Of the inventions licensed, only 10 made more in license fees than the cost of the invention promotion services.[4]

Between 2007 and 2009, the Pittsburgh-based promotional firm InventHelp signed agreements with 5,336 clients resulting in 86 licensing agreements. Only 27 clients (0.5%) received more money from licensing fees than they paid InventHelp for their services.[5]

Sources of revenueEdit

Invention promotion firms generally make their money from fees charged to clients for services. These fees normally must be paid up front and a customer may be told that they may have very little time, such as three days or less, in order to make a decision. Invention promotion firms may also receive a portion of their fees as a share of the royalty that an inventor earns on his or her invention. The total fraction of an invention promotion firm's revenue obtained from royalties, however, may be less than 1%.[4]

US legal protections for inventorsEdit

After a massive fraud was being launched by a significant amount of invention promotion companies[6] the 1999 American Inventors Protection Act (AIPA) established disclosure requirements for invention promotion firms. These disclosure requirements include:

  • the total number of inventions evaluated by the invention promoter for commercial potential in the past 5 years, as well as the number of those inventions that received positive evaluations, and the number of those inventions that received negative evaluations;
  • the total number of customers who have contracted with the invention promoter in the past 5 years, not including customers who have purchased trade show services, research, advertising, or other nonmarketing services from the invention promoter, or who have defaulted in their payment to the invention promoter;
  • the total number of customers known by the invention promoter to have received a net financial profit as a direct result of the invention promotion services provided by such invention promoter;
  • the total number of customers known by the invention promoter to have received license agreements for their inventions as a direct result of the invention promotion services provided by such invention promoter; and
  • the names and addresses of all previous invention promotion companies with which the invention promoter or its officers have collectively or individually been affiliated in the previous 10 years.

The American Inventors Protection Act also provides civil penalties that can be assessed against invention promotion firms engaged in fraudulent or deceptive practices, defined by the FTC as "invention promotion scams".[7]

The USPTO and the FTC both provide guidelines for finding legitimate invention development, prototyping and promotion firms, that comply with the AIPA.

Legal actions against invention promotion firmsEdit

Invention Submission CorporationEdit

In 1994, the FTC reached a settlement with Invention Submission Corporation, after a five-year investigation of claims that the company "misrepresented the nature, quality and success rate of the promotion services it sold to consumers." Under the terms of a consent decree, Invention Submission Corporation – now trading as InventHelp – set aside $1.2 million for customer refunds.[8][9][10]

Project MousetrapEdit

In 1997, the United States Federal Trade Commission (FTC) launched "Project Mousetrap" to identify, prosecute and fine firms engaged in fraudulent or deceptive practices, in what was alleged as a massive fraud by a significant amount of invention promotion firms.[6]

In 1998 all of the accused parties except one settled with the FTC and a $250,000 redress fund was set up for inventors taken in by the firms.[3] In 2006, judgment was rendered against Davison & Associates.[11] They were fined $US 26 million to be used to compensate defrauded clients.[12] Davison appealed the judgment,and then settled with the FTC for $10.7 million in 2008.[13]

World Patent MarketingEdit

In 2017, the company World Patent Marketing was shut down by the FTC.[14] Members of the advisory board of the company included the 2018 acting United States Attorney General Matthew Whitaker,[15] Republican Congressman Brian Mast, and the scientist Ronald Mallett.[16]

Public posting of complaints against invention promotion firmsEdit

The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) posts complaints online from dissatisfied clients of invention promotion firms and provides an opportunity for invention promotion firms to respond to the complaints. The USPTO, however, does not investigate the validity of any of the complaints or responses.[17]

Guidelines for identifying unscrupulous firmsEdit

Both the USPTO and the US Federal Trade Commission[18][19] publish guidelines on how inventors can better determine if an invention promotion firm is scrupulous or not. Signs of an unscrupulous invention promotion firm include:

  • Exaggerated claims about the market potential of the invention
  • Refusal to offer advice in writing
  • Request for money immediately and upfront.

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ 35 USC 297(c) Definitions of invention promoter
  2. ^ Contact the USPTO before you get burned! Advice from the USPTO concerning Invention promoters
  3. ^ a b Stout, Hilary "Redress Readies for Victims Of Invention-Promotion Scam", Wall Street Journal, 1 December 1998
  4. ^ a b FEDERAL TRADE COMM v. DAVISON & ASSOCIATES, et al., FINDINGS OF FACT AND CONCLUSIONS OF LAW. Signed by Judge Gary L. Lancaster on 3/17/06. pages 6 & 8
  5. ^ Drummond, Mike (October 25, 2010). "Reinventing InventHelp". Inventors Digest. Retrieved June 15, 2019.
  6. ^ a b "FTC/STATE 'PROJECT MOUSETRAP' SNARES INVENTION PROMOTION INDUSTRY", US Federal Trade Commission, Press Release July 1997
  7. ^ "Court halts bogus invention promotion firm claims" FTC press release 19 April 2006
  8. ^ Sullivan, Bob (September 5, 2004). "Got an invention? You, too, can be scammed". NBC. Retrieved June 15, 2019.
  9. ^ "Inside INPEX and InventHelp". Inventors Digest. October 15, 2009. Retrieved June 15, 2019.
  10. ^ "Invention Marketing Companies". Brown & Michaels. January 1, 2007. Retrieved June 15, 2019.
  11. ^ Order of Final Judgment, Fed. Trade Comm'n v. Davison & Assocs., No. CV 97-1278-GLL (W.D. Pa. Mar. 17, 2006) (Lancaster, J.).
  12. ^ Kim Leonard, "Firm to pay $26 Million", Tribune-Review, 26 March 2006
  13. ^ Kim Leonard, "O'Hara invention promoter, FTC settle case for $10.7 million" - Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 14 July 2008. Archived 26 October 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  14. ^ Moreno, Peter (18 May 2018). "Fraudulent Marketers Banned from Invention Promotion Business – USA Herald". USA Herald. Retrieved 7 November 2018.
  15. ^ Swaine, Jon. "Trump's acting attorney general involved in firm that scammed veterans out of life savings". The Guardian. Retrieved 10 November 2018.
  16. ^ Shammas, Brittany (7 November 2018). "Trump's Acting Attorney General Was Part of Miami-Based Invention Scam Company". Miami New Times. Retrieved 7 November 2018.
  17. ^ The USPTO public forum for invention promoters/promotion firm complaints and responses
  18. ^ FTC Consumer Alert: Spotting Sweet-Sounding Promises of Fraudulent Invention Promotion Firms, FTC publication, October 2003.
  19. ^ FTC Facts for Consumers: Invention Promotion Firms